Anti-Corruption Movement: Popular Resolve Must Overcome Team Anna’s Predicament

In April 2011, the Anna Hazare phenomenon had suddenly taken India by a storm. The idea of a powerful anti-corruption institutional watchdog tapped into the simmering anger of the Indian people and ‘Team Anna’ emerged as the most visible centre of a growing campaign calling for an immediate passage of an effective Jan Lokpal legislation. Overnight, Anna Hazare assumed iconic proportions in the eyes of the country’s youth fed up with corrupt and self-seeking politicians. The government’s attempt to delegitimize the Jan Lokpal campaign by accusing it of undermining Parliament’s sovereignty did not work and Parliament was forced to adopt a resolution endorsing some key points raised by Team Anna while the Prime Minister promised to make Lokpal a legislative reality in the winter session of Parliament.

As the winter session progressed it however became crystal clear that most parties in power – whether at the Centre or in various states – were opposed to the idea of having any powerful institutional framework to check corruption. By every indication, the situation called for a third and decisive round of the Jan Lokpal agitation. Indeed, Anna and his colleagues had time and again voiced this idea during their public speeches. Yet, when the Congess and the BJP connived with each other with help from some other parties in reducing the Lokpal bill to a parliamentary farce in the closing moments of the winter session, Anna inexplicably called off the proposed jail bharo agitation, leaving the entire Jan Lokpal campaign in a limbo.

How does one explain this intriguing anti-climactic denouement of an agitation that many had started viewing as the advent of India’s own version of the Arab Spring? Is it just an application of the well known Gandhian technique of calling off agitations to ensure they remain within limits? Is it to make allowance for the winter and Anna’s ill health? Or is it just a reflection of what Kejriwal terms ‘confusion’ regarding the future course of the agitation? Contrary to previous plans, Anna is not campaigning in the Assembly elections. Other members of Team Anna, campaigning in Assembly polls, are limiting their entire campaign to the single issue of Jan Lokpal, rather than calling on people not to vote for all corrupt parties.

Whichever way Team Anna and its campaign may evolve in the future, it is difficult to miss the basic contradictions that have led to the current predicament. The team’s ambivalent attitude to politics, ranging from an almost ‘anti-political’ stance to pragmatic treatment of parties and political leaders according to calculations of convenience, may be alright for an advocacy group lobbying for a certain legislative measure, but a team calling for a second freedom movement and systemic change must show greater consistency. Moreover, a second freedom movement, or for that matter even the anti-corruption campaign, cannot be limited to a single point, howsoever important. Team Anna’s reluctance to address the key question of corporate loot and the need to resist and reverse the whole gamut of pro-corporate policies has been in stark contrast to the Occupy movement’s thrust against corporate greed that has touched a common chord across the world.

The Congress will be only too happy to exploit the predicament of Team Anna to rubbish the entire anti-corruption campaign while the BJP and its allies, who are no less discredited on the very issue of corruption, will hope to cash in on the simmering popular anger against the Congress. Even as the current Lokpal bill now threatens to follow its forgotten predecessors, the powers that be are waiting with their agenda of land acquisition and FDI in retail. Overcoming the ambiguity and limits of Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal campaign, the forces of people’s movement must therefore get ready for a decisive resistance in 2012 against the pro-corporate policy regime. Let us turn the February 28 call of countrywide strike by central trade unions into a bold beginning in this direction.


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