DIRTY PICTURE

Split wide apart, they are still playing snakes and ladders. An inside report on the many dubious games of Team Anna and its patrons 
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi 

Who so ever wants to form a political party can do it, I am not going to support it,” said Anna Hazare to volunteers in the capital on September 19, 2012. “Things are not clear as to how the candidates will be chosen. How will one guarantee that they are clean?”

A wily Hazare maintained a sense of pronounced confusion and ambiguity over his future plans. “Our goal is the same,” he said. “Our ways may have changed, but that should not stop us.” He told volunteers that they should avoid the meeting with the other faction of India Against Corruption (IAC), led by Arvind Kejriwal, for the formation of a political party. “This will harm the campaign. We should not let our differences come out in the open.”

The next day, he was even more vociferous. He barred Kejriwal and others from using his picture or name. He rubbished the recent poll by Kejriwal’s team which said 76 per cent of people in India (59 lakh smses!?) were for formation of a political party. Interestingly, even earlier, when Kejriwal announced the formation of a political party and Hazare endorsed it, some four lakh hypothetical votes were sent through text messages to Zee News for their survey. And 97 per cent of those people backed the formation of a political party! The same poll on India Today’s website attracted a dismal 1,600 people.

A shrewd Hazare, who is known to have infamously dumped many of his closest associates time and again, once more did an about turn. “In the meeting on September 20 in Delhi, it was decided that he will not join the political party but would pledge support to good candidates,” a source said.  Hence, when Hazare came out and took a strikingly opposite stand, it ‘shocked’ many, including Kejriwal.

After the August 2012 fast, an ‘important’ meeting was held in Palampur in Himachal Pradesh where even a list of probable candidates was prepared. The plan stands shelved now after Hazare backed out at the last moment. So what really made Hazare change his plans? Is it actually a split as it is being made out to be?

Inevitably, and as has been the predictable pattern, Hazare has not uttered a word against the BJP. The dubious games of the faction-ridden anti-corruption brigade, backed by the RSS and Sangh Parivar, since the very beginning of this campaign in late 2010, have become
stunningly transparent.

The same night, after he banned even his picture and name from the motley camp of ‘Team Arvind’, a meeting was held between Hazare, Baba Ramdev, and Sitaram Jindal, an industrialist with VHP links who has openly pledged support for the BJP. Also, Jindal has been a generous donor to the Anna campaign. His initial contribution in the early phase in 2011 was Rs 25 lakh. Later, the Sitaram Jindal Foundation gave a Rs 25 lakh award to Hazare on February 23, 2012.

Sources reveal that the RSS was miffed with Kejriwal for floating a political party and for being critical of the BJP, a sentiment which found support from another Team Anna member, Kiran Bedi, who too opposed any criticism or action against the BJP. Bedi has an overt soft spot for the BJP, apparent since the campaign took off. Sources claim that she is allegedly eyeing the chief minister’s slot in an ‘imagined’ future BJP dispensation in Delhi.

Sources also reveal that many important functionaries, including Sri Sri Ravishankar, were unhappy with Kejriwal’s unilateral decision to launch a political party. This angered Ramdev who was shocked at the way Kejriwal tactically seized the opportunity before Ramdev could play his electoral cards — as a tacit/overt front of the RSS/VHP/BJP.

Besides, many IAC volunteers were miffed with the idea. Insiders say that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Justice Santosh Hegde met Hazare during his recent ‘retreat’ at Jindal’s ‘rejuvenation centre’ on the outskirts of Bangalore. “Sri Sri has time and again said that he is not going to form a political outfit. He stands for a sustained campaign against corruption,” Darshak Hathi, Sri Sri’s representative to IAC told Hardnews. Interestingly, in the past too, Sri Sri acted as a bridge between the BJP and IAC, facilitating meetings with the BJP top leadership.

 The same night, after he banned even his picture and name from the motley camp of 'Team Arvind', a meeting was held between hazare,  Baba ramdev and sitaram Jindal, an industralist with VHP links

Earlier, Ramdev tried hard to lobby with most political parties, especially when he seemed at a loss as to how to end his short-lived ‘fast’ at the Ramlila Ground in August 2012. His efforts failed miserably when most politicians, barring these from the BJP and JD(U), refused to share the stage with him. The UPA regime ignored him.

Sources say, BJP President Nitin Gadkari was roped in at the last moment by Ramdev’s key aide, Hindi journalist Ved Prakash Vedic, who promised him that Ramdev would openly come out against the Congress. “The BJP and RSS have been able to sort out Ramdev. He is now publicly aligned with them. Kejriwal — who accepted the overwhelming Sangh Parivar support earlier as during the first Ramlila Ground protests in August 2011 — has been creating problems for them lately,” says an
IAC insider. 

To many, the idea of going political seems to be part of a grand plan to launch an offensive from multiple fronts, especially against the Congress. The meticulously crafted strategy to include people from a broad spectrum did pan out well when Team Anna managed to confuse the urban middle classes, rode on a TV manufactured high, and reaped crowd support organised by various fronts of the Sangh Parivar. As Hardnews had reported, the anti-corruption campaign was originally masterminded by pro-Hindutva tacticians like KN Govindacharaya, Subramanian Swamy, S Gurumurthy and former IB chief Ajit Doval.

There were 27 members from diverse backgrounds who were roped in to join the IAC initially, including Medha Patkar, peasant leader PV Rajagopal, ‘waterman’ Rajendra Singh, Christian and Muslim representatives, and so on. Many of them fell out soon after.

In such a broad-based coalition, it’s not possible to keep the ‘mask’ intact. This became even more difficult in the face of the unbridled personal ambition of Kejriwal, an NGO boss with big funds, often termed a “megalomaniac and authoritarian” by activists. Confusion was also floated by the likes of Medha Patkar who maintained that the campaign had no Rightwing leanings despite the clear support of the RSS and Ramdev, who, like a quack, was doling out simplistic and populist remedies to bring back black money.

It was clear from the beginning that there were sharp fault lines that would eventually rupture. Initially, it was Ramdev who was pushing the threshold. “We, the Rashtriya Swabhimaan Andolan, were the first to launch a campaign against black money and corruption,” said a close aide of RSS ideologue Govindacharya. After amassing colossal wealth and fame from his yoga and business empire, Ramdev’s political ambitions have been clear. For the RSS, it was a perfect time to test the waters, especially because the Congress-led UPA was widely perceived as corrupt and discredited.

So what really made Hazare change his plans? Is it actually a split as it is being made out to be?

Kejriwal too saw it as an opportunity and joined the bandwagon. “He got Hazare on board. He had met him in Maharashtra and strategised that Hazare would fill the vacuum. Helped by uncritical and hysterical TV packages, he made the old man an instant hero. But we should not forget that Anna too has a mind of his own, and a history,” says a former top IAC member. 

When Hazare, as an anti-corruption mascot, caught the fancy of the middleclasses, it unnerved many, including Ramdev. However, they still managed to converge. Despite the reservations that some, including Prashant Bhushan, harboured against Ramdev for his Hindutva leanings, they continued to play this dubious game, compromising principles and ideological paradigms. Sources point out that even Kejriwal felt deeply insecure with Ramdev who was resourceful and could gather crowds, especially his yoga followers. However, Hazare always lent support to Ramdev when he decided to flex muscles. The shadow of the RSS always loomed large; Team Anna happily went along. Meanwhile, with no clarity on objectives, voices of dissent started emerging from the Hazare camp. “Kejriwal behaves like an autocrat. He is the one deciding everything unilaterally,” Mufti Shamoon Qasmi, Team Anna member who was thrown out unceremoniously, told Hardnews.

There were demands to disband the core committee which had virtually become ineffective because of this “autocracy” by Kejriwal and his loyalists, including Manish Sisodia, Kumar Vishwas and Gopal Rai. Dissent was blocked. When Hegde decried the controversial decision to launch a partisan campaign against the Congress in Hissar in October last year, it fell on deaf ears. Kejriwal and others canvassed against the Congress. Interestingly, Hazare did not campaign, neither did he protest; instead, he went on a tactical maun vrat at Ralegan Sidhi. In the assembly elections in UP, it was reported that ‘Team Anna’s campaign against the Congress was often stage-managed by local RSS outfits. This campaign, predictably, flopped.

The divide was becoming apparent. There was a spate of letters, including by their social media strategist, Shivendra Singh Chauhan, which were not addressed. “Prashant will respond to it,” Kejriwal had told this reporter. The reply is yet to come. Gradually, all dissenting voices, including that of Agnivesh, Rajgopal, Rajendra Singh and Qasmi, were forced out.   

“I am not surprised with what is happening. This was how things have been since the beginning. Kejriwal had political ambitions from the very first day,” says a former Team Anna member who was forced out. His social media team was working overtime and pages like ‘Arvind Kejriwal for PM’ started appearing on the Internet. Bedi too had mentioned in a tweet that the decision to go political was “discussed all of last year”.

Others say that it was the Mumbai flop show which gave Kejriwal the ammo to hatch this plan. In January, after much criticism, he wrote an op-ed piece in an English daily asking people to come up with ideas on how to take this movement forward. Till then, it was showcased as an apolitical campaign.  

Things came to a collision course when Kejriwal and Bhushan allegedly quietly went to Himachal Pradesh on a recce to explore electoral possibilities. Kejriwal then went to Ramdev to find out if he would lend support,
say sources.

Ramdev, who wanted to launch his own political outfit, broke this news to the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal. He also informed Bedi and Hazare. When Kumar Vishwas went to see Dhumal to persuade him to introduce their version of the Lokpal, he was caught off-guard when Dhumal told him about their electoral plans.

This made things difficult when the core committee met in April 2012. When Hazare, Bedi and others confronted Kejriwal and Bhushan with the Himachal question, Gopal Rai shot back at Hazare saying he too had not informed them about his one-to-one meeting with Ramdev, showcased in the media as a ‘special tie-up’ between the two. Hazare was also reportedly miffed with the manner in which finances were not transparent ly managed and how funds were being collected by Kejriwal’s Public Cause Research Foundation.

Although Kejriwal’s samporna kranti six-day fast from July 29, 2012, proved a farce, it facilitated his secret plans. Kejriwal, (along with Bhushan and his loyalists), despite the hyperbole of “sacrifice and dying for the nation”, had already decided to announce a political party, inform sources. Finally, everything seemed ‘fixed’ even as Hazare asked for a blueprint.

Kejriwal has lately targetted the BJP; but Hindutva forces were always nice to him. He was, for instance, directly in touch with Arun Jaitley during the winter session of Parliament when the Lokpal Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. “We have been constantly supportive. Recently, at Jantar Mantar also, I had gone to meet him. He told me not to come on the stage; he came down and met me,” Govindacharya’s aide told Hardnews.

On the political party card, “our goal is the same,” Hazare had said. Bedi tweeted, “Absolutely. Two paths, but one common goal. People have two good options now. And can support both. People win!”

“This could be part of their strategy to attack from political as well as non-political fronts. There are both kinds of supporters. They don’t want to divide their support base,” said a Ramdev associate.

Kejriwal apparently wants a rehearsal of the 2014 general elections in the 2013 Delhi elections. They will not contest in the Himachal Pradesh or Gujarat elections since it might hurt the BJP. Perhaps that is why Kejriwal is hopeful that Hazare will join them again in “three-four months” — because “Hazare’s photo is etched in (his) heart”

 

Box:

Zero, Anti-hero, Hero…

 

Sometime last year, after the August protest at Ramlila Maidan, one of the IAC volunteers told me about some cartoons floating on Facebook. He also told me that the page strikingly resembled the IAC page and even the name was similar,” says Shivendra Chauhan, the man behind the IAC’s online campaign against corruption (now in the rival faction of Arvind Kejriwal). “The page was called ‘Cartoons against Corruption’. When I looked it up, I found that some of the cartoons were really objectionable. I asked him to take them off,” Chauhan narrated his first interaction with cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.

A young cartoonist from Kanpur, Trivedi shot into the limelight after the Maharashtra police booked him for sedition on charges that included insulting national symbols. The repressive move was sharply criticised across the nation.

The FIR was registered in January, after the ‘flop Mumbai protest’ by Team Anna where Trivedi turned up with his ‘mediocre and juvenile’ cartoons. That protest proved to be a dud, but his cartoons managed to catch the fancy of those who make a living out of Congress-bashing, targetting the Gandhi family in particular.

A day after the flop show ended, in a predictable sharing of sensibilities, Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna was the first to publish the cartoons on its front page. The rather ‘stupid’ cartoons went viral on social networks. Meanwhile, since the police was reluctant to act in the beginning, Trivedi returned to Kanpur and continued his work with the IAC, drawing one distasteful cartoon after another. Almost all of them were aimed at the Congress with some touching new heights of perversity and hate politics. Some of them fed the usual Rightwing stereotypes like the one on Ajmal Kasab where he is shown pissing on the Constitution.

Things blew up when Trivedi went back to Mumbai to surrender. The Maharashtra government and the Mumbai police botched up the whole affair and turned him into a hero. He was arrested and sent to judicial custody for 14 days. The ham-handed move by the Maharashtra police invited the ire of all concerned who saw it as yet another attack on the right to free speech and expression. Only a few days earlier, there was a similar outcry when the Centre was mulling over a state-specific ban on social networks after inflammatory messages on Twitter and Facebook were blamed for the sudden hostility towards the Northeastern people after the violence in Assam and Myanmar.

The fact that the colonial sedition law was invoked managed to swing sympathy in favour of Trivedi even as there was little debate on the content or mediocrity of his cartoons. BJP and RSS leaders decided to side with the cartoonist. In earlier cases of charges against human rights activists like Binayak Sen, Seema Azad and others, including hundreds in Koodankulam, not one word of support came
from them.

Kejriwal, who was apparently miffed with Trivedi since he opposed the plans to form a political party by the anti-corruption brigade, quickly joined the bandwagon even as TV channels yet again went berserk.  Trivedi was earlier humiliated and sent packing by IAC volunteers from Jantar Mantar when Kejriwal had announced plans for a political outfit.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2012