Allegations of financial corruption, open infighting and ideological disarray: despite the bluff and bluster, Team Anna is ravaged by its own contradictions. This is not a story with a happy ending
Amit Sengupta Delhi
It’s a free fall. And despite the allegations of financial corruption, open infighting and ideological disarray, Team Anna claims it is sticking it out. Addicted to TV grandstanding, they once again did a press conference on October 29 in Delhi, claiming ‘united we stand’. There was nothing bombastic in the press meet, unlike their usual, belligerent media posturing.
After the unsavoury events in recent times, stalking their ethical and political conduct, they have been rather circumspect. Gone are the muscle pumping, the chest thumping, and the usual warnings – like Arvind Kejriwal threatening to bring crowds “10 times” bigger than what the nation witnessed in August. Indeed, instead of self-criticism, this was Kejriwal’s response in defence of Kiran Bedi’s financial conduct in repeatedly fudging huge air fare bills.
While Anna Hazare has safely extended his ‘maun vrat’, what his critics dub as the ‘silence of opportunism’ in the face of difficult (often incomprehensible) questions, the split in the faction-ridden Hazare camp is wide open. Medha Patkar and Justice Santosh Hegde did not attend the meeting on October 29. Hegde has openly opposed the ‘Hisar line’; no one was consulted, he said. The ‘Hisar line’ was a give-away. It proved the totally authoritarian and unethical conduct of the Kejriwal coterie. “How can you oppose Congress and help two discredited and corrupt multi-millionaire candidates with a history of corruption?” asks an old associate.
Core committee members, land rights activist PV Rajagopal and ‘Waterman’ Rajendra Singh, quit the team; if you are outside politics, how can you do this kind of politicking, they asked. Said Singh: “There is no place for dissent in Team Anna. There is no inner democracy there. When we demand that governments must function more democratically, how can we ignore this aspect within our movement…? I quit the group because I could not have been party to the kind of power brokering they did in the Hisar bye-election… At the outset it was decided that the movement won’t have anything to do with party politics; even when the central theme is fighting corruption, Team Anna supported corrupt persons.”
Kumar Vishwas, a low brow stand-up comedian and one of Kejriwal’s favourites, after appealing to Hazare for disbanding the so-called core committee, flew off to Tokyo. Ironically, Kejriwal claimed in the press meet that Vishwas should not have given the letter to the media. In fact, the letter was circulated in the media by Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption (IAC) media cell! Insiders in the core committee meeting inform that the letter was intentionally ‘planted’ and everyone knows about it. “This was basically to diffuse the situation,” a Team Anna member reportedly said in the meeting. So who is Kejriwal trying to fool?
Insiders say it was yet again Kejriwal’s doublespeak, and bullying and blackmailing tactics. Either way, he would be in a win-win situation. Because, it is he who would like to call the shots any which way; because it is he, as social activist Ashok Chaudhary says, the “real ring leader…”
In the press meet, with Kejriwal as key speaker, no new disclosures were made: Congress and UPA government still make up the only and principal enemy for Team Anna, the ‘Hisar decision’ was “correct and successful”, and will be followed in five states if the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’ is not passed in the winter session. The core committee will not be disbanded.
There were disconcerting twilight zones in the core committee meeting. Sources say a section was vehemently opposed to Prashant Bhushan’s statement on Kashmir demanding plebiscite. They said that no issue other than Jan Lokpal should be raised. Others butted in saying that many people like Medha Patkar are associated with other movements also. How can they betray those struggles? Can we support big dams or AFSPA? There was clearly no answer to these complex riddles. The meeting called for restraint, that’s all. The unresolved questions kept hanging, like a time bomb. So did Prashant Bhushan’s compromised acceptance of the proceedings.
The resolutions were predictably silent on the most tricky, loaded and embarrassing questions. They just skipped them, as if they didn’t exist. Despite the bluff and bluster, Team Anna is sinking, sinking drinking water. It’s in a quagmire of deep crisis. A free fall, for all to see.
Here are a few tangible reasons why:
Prashant Bhushan’s public humiliation at the hands of Hindutva fanatics seems to have healed faster than we could imagine. He was ‘behind’ Kejriwal in the press meet, defending the ‘anti-Congress’ resolution and the ‘core committee’. Clearly, despite the signs written on the wall, he has not learnt his lessons.
The same goons who brutally attacked Bhushan and shouted Bharat Mata ki Jai and Jai Sri Ram had also attacked writer Arundhati Roy earlier at a book launch in Delhi, and also, Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Farooq, shouting the same slogans. This is their professional activity, camouflaged as “patriotism”. Ironically, they were also at the forefront of the Anna movement in Ramlila Ground, shouting Vande Mataram, spewing venom at the Gandhi family.
One of them, Tejinder Singh Bagga, a member of BJP’s Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), reportedly got his picture clicked with Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravishankar, who was last seen launching Nitin Gadkari’s book of speeches. His house, anyway, has loads of celebratory pictures of him with Hindutva/BJP leaders. He has been spotted all over in Sangh Parivar functions. He was reportedly seen at BJP’s Rajghat protest too, during Sushma Swaraj’s famous ‘dance performance’ after the police action at Ramlila Ground, in which Ramdev ran away disguised as a woman. There is a picture of Bagga floating on Facebook, apparently as part of a delegation to meet P Chidambaram, with the other goon, Inder Verma, RSS leader Tarun Vijay, and his friend Shehla Masood, who was recently murdered.
Clearly, Ram Sene has deeper incestuous links with the Sangh Parivar. The dark irony is that those who were actually the backbone of the Anna movement were the very ones who so brutally attacked Bhushan, filmed live by Times Now. (Did the channel know about it?) But Bhushan, obviously, refuses to join the dots.
One day after that attack, IAC members were again viciously smashed to pulp outside the Patiala House courts in Delhi. No more than five IAC members came out in support of Bhushan. What happened to the thousands backing IAC? Why didn’t they start another mobile SMS campaign? Why didn’t IAC organise mass protests, candle light vigils and demonstrations in support of Bhushan, against the Hindutva goons? But what actually happened was that they quickly got bail. So is this how Team Anna members treat each other in times of crisis?
There was more stink flowing in the days to come, which, clearly, Bhushan (or other Team Anna members) can’t smell, see or hear. After a lukewarm response to the attack, it was expected that Hazare (and Kejriwal etc) would speak out strongly against the Hindutva fanatics; that they will invert their daily threats against Congress, and instead attack the Rightwing communal fascists. Nothing of the sort happened.
In no time, shockingly, Hazare came out with a quick statement against Bhushan himself, saying that he was wrong, he should not have spoken on Kashmir, and, with his usual muscle-flexing, that he was ready to go fight with Pakistan if need be. He also said he is considering whether Bhushan should be in the team at all; there were reports that he will be unceremoniously dumped. There were rumours that Bhushan has offered to “resign”. The disgrace, and the lack of grace, was brazenly transparent. It almost seemed as if Hazare was speaking what the RSS would want him to speak.
Significantly, the attack on Bhushan happened soon after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat openly declared that the RSS was fully involved in the Anna movement. LK Advani endorsed it soon after. Bhagwat also warned that all ‘minority’ sections should be thrown out of this movement, especially those who oppose ‘nationalistic’ slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram.
Argues a National Advisory Council (NAC) member: “Saying that Prashant Bhushan is stuck in the mess would be wrong. He knew fully well what he was doing. And nobody stopped him from leaving Team Anna. I think this campaign has caught the fancy of some extremists from both sides of the political spectrum. If you see Prashant Bhushan, he is not a Left-liberal democrat. He is more inclined towards the Maoists. Likewise, there are others who are not RSS, but close to them. Like these Babas… It is Prashant who would want to stick with the team; he needs it desperately, and not Kejriwal. Now that his role is over, Kejriwal would want to do away with him… How he will handle this is to be seen. How disrespectfully he will be thrown out remains to be seen.”
Most old friends of Bhushan believe that he is barking up the wrong tree and has got carried away by the media attention and crowds. “He has got trapped in wrong company and it’s high time he got out,” says a JNU professor. “He thinks he is a national hero. TV has made him woolly-headed. He has forgotten his old comrades.” Others close to him say that he has become difficult, inaccessible, even arrogant and closed. “Kejriwal has mesmerised him,” says an associate. “The problem with Prashant is that his political understanding is too limited. His perspective is also short-term, shallow and without complexities. There is a lack of political education. He has little sense of history. How else could he say that the slogans shouted at Ramlila Ground were not RSS slogans? How can he be so wilfully blind, even after the attack?”
The current context has also proved what Hardnews has documented in its August and September issue. That successive secret meetings have been held in different locations since April in which key RSS strategists and fronts were involved in various capacities. Former IB chief Ajit Doval, Sangh ideologues S Gurumurthy and KN Govindacharya, Subramanian Swamy, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Ramdev et al were part of these strategy sessions, where they had pledged to enter and capture all such anti-corruption movements. RSS and ABVP leaders had confirmed to Hardnews that they had penetrated both Ramdev and Hazare’s movement, including IAC, via ABVP’s Youth Against Corruption. Earlier, RSS leader Suresh Joshi had written to Hazare extending full support (see box,Thus Spake RSS). Till this day, not even a squeak of protest rejecting the RSS has been heard from within Team Anna.
Indeed, the entire movement has been consistently bereft of a single slogan against Narendra Modi, BS Yeddyuruppa, or BJP’s Bellary mafia. Not one word on Salwa Judum, killings of innocents and mass human rights violations in Kashmir, Hindutva terror, hounding of Muslim boys, fake encounters in Gujarat. No one knows the opinion of Hazare’s team on people’s struggles all over the country, against big dams, Jaitapur or Koodankulam, or on Gujarat genocide 2002. Team Anna again chose stupefying silence during Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavana fast, apparently organised with government infrastructure and funds. Asks an activist: “If this is not corruption, what is? Why has Hazare been so stubbornly silent when it comes to Modi?”
“This movement has changed the Left-liberal character of the Indian civil society and people’s movements. Now what we are seeing is a clear Rightwing ploy. In the beginning, some people had doubts, but now it has become clear,” says a former bureaucrat and social activist.
Says Swami Agnivesh: “They are riding a tiger. RSS was all over there for everyone to see… Hazare and his team did not want such a big support base to go away.” Agnivesh had also opposed Ramdev’s presence in the Anna movement, since the yoga guru was literally a Sangh Parivar puppet. This was also resented by Hazare’s team.
Says a journalist who has documented the anti-dam struggle: “Even Medha has been working in an area where there has been no struggle against communal and casteist forces. Besides, she too is from Maharashtra, Anna’s home state. There are umbilical chords. So her current stand has to be seen in that context. There is an old story which all Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) friends know, that she had intervened and stopped a Hindu-Muslim inter-religious marriage in the area. There was a threat that ‘Gujarat will be repeated’.”
The trend to diffuse contradictions and go to bed with the Sangh Parivar has acquired legitimacy. This is Team Anna’s contribution to the people’s movements. “Even Agnivesh used the same kind of Art of Living and IIT crowd in his 70th birthday celebrations held at Siri Fort,” says an activist. “There is a desperate effort to enter the apolitical constituency of upwardly mobile metro-centric youth, and well-fed upper and middle classes – the Chetan Bhagat constituency,” says a JNU student.
Says an activist involved in the early stage with the Hazare movement: “In the January meeting at Ramlila Ground, there were all kinds of Rightwing characters on the stage. I grew disgusted when I heard Kejriwal saying that he, along with others, had gone to meet Narendra Modi; that Modi is an able administrator and has promised full support to the Anna campaign.” Says a forest rights activist, “Rightwing forces have penetrated many movements. This is their strategy. They know there is no future in communal politics.”
Indeed, Govindacharya’s people were spotted inside closed door meetings at Agnivesh’s Jantar Mantar office, with Medha Patkar at the helm. Medha too has created sharp fissures within people’s movements, and in the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), where she is a leader. “NAPM is a front with only leaders, no masses. Medha is one of them,” says a veteran activist. Indeed, NAPM too might split over this issue in the days to come.
Medha’s latest avatar has robbed her of the legend of 25 years of satyagraha and grassroots struggle as the leader of NBA. This, when she, along with other people’s movements, had been integral to several protracted and tough movements across the country: from Kashipur to Jagatsinghpur, Nandigram to Raigarh. These are movements in which Hazare or Kejriwal and Bedi have never participated. The Hazare camp reportedly opposed any anti-AFSPA campaign in the first meeting of the core team at Ralegan Siddhi.
Medha used to openly say earlier that the people’s struggle is two-fold: against communal fascism and globalisation. The secular struggle is against the politics and development model of Modi, she would say. Now, she is happily hanging out with the likes of Kejriwal and Bedi, and stunningly silent on Modi. Says an activist: “When asked about the movement’s RSS links, Medha said, ‘RSS? Is it written on their faces? Where is it? R… S… S… where?’”
No wonder, she was seen touching the feet of Hazare at Ramlila Ground. Says an old-timer: “Medha’s expiry date is over. She has no following. Now, wherever she sees a crowd or the media, she rushes in. She refuses to dissect the ideological content of this Anna movement. She is chasing her own illusions and delusions. It is sad. Tragic. After all these years of selfless struggle and setting new landmarks in people’s movements, she has succumbed to the lure of big crowds and television fame. How can she support the cult of the individual? What is Hazare’s politics? Where was he during all these years of many struggles? And what about those who have supported her and the NBA for more than two decades? Does her heart beat for them?”
In that sense, the World Bank/IMF project seems to be succeeding, says a political observer, and if Kejriwal et al are working with that agenda too, they have already succeeded. There is going to be a vertical and horizontal rupture in people’s movements across the country if the current trend continues, and that too would be the contribution of the Hazare movement.
“This has been the experience in many countries where World Bank/IMF policies and their agents have penetrated grassroots movements and civil society to create fissures. They will do huge damage. This is also the process of NGO-isation of radical struggles, which will only help all neo-liberal governments and the corporates,” says a forest rights activist.
Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar et al will now be a dividing force, not a unifying factor, so strong have the divides become within the people’s movements. There is strong opposition to the Rightwing Hindutva putsch inside the Anna movement among secular and radical activists; they have seen through the game, and they will not compromise. For others, the danger of communal fascism is more potent and long-term, than this fight against corruption and in support of a draconian Lokpal bill.
“This Kejriwal campaign is against secular democracy. It is against affirmative action for the poor and Dalits. It backs Hindutva fanatics and their hate politics, and its silence on Gujarat carnage proves that they will not say a word if there is another genocide against Muslims or other minorities,” says a social activist. Says an economist: “Watch out for new transparency projects in good governance. More bureaucracy, more corporates. More privatisation. This is a pet World Bank agenda. Corporate fundamentalism through the backdoor. The Lokpal campaign has all the ugly signs of this action-replay.”
Clearly, the free fall of Team Anna will have serious repercussions elsewhere too. They will destroy the unity of civil society struggles. The weight of the negative forces unleashed by them will not only boomerang on them, it will take many others down as well. It is already happening. And that is bad news.
With inputs by Sadiq Naqvi