Monday, August 22, 2011

Point of satiety in Anna’s movement reached…’s the time to stop

In economics, the point of satiety is defined as the point when the marginal utility of any activity is zero. From this point on, the marginal utility actually turns negative. Expressed differently, the point of satiety reflects that point when the Total Utility has been maximized. From here on, the Total Utility actually reduces. Every extra effort leads to negative returns. Applying this analogy to Anna’s movement, the signs increasing emanating from diverse spheres indicate that the point of satiety has been reached in the struggle against corruption. If he continues any more, the country will lose, rather than gain. Here’s why….

Anna has already achieved his main goal. That a suitable and strong Lokpal Bill – which has been hanging fire for 41 years now – be passed without any more delays. Anna’s efforts, his determination, and his fast-unto-death have made sure that no politician plays any more hanky panky tricks to delay the Bill. Whether it is in this session or the next, the Lokpal Bill is set to become a reality. But now that the goal has more or less been fulfilled, many are questioning the continuation of the agitation. Many erstwhile supporters of Anna are starting to question the stubbornness of Team Anna in the face of several conciliatory sounds being made by the government. Many are also questioning it’s own arrogance now. Initially, the tide was against the political class, but slowly and gradually, the tide appears to be turning against Team Anna now. If Anna had good advisors, they would advise him to stop his fast now. Timing is everything…..and the timing appears to be perfect now.

Anna’s movement has dented the credibility of the entire political class. The first to be burnt in Anna’s fire was of course the Congress. Anna’s movement struck at the very foundation of the Congress – and even the upright, personally clean PM. A series of blunders by the Congress starting 15th August led to Anna calling his movement the 2nd freedom struggle – a catchphrase that picked up some currency in the next few days. Clearly, Congress had made a serious political blunder to arrest an unarmed, gentle and old 74 year old man. Once that blunder was made, there was no way the party could prevent the outrage against it. Since then however, the party has made amends. It has toned down its rhetoric against Anna…..calling him a hero actually; questioning only his inflexibility. The PM in his own mildmannered style has made some more positive statements about bringing out a strong Lokpal Bill. There is some indication that the party may agree to include the PM under the Lokpal. If Anna wanted reassurance from the Congress that it was serious about the Bill, it was there in abundance.

The next to be singed by Anna’s campaign was the BJP. The party has been thoroughly exposed. It has finally been forced to come clean and tell the nation where it stands on the three most important points of difference between the government and Anna – and in all three cases, the party’s stand is against Anna and similar to the government’s. One wonders why then the party was pretending to be against the government’s stand at all. The BJP wants to include the PM under the Lokpal, but it wants to leave out foreign affairs, national security etc – way different from what suits Team Anna. It also wants to leave the judiciary out. And it also wants to keep the conduct of MPs inside Parliament out of the purview of the Lokpal. So far, the BJP preferred only to talk about the inclusion of the PM, because it was more aligned with Anna’s version than with the government’s. So far, the party successfully ducked questions on the other points, saying instead that the discussion should happen in Parliament. It’s strategy appeared to be to isolate the Congress not for its difference with Anna, but for its rough handling of his arrest. Well, it worked for a while but now the truth is starting to come out. Today, there is nothing much left for the BJP in Anna’s struggle. Two things must hurt the BJP a lot. One, Anna’s supporters yesterday gheraod BJP leaders in addition to the Congress ministers. And second, the magazine “Governance” put out an ad on TV taunting the BJP for losing the position of the main opposition party to Anna!

But increasingly now, it is Team Anna which is starting to get burnt by its own agitation. There is a fair and growing degree of criticism the movement is facing for its inflexible attitude. Every single TV channel (with the exception of one – no prizes for guessing which!), every single newspaper, every single blog, every single expert is saying that while they support Anna, the Jan Lokpal Bill has its own weaknesses and those need to be debated. The threat of August 30th isn’t reasonable. Team Anna’s lack of trust in constitutional bodies like the Parliament and the standing committee is making the movement look dictatorial. Some of Team Anna’s members are sounding too rude; this list includes the old hands; Kejriwal, Bedi and Prashant Bhushan; it also includes several new faces like emerging on TV – the typical English speaking upper middle class Delhi-Bombay types.

The movement is also getting questioned for the support from questionable quarters – after all, how helpful is support from the film industry when it has so much to hide and explain about the black money that exists within it. There also appears to be some splitting of ranks in Team Anna. I was surprised to see Mallika Sarabhai do a volte face – a few days back; she was leading the agitation for India Against Corruption in Thiruvanantapuram. Last night on TV, she said that she was worried about the fact that most of Anna’s supporters indulge in bribe giving themselves! And that Team Anna should think about it! Justice Hegde has been saying “in his personal capacity” that there is need for a flexible attitude. And what about Anna himself? Anna is now apparently happy to negotiate with Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi? Why Rahul Gandhi? When I mentioned a few days back that it was time for RG to take over the Congress, many of Anna’s supporters ridiculed my idea. Now what will they say when their boss himself is happy to negotiate with him?!

If the political class is united against specific points in the Jan Lokpal Bill, the intelligentsia in the country is united against the methods being adopted. The intelligentsia is speaking in one voice – that Anna is up to dadagiri and it must stop. Most reject the comparison with Gandhi’s fasts-unto-death against the British. Most reject the gheraoing strategy that Anna’s team adopted yesterday. Most feel that asking the government to come to Ramlila grounds to negotiate with Anna is being unreasonable…..after all, there is something called the dignity of the government. Anna has already made his point – he brought the political class to its knees. But enough is enough. Senior corporate leaders including those with unquestionable credentials like Nandan Nilekani, Rahul Bajaj and Harsh Mariwala, senior lawyers like Harish Salve, Iqbal Chagla, Ashok Desai and Ram Jethmalani, senior ex-bureaucrats like Bimal Jalan, JM Lyngdoh and TSR Subramaniam, senior journalists like Shobhaa De, Kumar Ketkar, Rajdeep Sardesai, Yogendra Yadav…. and so many others are all saying that Anna is being too stubborn. Everyone agrees that while there is a role for protests; while there is a role for brinkmanship also; there is no role for cynicism in a public movement. Also, most people worry with the slant of the Anna movement – if it’s against ALL politicians, then who should rule the country? Are we suggesting we abandon our democracy itself?

There is also a little bit of surprise sympathy emerging for the police force. The cops in Delhi have been showing extreme restraint. In fact, some press stories have indicated that there is some hooliganism being seen in the crowds at Ramlila grounds. The crowds are largely male…..partly because of the general lawlessness against women in Delhi, but partly also because of the conduct of some of Anna’s young supporters. There are stories of bikers going around without helmets (yesterday’s TV report) and breaking the law. When grilled on this, Team Anna takes a bogus stance – arrest these hooligans, they say knowing fully well that if the police as much as touched these people, they would be blamed for high-handedness!

It’s not as if Team Anna doesn’t realize that their support is waning. They have been saying that they are ready for talks. Almost everyone is complaining that the government is not making any overtures. There is almost a plea in their voice. Please send someone to talk. We want to talk too. And yet, there are some extreme hardline elements who want to push further. These are the ones who must be removed from the dialogue now. It’s time for Justice Hegde to take a more active part; and for Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi to step aside. Just like it was time for Manish Tewari, Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram to step aside a few days back.

In the end, I want to compliment the effort made by Rajdeep Sardesai and CNN-IBN in recommending a solution. No matter how flawed or unworkable the solution may be, what mattered to me was that he made a serious effort to play a constructive role; unlike some in the media who want the trouble to continue longer in search of higher TRPs.

The real truth is that the point of satiety in this movement has been reached. The tide is turning against Team Anna now. It has to give up its stubbornness. I sincerely hope that that that happens before Anna’s health starts to deteriorate. Anna has to break his fast and bring the movement to a close. I must repeat what I said earlier – if anything happens to Anna, then Team Anna and India Against Corruption alone will be responsible. That cannot be the responsibility of the political class.


  1. I agree to the concept of "Point of satiety ". In fact if Team Anna extends it more it may happen that people start considering it as an agenda of some political party run by Team Anna and start backing off after loosing interest.

  2. Thank you sir for sharing your views and enlightening us.