So Team Anna is going political. That makes perfect sense. In a way that was the next logical step for the simple reason that the movement had run out of steam.
Anna Hazare and his fasts peaked in August 2011 last year when he had the nation’s attention and the Parliament eating out of his hands.
But since then it’s been all downhill. Parliament failed to pass the Lokpal Bill in any form and firmly put it in cold storage again. From his subsequent Mumbai rally, the crowds have been diminishing. People are tired of seeing the same show again and again.
The whole anshan and protest routine was dying a slow death anyway. The government had stopped listening, politicians no longer took the movement seriously, the media was blowing hot and cold and there was absolutely no pressure being applied on the passage of the Lokpal Bill in 2012. In fact the whole Civil Society-Government partnership seems to be on the verge of breakdown. In the 1990s, movements like the Aruna Roy led CPRI led to great progress with the Right to Information Act. Then Congress President Sonia Gandhi formed the National Advisory Council that included Civil Society and the RTI Act came into force.
The government included Team Anna in talks related to the drafting of the Lokpal Bill and that culminated in the 2011 August Kranti agitation. Since then the partnership totally broke down and Team Anna was desperate to morph into something else for its very survival. Politics is a good bet.
How movements morph
India has seen many movements and organizations which have kept morphing till they ended up as strong political movements.
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) started off as a volunteer organization for self-defence. After Independence, it gave rise to the Jan Sangh which ultimately became part of the ruling Janata Party. Today we know it as the BJP.
In South India in the 1940s, the very popular Dravida Kazhagam was formed. That ultimately went electoral and we now have two very powerful parties thanks to that in the form of the DMK and AIADMK, both of which have a stranglehold over the state of Tamil Nadu.
What began as an anti-Indira Gandhi sentiment in the 1970s, resulted in the Emergency and finally the first non-Congress government of Independent India in 1977. Movements keep changing form till some become quite powerful and others die out.
There is no doubt that the Anna movement of 2011 was the most popular in decades and there is no harm in turning it into a political force to see how far it will go in the future.
The long haul
Of course the biggest disadvantage of the Team Anna movement when it turns political is cohesion and traction at the grassroots of the entire country. Sadly most of the very popular movements in India are along caste, communal and regional lines. It is such ideologies that work exceedingly well.
Whether anger against corruption can be a cohesive force and gain traction at the ground level remains to be seen. But there is no harm in giving it a good shot. The JP movement of the 1970s transcended region and caste. In 1989 both the Right and Left got together to prop up VP Singh. Stranger things have happened in politics.
Another factor against Team Anna is they simply don’t have the money and muscle power of regional parties, forget the national ones. Tens of thousands may have come to cheer Anna at Jantar Mantar, but popular politicians win lakhs of votes in elections while political parties get them in the tune of crores.
Should Team Anna decide to contest the 2014 elections then they’ll have to play their cards right. Choosing candidates will be a highly tricky task indeed. They can target the cities where Team Anna members are already household names and online campaigning yields results. The rural audience will be a much tougher nut to crack even though there is a great deal of awareness following the 2011 media coverage.
Kiran Bedi is 63. Prashant Bhushan is 56. They should look at a 20-year-plan and be in it for the long haul. That way Arvind Kejriwal who is just 43, will have a bright future should the political movement take off in a big way.
If Team Anna can even bag 8-10 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections, then it will be a good starting point and they can truly effect a change in politics for the better.
Anna Hazare will of course play the role of mentor. He has already emerged as one of the most popular leaders of India and if he plays his cards right, then it could yield rich political dividends.
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