Friday, June 21, 2024

From an idealist to a politician


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 By Indranil Banerjea

Anna Hazare’s appeal lay not just in his compelling message but also in the fact that he was a political outsider. Is he about to lose that status? This is indeed a distinct possibility, judging from those who were with him on the podium last week in Jantar Mantar.

When he was in Ram Lila grounds earlier in August he deliberately kept silver tongued politicians away from him. This was both reassuring and refreshing. He made abundant space for those like Aamir Khan, Sri Sri Ravishankar and, even Om Puri, but no politician. How he has changed. In Jantar Mantar the other day, he was sitting cross legged and happily rubbing knees with Opposition leaders in full public view.

In contrast, the most endearing aspect of Anna’s presence in Delhi last August was that everybody but politicians was welcome on stage. This is what separated him from other power seekers and brokers and enhanced his image with a large number of people. He was their man out there, doing it for them from the largeness of his heart without a care for those in high places.

This time around he was surrounded by those he had shunned earlier and clearly loving it. If one is known by the company one keeps, then Anna is on the way to becoming a mainstream politician and not an outlier as he was till the other day. He is even beginning to sound like one. Obviously, it does not take long to get used to the trappings of political eminence and Anna, from the looks of it, is no exception.

Earlier he spoke little, and when he did he stayed close to the Lokpal agenda. He did not comment on whether one needs to spend a night in a hut or a month to be a true leader.

Neither did he favour one political party over another. For him, they were all political conspirators, all corrupt, and, hence, plague on all houses. Today, he is talking far too expansively on almost everything.

From electoral reforms to land acquisition, to the consumption of alcohol, nothing escapes his attention. He has also shown his willingness to enter election campaigns where he is ready to support practically anybody from the Opposition.

The person can be corrupt to his eyeballs, but so long as he does not belong to the Congress or the UPA, Team Anna will back him. This has brought him within embracing distance of the political establishment.

True, the UPA has undermined its credibility by its inept, arrogant and mindless handling of the anti- corruption movement that was truly massive and national in scope. Consequently, Anna shone for he refused to budge from his original manifesto and stayed resolutely non-party in his crusade. This upset those who thought they could use him to get their political agenda front stage, but Anna would not yield.

Now with prominent politicians of all parties, minus those in the UPA, crowding the dais with him, the tone of his agitation has undergone a change. Along with it he seems to have lost that earlier innocence that made a huge section of his followers forgive his somewhat intemperate statements in the past.

If present form holds, Anna will quickly evolve into a full fledged political animal. His easy camaraderie with Opposition leaders in Jantar Mantar on Sunday sent off alarm bells among many of his earlier supporters.

Is there a calculating person, they wonder, inside that earthy exterior? Perhaps this new Anna is politically wiser, perhaps even better equipped, but for all that, less attractive to those who were once drawn to him by his seeming innocence.

In Anna’s camp there is now room for the likes of Sharad Yadav too. Yet, it was the same Sharad Yadav who threatened Anna’s supporters in Parliament last August in a most un- Parliamentary way. He had loudly boasted then of his ability to dislodge the turbans of the high and mighty, and Anna was just small fry in comparison. But all sins are now forgiven.

Sharad Yadav has smirked and winked his way into Anna’s corner.

Some might say that all of this is mere tactics and that Anna knows where to draw the line. He probably does, but millions of his votaries will miss his earlier simple and transparent ways.

If Arvind Kejriwal’s efforts to conduct a public debate on corruption in Jantar Mantar went unheeded it was because of the political noise around him.

From the left to the right, from Bardhan to Jaitley, they were all there, gleefully relishing the prospect of a coming electoral victory. Their interests lay elsewhere, far from the garden variety concerns of the ordinary Anna supporter.

So many of us are assailed by doubts and would have liked to talk about them in the open sun. We want to know if we can really end corruption, or will we return to status quo ante even if the Lokpal Bill is passed? Should we blame only the UPA for blocking the passage of the Bill, or are there others who are culpable too? Should we include electoral reforms now or wait till the anti- corruption battle is won? But with Anna’s new friends around, we did not get the chance to get heard.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing that Anna might soon become a Platinum Member of the political club? Weigh the options. Today the UPA is more vulnerable than it was in August when Anna had last come to Delhi. If the Opposition and Anna get together, there is obviously a greater chance of the government keeling over. It is already over its head with the coming elections in UP and Punjab, and is struggling to come up for air. To stay afloat it jettisoned FDI in retail but it is clearly still in trouble.

This would be a great chance to punish the UPA for its past bad behaviour and, doubtlessly, there is a satisfying feel to it.

Still the image of a simple, somewhat naive but an internally integrated Anna is something that a large number of us will miss. He now comes through smarter, smoother, feistier and more comfortable in playing the system. These are all essential qualifications to be in politics; but it was his simplicity and transparency that had earlier won us over.

There are already some warning signs flashing on the marquee.

Anna is now showcasing a number of issues that are not strictly in the Lokpal ambit. This is worrying for so many of us have not quite made up our minds on alcohol consumption, many more are unsure if the right to reject or recall is what we want.

By adding to his programme, Anna is behaving the way politicians do. They are never satisfied with a single point manifesto for it is power that they are after. Could this be true of Anna as well? Now that he is trading and trucking with political bosses and including other items in his kitty, he does look different from the man who visited us in August. A pity, for he was such an ideal guest then; he had just one demand and was so much easier to look after. Besides he did not have friends calling on him in their siren fitted, red beaconed cars. INAV


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