Many columns have appeared advising Team Anna on their political plans. Many have cheered, seeing them as a ray of hope for kick-starting our political cleansing process. Others have warned against the potentially disastrous move. I won’t add to the oodles of already existing, well-meant counsel. Team Anna has achieved a lot. They deserve respect for it.
They have also made mistakes. To stumble upon public attention is one thing, to sustain it quite another. But for true leaders, mistakes are lessons. If Team Anna has that vision and attitude, they will continue to make a difference. If they don’t, they will flounder, even with genuine intentions.
There is a political opportu-nity created by Team Anna’s current setbacks. The BJP, frequent opportunity-misser, has the most to gain here. The Congress can too. However, this requires the parties to stop gloating over the defeat of Team Anna and tap into the current public sentiment.
It is important to comprehend what Anna started as, what he became and where he is now. Anna began his current anti-corruption campaign right after some of the biggest public scams in India’s history. Indians have, and frankly, can live with modest amounts of corruption. However, what they get angry about is blatant, in-your-face corruption. The Commonwealth and 2G scams were about flagrant abuse of power. The arrogant smirks on the accused’s faces as the government did little enraged people.
People were upset. Anna seemed like someone who could do something about it. Charged with a World Cup cricket victory, Indians lent support in droves. The media followed. Anna and team, perhaps unexpectedly to them too, became star activists overnight. As the movement swelled, the government came to the table to talk, adding to Anna’s awesomeness.
It was around now that the team needed to strike a deal, declare victory, and also let the government save some face, even if it meant a compromised Bill. This would have cemented the stardom. The team could have reserved the right to come back in a few years if the Bill didn’t work. However, Team Anna felt this would be a sell-out. They wanted to deliver the perfect Bill.
For a while, the defiance added to the stardom. The stardom itself became a burden. For the team was no longer an anti-corruption symbol, but also carried the hopes and aspirations of millions of young Indians looking for change. Indians want a better life – not just low corruption, but also better jobs, education, power, water, healthcare – and don’t know how to get it. For a while, people felt Team Anna could help them achieve their dreams.
Obviously, Anna couldn’t, and he was never meant to anyway. The supporters felt lost as the team had inadvertently awakened their dreams, but had few solutions apart from fasts. In such a scenario, despair was bound to set in. The sudden calling off of the fast and announcement of a political party added to the disillusionment.
The current despair is the political opportunity. Someone needs to take the mantle from Anna. It doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be another activist outfit. For activists can at best create dreams. They cannot deliver on them. Only people in power can.
This despair can be tapped. For instance, it seems likely that the Congress will be blamed for crushing Anna. People will vent this anger in 2014 against the Congress.
The BJP can expedite this process, by reassuring people that even if Anna isn’t as prominent, the team’s message isn’t lost.
Of course, they should make realistic promises, based on what they can deliver. The BJP has its corrupt elements, and it should work out a way to cleanse itself over time. For this, the top leadership of the BJP has to learn to get along, immediately. They have a historic opportunity here. The anti-Congress sentiment can be smelt in the air. The BJP has to offer a whiff of hope and people will come to it.
At present, it seems the BJP leaders assume power in 2014 is guaranteed. Hence, several of them want to position themselves as PM. Such a short-sighted, selfish mentality will backfire. This isn’t just about winning 2014. This is about winning 2014 and the next 20 years. If they win and stay in power, everyone will get a chance to achieve their personal ambitions.
In some ways, the half-dozen top BJP leaders today control India’s future. If they learn to get along and back one solid candidate, they will win 2014 comfortably and can stay there for a long time. If they continue to bicker, we will have a fractured mandate, a weak government patched together by a coalition, and yes, no BJP PM at all. The top BJP leaders owe it to the nation to keep personal selfishness aside for the next two years.
The Congress, of course, can capitalise on the sentiment of des-pair too. They could pass the Lokpal Bill. They could also start certain new initiatives, such as fast-track courts for big corruption cases. Of course, this may mean some of their own will be punished. However, isn’t it better than everyone being punished in 2014?
If either party capitalises on Anna’s diminished movement, it could benefit them, but also the nation. If they don’t, it will hurt them politically. In some ways, this is what Team Anna wanted anyway, to create a political incentive to address corruption. Ultimately, it isn’t Congress, BJP or Anna that has to win but India. Let us hope that in 2014, that is what happens.