THE UNRAVELLING of Team Anna’s campaign against corruption holds many sobering lessons for everyone. For Team Anna themselves — struggling to explain the loss of crowds, the vanished media attention — it is a moment of humbling introspection. Clearly, revolutions cannot be constructed on the wind of television coverage. Nor can moral transformation be built on a storm of taunts. If you set out to change the world, can you mirror that which you criticise?
Too much of Indian politics has come to be merely a game of numbers rather than inspirational vision. Unfortunately, the India Against Corruption movement itself fell into that trap. Team Anna mocked the government for its spinelessness against coalition pressures, but in the hunt for numbers, they themselves built contingent alliances with unlikely men like Baba Ramdev and have struggled with the contradictions ever since.
In other ways too, Team Anna has been too precipitate from the start, always more eager for spectacle than substance. They took to the streets before they had fine-tuned their demands. They stirred up crowds with the promise of magic wands, overnight change, 80 percent eradication of corruption, a miraculous super structure of squeaky-clean officers, gimmicky polls, a toxic rhetoric, adamantine stands, and the heady language of a witch-hunt. They tried to shift the location of power, not the nature of it. Their praise was partisan; their assaults encyclopaedic. They supped with some parties, quartered others. Headlines were important for them; the details not. Popularity was crucial, the process incidental. Virtue, they claimed, was the exclusive domain of those in Anna caps: the curse of all corruption lay outside it.
For all these reasons and more, Team Anna’s movement was destined to hit rock. Its followers’ engagement ran skin deep. They bought the hype, the breaking news about “India’s Arab Spring” and “India’s Second Independence Movement”. They wanted romance not reason. But playing to camera can be risky business and everyone missed a basic point: India is a democracy not a dictatorship. Protest movements here can only improve process, not overthrow it. So, as the overblown promises failed to materialise, people folded their caps and returned home. The movement hadn’t trained them for the slow, long fight democracies demand. If television was bored, so were they.
YET, IT is a cardinal mistake for voices in government to gloat over this. The floundering of this movement is a loss for everyone. There is something discomfiting about watching — and criticising — the men fasting at Jantar Mantar while brazen proofs of corruption flood our every moment. No matter how flawed their design or exasperating their intent, the fact is, Team Anna has brought a historic — and long overdue — urgency to the issue of corruption. Just because the numbers have fallen, the camera lights have dimmed, and their reasoning become more befuddled, is the issue less important? The precise Jan Lokpal Bill that Team Anna was so obdurately demanding — unwilling to shift even a self-righteous comma — might have been a dangerous piece of legislation, but many of the principles they are espousing have great merit.
What is stopping the UPA government from seizing the moment and presenting a Bill in good faith — a year after it had first promised one? Why is the Standing Committee examining the Bill in the Rajya Sabha so delayed? And what of the other parties, who dined out on the UPA’s discomfiture last year but have failed to fast-track the Bill themselves?
It certainly seems infantile of Arvind Kejriwal to go on a fast unto death yet claim he will not negotiate with the government. What is he on a fast for then? Even more infantile to claim the collapse of the Northern Grid or plans to hospitalise him is some sinister government “conspiracy”. This country could do with a little less suspicion and a little more clear thinking.
In the final cut, our real national crisis is not the absence of a Lokpal, it is that the form of anti-corruption measures no longer matter. We have already tried all the tropes there is: independent regulatory mechanisms, oversight bodies, checks and balances, august citizens, even draconian laws. As the latest DGCA scam is proof, all these forms can be subverted. Team Anna can float its own political party or bring in an army of empowered policemen, but this country will still reel under corruption. The trouble is, the impulse for it runs in our very blood. And as long as we keep outsourcing the introspection, we are all in for a marathon fast.