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Team Anna in Electoral Politics – the fallout

August 7, 2012

In last week of July of 2012 Team Anna again decided to go on fast at Jantar Mantar demanding the passage of the JanLokpal Bill by the parliament. There had been much criticism earlier that while aging Anna was made to fast the younger lot in his team refused to go without food. So this time it was the young brigade of Team Anna that decided to go hungry. The onus to forgo food fell on the shoulders of Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai. And fast they did for s few days. But it was not an earthshaking event as had been the earlier fasts by Anna Hazare. The tepid response to the fast by the young brigade saw Anna deciding to fast again in solidarity with the young guns. The nation still did not respond as they had expected.

The lack of response from the people was partly because the TV channels refused to go live with the fast at Jantar Mantar. It was a story that was well past the expiry date. People did not want to watch an encore. Besides, it seems that the government too realized that to nip this never ending protest in the bud it was important to ensure that they were left out in the cold. It was when Shanti Bhushan castigated the media for not covering the event that Jantar Mantar again received some TV coverage. Somewhere in between they had to call Baba Ramdev to pull in the crowds. Baba came and gave a speech, sat around for sometime and left. It is true that till such time that Baba Ramdev was at Jantar Mantar the crowds surged but they soon melted away when he left.

There was a controversy about Anna Hazare having a secret meeting with Salman Khurshid of the Congress somewhere on the outskirts of Pune prior to the fast at Jantar Mantar. What transpired is mired in a maze of claims and counterclaims. Last I heard about the meeting was Anna Hazare calling Khurshid a liar. Apparently Salman Khurshid had assured Anna that all his demands will be met and not to go for a fast but Anna found to his utter surprise that the government stand was totally different.

Be as it may, the fast chugged on for another few days before Kiran Bedi blew her top and said that the unresponsiveness of the government to people fasting was heartless and that killing oneself was fruitless. She urged that the fast be ended and that other methods need to be adopted to get to their goals and to fight corruption. Soon a consensus was built and it was decided that all members of Team Anna fasting will break their fast and that the protest at Jantar Mantar will come to an end. As it is, Team Anna had permission only till August 5 to protest and they could not have continued indefinitely.

Before breaking the fast the natural question that everyone wanted an answer to was – what next? Prashant Bhushan declared that Team Anna will need to decide and that the people will help them decide whether they should go in for a ‘bloody revolution or an electoral revolution’. He gave the people two days to respond. He never came back with what feedback he got from the people. Suffice to say that soon after calling it a day at Jantar Mantar Anna Hazare wrote in his blog that Team Anna had been disbanded. The dissolution of Team Anna which was an unofficial group with no legal or institutional standing had a public burial. Anna had little earlier talked about floating a political party and the dissolution of Team Anna was to facilitate that it seems.

There have been different reactions from those in Team Anna and the manner in which it was dissolved. Kiran Bedi could not believe it. Others said they were not ready for electoral politics. But the die had been cast and the decision had been made. It was clearly not a collective decision as they had been gloating about collective leadership all along. The most important decision about the dissolution of Team Anna was thrust down the Team’s throat.  It showed that Anna never had a say in matters that really mattered. There were people who were ordering him around and he was doing as was being told. Anna however has been very categorical that he will not be a part of any political party including the one being floated by former Team Anna members. He sees his role as that of a guide and mentor giving moral sustenance to any political party doing the right things.

Team Anna which basically means Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal, Gopal Rai and others will form a political party to give a new direction to the political discourse with the purported aim of fighting corruption and getting the JanLokpal Bill passed which they feel is the panacea for all evils that bedevil this country. It is clear that the positioning of a political party floated by former Team Anna members will have a pronounced Left stance. The truth of the matter is that their ideology is nothing but the ideology of the ultra-Left Marxist-Leninists which have now become Maoists. How much of a dent the CPI(ML) had on the political landscape of the nation is well known. It is true that Team Anna will camouflage their political ideology in the garb of fighting corruption and giving people of India a voice. But then haven’t the Marxists of all hues for long claimed to be the people’s voice. Then why a new political outfit? That is the question the vocal Left parties will be asking Team Anna. The first in the line of fire from this new political outfit will not be the Congress or the BJP but the Left parties that still are in power in Tripura. The jostling for political space will get ugly as Team Anna will use the underground Maoists to further its political ambitions and that will hurt the current Left political parties. Team Anna reckons that the unchallenged sway of the Maoists in almost 200 constituencies of the nation will give them good political dividends and they will be the king makers in this era of coalition politics. If a Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamta Banerjee  with less than 20 MP’s can hold the government to ransom Team Anna  with more than 200 seats, or so they presume, can get the moon and more. The casualty will be the demise of the Marxist parties that are on the fringe as it were.

The other political party that may be hit by this new political outfit is the Congress. Both Team Anna and the Congress have a ‘secular’ plank. They will be vying for the same vote-bank.The so-called secular votes will get diffused in this melee.  Congress is aware of the fact and will do its utmost to ensure that its core constituency does not get affected.

All those states affected by Maoist violence can expect more activity from the Naxal/Maoist groups. Those who have been trying to woo the Maoists for votes during elections must understand that these Maoists will now have a political party to which they can claim allegiance. BJD, JD(U)  and Congress will have to understand that no amount of cajoling will bring them around. Maoist ultras will have this new political outfit to further their interests which other mainstream parties will never be able to do. I will not be surprised if the governments of Odisha, Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal come down heavily on the Maoists between now and 2014. It will be politically prudent for them to stamp out armed Maoist cadres from the forests of Chota Nagpur. Increased violence and counter anti-Maoist operations can be expected. The sop of Rs 5 lakh for surrender won’t hold good any longer. That window of opportunity is now closed for the Maoists. It will be a matter of political survival for the parties and physical survival for the Maoists and all those human right activists will have nothing much to do as they won’t be heard.

Congress may also stop listening to the ultra-Left that has enjoyed quite a patronage from the top leadership within the Congress. They will be politically superfluous as their allegiance will be suspect. One can expect the new finance minister to actually go ahead with reforms that he outlined the other day. I hope the  ruling Congress will have the political sagacity to understand that their political future lies in pursuing unhindered economic reforms. They may still implement some of the schemes for the poor like the MANREGA but the disproportionate clout of the ultra-Left within the Congress will cede.

It is the BJP that is most untouched by this new outfit that Team Anna is going to float. Team Anna and the BJP are at two ends of the political spectrum and if they were echoing each other at times it was because they saw in Congress a common enemy. After floating a political party Team Anna will have to spell out their ideology and that will be at such variance with Rightist BJP that they will have nothing in common.

Team Anna is banking on its cadres out in the wild to garner support and use their clout to political advantage. Little do they realize that even the tribal who they claim to be fighting for are not smitten by them. They understand that the supposed saviors that were the Left ultras have given them nothing. Electoral politics is a different ball game all together. Team Anna should be ready for a long, tedious fight. Even within the Maoists there are factions that are loggerhead with one another. It is not a cohesive whole.

From sloganeering and mouthing invectives against the system to becoming a part of the system will be a huge leap for Team Anna. If they pursue they will evolve into another political outfit in a diverse country that is India. For that they will need to have a lot of patience and will need to work very hard. Along the way they will realize that political parties and political systems and governance have their compulsions and limitations. That is, if they have the patience to pursue electoral politics long enough. Its a motley group of individuals with diverse interests and transforming them into a cohesive political whole will be a challenge in itself.

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