Anna in politics?


He needs to be circumspect

It is not the first time that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has disclosed the government’s involvement in a scam. What is disconcerting this time is that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been accused of keeping away the CAG report from parliament on coal bungling, running into Rs. 1.45 lakh crore. The prime minister told parliament on May 23 this year that the CAG report was only a draft while the fact which has come to light is that the final report was received on May 11, both by the government and the President’s office. It means that there is nothing sacrosanct for the Congress-led coalition, even parliament privileges, much less transparency that one expected from a government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh.

The government is only a forwarding agency as far as reports by the CAG are concerned. He directly reports to parliament through the government as he did in the case of corruption in coal, a portfolio directly under the prime minister. How he rationalizes the delay—he is a master in doing so—will be something which I await. Yet the corruption part is really serious. Certain private parties and individuals are said to have been given benefits. They must have rendered service in kind and cash to the ruling party.

The sad part is that when a movement against corruption was needed the most, Gandhian Anna Hazare leading it, changes his strategy and thinks about contesting elections in 2014. Although he looked reluctant and expressed doubts in public, he seemed to have been prevailed upon by those who have always focused their eyes on the electoral politics. Some of them may well be members of the team which Hazare has now disbanded.

Yet abandoning a movement which had come to ventilate the resentment of civil society was leaving a job in the middle. True, the government was obtrusive and did not want to give a strong Lokpal (ombudsman). Equally true, the opposition parties were indifferent. This was all the more reason why the movement for a Lokpal needed to be intensified.

With no immediate challenge on corruption, the government has blessed the move of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) not to go in appeal on the rejection of disproportionate assets case against former UP chief minister Mayawati. Even her 21 votes in the Lok Sabha are important for Manmohan Singh government to show a majority in the parliament. And it seems obvious that the Congress will stick to office for the rest of the term, roughly 22 months, even if it has to play false as it has done in the case of CAG report on coal and even if it has turned a blind eye to Mayawati’s assets which are unexplainable. She has reportedly amassed a wealth of Rs 116 crore since 2003.

Indeed, this is the best time for Anna to enter the political field. But can a party rise from the ashes of a movement which had swept the intelligentsia off its feet and had kept the media focused for 18 months? In concrete terms, the movement has nothing to show. But the awakening of civil society is itself an achievement of sorts.

Whether Anna can convert the awakening process into voting process is yet to be seen? One thing which is in his favour is that he is being associated with an alternative to the Congress and the BJP, the two main political parties. People generally want a change and not either of the two at the helm of affairs again.

Gandhian Jayaprakash Narain (JP) was forced into a similar situation but accepted the Jana Sangh, the predecessor of BJP, after the Jana Sangh promised him to cut off relations with the RSS. He was betrayed but in the process the Jana Sangh got credibility of a non-communal setup.

A similar situation is faced by Anna when Baba Ramdev wants the two of them to join hands. Secularism and parochialism do not mix well. JP made the mistake and parochial forces gained from it. Anna should not traverse the same path. He has to stand alone when Baba Ramdev and his musclemen try to make a united stand. Their culture is different and civil society is not willing to accept them.

The mantle of JP has fallen on Anna. But JP traveled throughout India to awaken people to the need to have an alternative and defeat the rulers who have mutilated the very system to serve their purpose and sustain the status quo which gives them power and unfettered control.

I am not against Anna taking part in elections. He himself is having second thoughts. Yet it would have been far better if he had held wider consultations with activists like Medha Padkar and Aruna Roy. Such consultations did take place before Anna had begun stir against corruption. He must string together the various movements, however small, which are visibly working at the grassroots. These activists will provide grist to the mill of change that Anna is contemplating.

Maybe, a political platform, instead of a party, may serve a wider purpose. Some can work with the people’s movements and some contest elections. They will help each other and together they will be a force to reckon with. Mahatma Gandhi had separated constructive workers from those engaged in the legislative field.

JP did not form the party till after winning at the polls. Yet he saw to it that his candidates would fight on one symbol. What proved to be his Achilles heel was the wrong candidates he chose. They were not the people to effect changes. They used the system to benefit themselves. And then JP’s health failed and he could not reach out to the people.

Anna should be careful about his health and slowly but relentlessly harness support among those close associates who have the commitment and faith in basic values. He should take time. But he cannot afford to fail for the second time. Politics is not bad. Those who dominate it at this time have given it a bad name.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist.