Perhaps inevitably, the anti-corruption platforms led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev are moving towards a more openly avowed political role.
The Baba’s Ramlila Maidan show that began on 9 August this year made his political affinities clear, if they were ever in doubt. Top BJP and NDA leaders shared the dais with him, espousing his ‘Oust Congress’ call, while he thanked a series of Sangh outfits for their cooperation. Significantly, the Baba also received declarations of support from Mulayam Singh and Mayawati. Those who had opposed the Anna agitation alleging a hidden Sangh hand and a reactionary casteist agenda, have remained conspicuously silent on the open saffron presence on Ramdev’s platform, his embrace of Modi, and his recent defence of khap panchayats’ diktats on same gotra marriages.
From the beginning this time, the Baba made it clear that he would steer clear of any sustained movement, opting instead for a ‘symbolic’ protest on black money and corruption. After an equally symbolic arrest, he ended his fast, merely demanding that black money and corruption find a mention in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech! The real purpose of the Baba’s platform was clearly not to conduct any movement or struggle against corporate corruption, black money, or corruption in high places.
Undoubtedly, the UPA Government at the Centre has emerged as one of the most corrupt regimes, and there is need for an all-out movement to teach this corrupt and anti-people Government a lesson and oust it from power. But a political plank that opposes Congress corruption while defending BJP corruption must be thoroughly exposed and resisted.
On July 25 Team Anna launched yet another fast at Jantar Mantar. Spearheading the campaign this time was Arvind Kejriwal, demanding a Special Investigation Team to probe more than a dozen key members of the UPA cabinet including the Prime Minister and his erstwhile Finance Minister who had by then been elevated to the post of the President. The Anna agitation which had shot into fame in April 2011 as a non-party campaign for a stringent Jan Lokpal legislation was clearly on the lookout for a sharper political edge. Yet the fast could not generate the kind of mass interest that had been witnessed at Jantar Mantar in April 2011 or at Ramlila Maidan in August 2011.
Ten days into the campaign, the fast was called off amidst talks of a transition from agitational mobilization to providing the people with a political alternative. Kejriwal promised to build a party through public consultation and stressed the need to intervene in the political process and enter the parliamentary arena to effect political changes while former Army chief VK Singh, the star attraction of the concluding day, delivered a speech that sounded an unmistakable readiness to face an electoral battle. Even as Team Anna members and supporters started debating the wisdom of this decision to go political and electoral, Anna announced that Team Anna’s work was over and the Core Committee stood dissolved.
Ardent Anna supporters may liken this Anna decision to Gandhi’s suggestion after 1947 to dissolve the Congress now that political independence had been won. The Congress of course paid no heed to Gandhi’s suggestion and went on to consolidate itself as the premier ruling party with the full backing of the developing Indian bourgeoisie. But in Gandhi’s case, he could rightfully claim that the colonial rulers had quit India, whereas for Anna and his now-dissolved Team even the limited goal of Jan Lokpal is still nowhere in sight. It should of course be noted that while dissolving Team Anna and its Core Committee, Anna too talks about providing a ‘political alternative’ by fielding honest candidates in the 2014 elections.
The difference between the two approaches – one being apparently advocated by Kejriwal and the other attributed to Anna – therefore boils down to the way the ‘alternative’ is to be constructed, whether by building a party and taking a plunge into electoral contests or by selecting and helping ‘honest candidates’ (probably cutting across parties) to win. Anna claims that he has already successfully applied this model in Maharashtra when 8 of 12 candidates supported by him won in Assembly elections. It would be instructive if Anna would let us know who these eight MLAs are and what kind of alternative they have provided in Maharashtra. The two contending dominant coalitions in Maharashtra and even parties like MNS that are formally not part of either coalition are all notorious for the worst kind of political venality marked not only by competitive corruption and criminalization, but also by communal and chauvinistic frenzy. Even if Anna’s MLAs can boast of personal honesty, their politics has obviously failed to pose any kind of alternative or challenge to this dominant political paradigm.
While Anna and Kejriwal may differ in their specific modalities, both seem to agree that they have had enough of agitation and it was pointless to continue with the agitation against an apathetic and arrogant government. Well, what has happened in the name of agitation is a series of fasts in which the masses had little scope to participate. There have been talks of other agitational forms like ‘jail bharo’ but the calls have never been translated into action. The ultimate logic and strength of mass agitation lies precisely in exposing, challenging, isolating, and eventually compelling reluctant and arrogant rulers to concede the people’s demands, yet for reasons best known to them, the Anna agitation has avoided the course of a decisive showdown with the powers that be. And now to argue that the agitation has already run its full course belies the hope, enthusiasm and anti-corruption spirit with which young India had welcomed the Anna agitation.
Equally unacceptable are the overtures and signals of a growing bonhomie between the Anna camp and Baba Ramdev. In the initial days of the Anna campaign, there were attempts to maintain some distance and demarcation from Ramdev and his ilk, but even as the Ramdev aura began to fade among his own supporters in the wake of last year’s Ramlila Maidan episode and Ramdev began to hobnob openly with the BJP-Sangh, Anna Hazare has been making common cause with the dubious Baba.
The anti-corruption movement cannot be run on the lines of the so-called single-issue ‘social movements’ especially when corruption flows directly from the pro-market, pro-corporate policies of liberalization and privatization and flourishes in the corridors of power. The belated realization of Team Anna about the need to go political and intervene in electoral battles marks a welcome departure and evolution from its initial non-political and even anti-political protestations. But while the interest of people’s politics demands a sustained intensification and broadening of the Jan Lokpal agitation in closer alliance with the entire range of anti-corporate pro-democracy struggles in the country, the decision to suspend the very agitation in the name of political alternative can only be treated as a negative lesson, a telling example of how not to go about politics.