Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another constitutional authority cautions Team Anna…..

OK it’s not quite a “caution” as the Chief Election Commission (CEC) itself clarified. But it’s still a “hint” that activities of Team Anna when it campaigns for or against parties in the ensuing state elections would be under scrutiny. Two days back, the Bombay High Court – it being another constitutional authority – had passed stinging orders cautioning Team Anna about the way it was going about the business of fasts and putting pressure on Parliament. Why are constitutional authorities becoming impatient with Anna?

Well…..Team Anna has itself to blame for this situation that it finds itself in. After winning the hearts and minds of people, Team Anna has gone overboard. All the adulation and support they got from millions of people has gone to their heads. Individual team members – Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Shanti Bhushan, and Prashant Bhushan – have floundered in terms of their personal credibility. Their language has been foul and in fact vicious, their conduct even more so. I am not sure the “ghoonghat” act of Kiran Bedi at the Ramlila grounds in August this year went down too well with people in the country. The canvassing against the Congress alone in Haryana did not go down well with many traditional Congress supporters – who are concerned about corruption issues just like anyone else is – but who don’t see it as a Congress v/s BJP v/s other parties issue. Corruption is a malaise that has corroded all our institutions, all political parties…..why then should Team Anna have focused its energies against one single party?

The CEC is right. If Team Anna canvasses against the Congress, it cannot do so in a vacuum. It will either directly or indirectly support one or more parties. Since the SP has also criticized several provisions of the Lokpal Bill, it is likely that Team Anna will oppose them as well. And since the BSP is a party notorious for corruption – Mayawati herself has sacked some 7-8 of her ministers in the recent months – Anna cannot be driving the voters towards it. That leaves the BJP and that’s where the problem starts. Most people believe that the BJP has been playing opportunistic politics on the Lokpal issue – forever supporting a single law that prevails over the entire country and that would create both the Lokpal at the Center and the Lok Ayuktas in the states, but complaining about it when the government finally brought that provision in. The BJP also has several other objections to Anna’s draft – they don’t support probes against the conduct of MPs inside Parliament, tapping of phone calls, including the judiciary or even the PM without conditions. And yet, Team Anna is excessively biased towards the BJP. Not one – okay make that very rarely – has Team Anna or Anna himself criticized the BJP. In fact, Anna has been caught with his foot in his mouth when he praised Modi for growth – choosing to ignore the fact that the state has not had a Lok Ayukta for a decade or so. Anna has also been conspicuously silent on the BJP’s mess in Karnataka. And when it does point out the cases of corruption found in lowly Group C and D officials in MP, it directs its energies towards building support for the inclusion of these groups under the Lokpal – not against the BJP in whose rule such incidents arose. Elsewhere, it is the Congress government that they target if something similar happens.

There is the question of legality also that has to be looked at. Essentially, if Team Anna spends money in supporting a particular party, then the spends should be added to the spends the party itself makes. And that is – at least supposedly – tightly controlled. Team Anna may get around this problem by campaigning “againt” a party rather than “for” any party. But then the question of “propriety” comes up. Surely, political spends of a party are directed as much towards eroding a competitor’s political base as towards building support for itself. If Team Anna canvasses against the Congress, surely that would be misconduct of some sorts? That’s what the CEC has pointed out.

In any case, I doubt if Team Anna has the capability or ground-level reach to canvas in five states at the same time. Hisar was one single constituency and even in Hisar, Kejriwal’s campaign against the Congress was driven more by media coverage than by actual people-to-people contact. Media support for Anna’s movement has declined considerably – thanks again to the issues that have bugged constitutional authorities. Media is also wary about the aggressiveness of Team Anna; about its disdain for Parliamentary processes and about it’s holier than thou attitude. The state of UP is another challenge altogether. Its huge size and difficult terrain would make it impossible for Team Anna to make much of a dent there. Without media support, Anna’s campaigning would be a dud in any case.

Anna must step back and look at the signals he is being sent. Every section of society that matters – the judiciary, the CEC, the intelligentsia, the media – all are cautioning Anna about the way the movement is going. No one is supporting corruption; or anyone the government in particular. But they are all upset with the way Team Anna is conducting itself. At times like these, it is important for the leader to step back a bit and look at the larger picture. The larger picture is one of caution. All the good work done by Anna – and no one denies Anna the credit for it – should not go waste because of the obduracy of key people. If for whatever reasons – and this blogger surely believes it is possible – the Lokpal Bill goes the Women’s Reservation Bill way (getting passed in one house; rejected in the other), it will be a terrible waste of a chance. This is where good strategic thinking is required. This is where being practical is required. The larger war cannot be won in one single battle. Sometimes, it is important to settle for less; only to come back with demands for more at a future date. Anna’s roots have been in the army – surely he knows what a strategic retreat means?

The real truth is that the way things are going, all may well be lost. It is for saner minds – definitely not the Kejriwal, Bhushan and Bedi types, nor the Narayanswami, Digvijay Singh or Manish Tiwari types either nor also the Nirmala Seetharaman or Chandan Mitra types – to take over. It is debatable whether the government’s Lokpal Bill is strong enough or not; but it is equally debatable whether the JLP is worth it at all. A decent middle ground has been achieved – and we must hoist the Lokpal flag there…..

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