Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why Anna won’t set up his own political party…..

Many have been urging Anna to set up his own political party and take on the corruption challenge from inside Parliament. Many have taunted him about not having the courage to do so. But Anna has so far clearly indicated that he is not interested in entering the political fray directly. That’s pretty smart of him! He realizes it is one thing to fight the system from outside; quite another to do so from inside.
A look at the developments of the last few weeks should make this clear.
When Prashant Bhushan was attacked in his chambers last week, I wrote a post calling the attack pathetic. My point was that whatever Prashant Bhushan said – and I certainly don’t endorse his line on Kashmir – he could not be attacked. But I was surprised with the many comments I got; comments that hinted that the attacks were justified. Prashant Bhushan had spoken of a plebiscite in Kashmir – an act not acceptable to most Indians (The time when the UN asked for a plebiscite was different. Much has changed since then. Pakistan never vacated PoK and in fact ceded ground to China in Aksai Chin). Most Indians think that a plebiscite amounts to letting Kashmir secede. Prashant Bhushan had stepped into a territory in which he had no locus. And he got censured. If Prashant Bhushan had been part of Anna’s political party, he would have got censured even more. Team Anna’s image has already been dented too with his statement, with Anna himself hinting that Prashant Bhushan may not continue as a part of his team.
In another incident, Justice Santosh Hegde has complained that Arvind Kejriwal’s strategy of opposing only the Congress in Hisar was wrong. By doing so, Team Anna he said, lost the strength that comes with being apolitical……and this was bound to divide the support that the anti-corruption movement had enjoyed till now. Justice Hegde also hinted that Arvind Kejriwal should not speak as much as he does. In fact, there is some report today which states that Anna may want to appoint a spokesperson for himself different from his current team members. Again, Team Anna dabbled on the edges of politics – and got the flak.
Then there was this story doing the rounds (perhaps planted by the Congress) that the BJP had offered to make Anna the President of the country. Frankly, given the fact that the President’s role is largely ceremonial, I don’t see any reason why Anna cannot be made the President. But even the President in this country is seen as someone who is a part of politics; even if not directly into it. The rumor was enough to spark off debates among people, many of whom felt Anna was losing the plot. As per an opinion poll running on right now, Anna gets 49% of the votes for President; Narayanmurthy (of Infosys fame) gets a close 44%. Again, as seen, the support for Anna outside of his anti-corruption movement is very iffy. Again, this shows that politics is a very different game.
Yet another trap that Team Anna is walking into now is the proposed visit of Anna to Pakistan. What is Anna likely to say there? Is he likely to remain just a proponent of anti-corruption movements? If so, he will no doubt be received with a warm welcome. But how will he handle the barbs that will no doubt be thrown at him by the Pakistani government and the press – barbs on the status of Kashmir and the role of the Indian army there; barbs on India’s support for Afghanistan; barbs on India’s alleged role in Baluchistan etc. What will Anna say if asked to comment on these issues? Will Anna be able to speak on Pakistan’s support to terrorist activities all around the world, including in India? On each of these issues, no matter what Anna says, he will be walking into a minefield. Many in India will feel he said the right thing; many others the wrong thing.
Again, with respect to his support to Irom Sharmila in Manipur. It is one thing to morally support her. It’s quite another thing to demand the withdrawal of AFSPA in that insurgency-infested state. What would happen if Anna supported the removal of AFSPA (he hasn’t done that yet) and the state later went up in violence and seceded? Would Anna want to run that risk at all? What about removing AFSPA in Kashmir? What will Anna’s response be if the separatists and moderates (both of whom want to dissociate from India) ask him to condemn the role of the army in that state? Will Anna justify the presence of the army, even though he is himself a Gandhian opposed to violence? Will he be able to nuance his comments so as not to hurt any of his followers in India?
What about matters of faith? What about politics intermingling with faith? His one attempt to praise Modi for the state’s development led to a controversy. He had to quickly qualify his praise and state that he was aghast at the corruption cases in Gujarat and the easy liquor flowing in “Gandhi’s state”. Again, Anna had dabbled in politics and had been singed. Taking this further, would Anna’s comment on liquor get as much support from the people as his anti-corruption movement got? No way….and Anna realizes that.
Carrying on a campaign from outside has tremendous advantages. One can complain and criticize and promise a future that’s all rosy and heavenly. That’s bound to pull in the crowds. But joining the government and then delivering what has been promised is another thing. That’s when the problems start. That’s why it is always the ruling party that is the focus of public attacks; never the opposition. In the center, the Congress is attacked; in Karnataka, the BJP. If Anna made the mistake of entering politics, he would be attacked from all kinds of quarters. The more issues he would take up – as any political party would need to take up – the more he would get typecast as just another typical politician. It’s not that all politicians are bad; it’s just that politics makes people see them that way. That’s why Anna wants to stay away from politics.
But this is also the tragedy for the country. Good people like Anna want to stay away from politics. There is a limit to how much a revolutionary can do externally. Beyond a point – and when the time comes to voting – voters will still have to choose between one party and the other. By not offering a third alternative, Anna is in some ways letting the country down. JP may never have entered elections himself, but his support led to the Janata Party government being set up and the Congress getting thrown out. It’s a different matter that as soon as the JP government got set up, it started to disintegrate, but at least JP made the effort. Will Anna do so? I don’t think so.
The real truth is that the few baby steps (or were they mistakes?) that Team Anna took towards politics must have made them realize just how different and difficult the world of politics is. Imagine what would happen if Anna took a full-scale plunge into politics. My contention is that if he did that, his support base would shrink drastically. It’s easy to lead a single-point revolution from the outside; very difficult to run a government from the inside. Politics is a difficult and dirty field. Those who criticize politics and politicians should remember it’s difficult to be in politics and satisfy all. Even if you are an Anna…..

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