In an excellent analysis on the morning of August 2, 2012, under the title Dismissive Congress In No Mood To Engage With Anna, Smita Gupta, the Hindu’s New Delhi correspondent, wrote:
“A year-and-a-half after Mr.Hazare placed the issue of corruption in the public domain, striking a chord with a middle class unhappy with the slowdown in the economy, the movement appears to have fizzled out.”
The fact that Anna and his Team had themselves realised that their movement had reached a dead-end became obvious a few hours later when a group of eminent persons released a statement appealing to the fasting Anna and his colleagues to end their fast and continue their struggle by building an alternate political force.
This appeal was seen by many as the beginning of a search for a face-saving by a group of civil society leaders to salvage the movement from an embarrassing second fizzle-out after the one of last year in Mumbai. The Government’s dismissive attitude and the poor response from the students of Delhi to the appeal of Shri Arvind Kejriwal to miss their classes for a week and come to Jantar Mantar seemed to have turned the scale against those who were in favour of continuing the fast and keeping up the confrontation against the Government.
Later that day, Anna announced the decision of the team to give up the fast at 5 PM on August 3 and discuss what next. From his remarks, it is not clear that he has now come round to the view that forming an alternate political party to contest the 2014 elections on a plank of clean, people-friendly, honest Government was the only option left to him. In media interviews given by him before the fast, he had indicated that while he might be inclined to back some members of his team with a good track record if they decided to contest the elections, he was disinclined to contest himself or form a political party of his own. Many have assumed after his remarks on the termination of the fast that he has now veered in favour of a new political party to enter the electoral fray. It is yet to be seen whether this is so.
The movement against corruption has not failed. The moral and intellectual support enjoyed by Anna from large sections of the middle class of this country has not dwindled. At the same time, there is a fatigue with the tactics adopted by the movement to achieve its objective of a corruption-free India. The frequent resort to dramatic fasts and attempts to coerce the Government through various pressure tactics to concede its demands were having less and less takers. The law of diminishing returns had set in, highlighting the need for a change of tactics. Most discouraging was the fact that Anna and his movement had failed to electrify the common people in the rest of the country. It remained largely an elitist-cum middle class movement.
Forming an alternative political party that can deliver within the two years that remain before the elections is not going to be easy. Apart from the lack of funds, the lack of political cadres who can carry its electoral fight to different parts of the country would stand in the way of its political exercise succeeding. Moreover, having thus far projected the movement as a moral crusade not owing its inspiration to any political party, it cannot now seek to join hands with existing political parties for carrying the movement forward. That will result in a further dilution of the credibility of the movement and make Team Anna appear as a group of political opportunists incognito from the beginning.
A better option will be a nation-wide campaign by Anna to convert what has remained an elitist middle class movement into a mass movement of the people based on three slogans: “Say No To Bribe”,”Bring in Jan Lokpal” and “Free the CBI From Govt Clutches”. Till now, the people were being brought to New Delhi to demonstrate the people’s power of the movement. Now, it is time for Anna to go to the masses of this country to demonstrate his concerns for them because of the cancer of corruption and rally them in support of his cause.
What Anna needs is a movement patterned after the Bhoodan movement of Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Vinobaji did not place his faith in Delhi. He placed it in the masses in the rest of India. He undertook a padayatra from village to village, from town to town to disseminate his message of “land for the landless peasant”. He did not have to go to Delhi from time to time to demonstrate his coercive power. Delhi went to him wherever he was in recognition of his moral and spiritual force. He did not succeed in achieving his objective of re-distribution of land, but he succeeded in creating a mass awareness of the economic and social discrimination against the peasants.
Unless the people are made aware of the need to fight corruption by refusing to give bribe for whatever reason, the movement will remain without moral force. It will be a show-off movement as it has remained till now without moral attraction. If Anna can persuade large sections of the people of this country to refuse to pay bribe, the movement can achieve half its objective.
His emphasis on the need for a Jan Lokpal and independence for the CBI is important. But, as rightly pointed out by Justice Katju, some of the ideas underlining these measures as conceived by him and his team are impractical. They will create a new bureaucracy as oppressive as the one existing and create new avenues for harassment.
How to make the CBI professionally independent and accountable without letting it become a rogue elephant not amenable to any political control? Should it be converted into a constitutional institution under a collective leadership consisting of two or three Directors equally empowered and required to decide and act in unison? Such questions have not been debated by Anna and his team. It is time to have an eminent persons group to examine such questions, revisit their idea and come out with alternate institutional formulations that could be placed before the people and the political parties.
The country needs a rejuvenated movement against corruption led by Anna and carried forward by his young followers. That rejuvenation has to come from new models of corruption-free governance to be aimed at, new ways of achieving it and mass participation in the movement. Its power has to come not from threats of fasts, but the backing of the masses.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.