For Anna, now comes the hard part

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS,

Anna Hazare and his band of merry men are back. After a spell of rest and recuperation in his native redoubt of Ralegan Siddhi, the crusader is back on the road to fight the corrupt.

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But it is possible that he will find the latest round harder than the earlier ones. For one, the government may have learnt from its blunders. It is unlikely to repeat the mistake of blowing hot and cold, jailing him and then praising him as a man to be emulated.

For another, Anna’s own team may lack cohesion. One of them – Swami Agnivesh – has already dropped out after having been accused by members of Anna’s team of being the government’s “mole”. Another member, Justice Santosh Hegde, is nowadays somewhat lukewarm in his attitude.

As for the others, Anna’s comment to the New York Times that some of them have developed “ego problems” will be jarring despite his subsequent clarification that he had been misquoted.

Arguably, Anna still enjoys widespread middle class support – the twitterati and the Facebook crowd – but it remains to be seen whether the level of their enthusiasm continues to be as high as before. It is possible that at least a section of them has realised the futility of their earlier belief that all that Anna had to do was to lay down his terms – bring the prime minister and the higher judiciary under the Lokpal’s ambit – and the government will meekly follow.

Similarly, it is more than likely that his present deadline – passing the Lokpal bill in the winter session of parliament – will not be kept by the government, perhaps deliberately. In any event, it won’t be Anna’s version which will be considered by parliament, but whatever draft the standing committee will lay before the house.

But, apart from such nitty-gritty, what will be crucial for the movement is to sustain the earlier momentum. Much of the enthusiasm during the first phase was a result of Anna’s resolve to fast unto death and the government’s bungling. Although Anna has decided to launch the latest round with a three-day fast, the impact may not be as great as his earlier hunger strikes, including the short ones, if only because the same tactics are rarely as successful the second or third time around.

However, it is the overt political angle which may undermine the campaign. As Anna has said, his exhortation will be to ask the people not to vote for the Congress if the bill is not passed during the winter session. But, it will not be the Congress alone which will be responsible for the bill’s passage. It will be the entire House.

What is more, there are likely to be speakers other than those of the Congress, who will probably be even more critical than the Congress MPs who, in fact, are likely to be restrained in their utterances. Among the vocal non-Congress MPs will be those of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal-United and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) who tend to see every issue through a backward caste or Dalit lens.

The Dalit czarina, Mayawati, for instance, has asked Anna and his team to fight elections to prove their mettle. Besides, she has let it be known that her party will not support the bill unless Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members are included in the drafting panel.

The two Yadav chieftains, Lalu Prasad of the RJD and Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal-United, have also been critical of Anna and his colleagues for their denigration of parliament, with Lalu even saying it was baffling how a septuagenarian could fast for 12 days and yet be active. The third Yadav, Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party, wants a mixture of Anna’s and the other versions of the bill, such as that of Aruna Roy, the National Advisory Council member.

While the Congress will be guarded in its criticism of Anna for fear of offending the middle class, the RJD, the BSP and others will have no such compunctions if only because they seemingly regard Anna’s movement as largely an urban middle class phenomenon. Moreover, since their stakes will be higher in view of next year’s Uttar Pradesh elections, they are likely to be far less restrained in their comments than otherwise.

The only unstinted support for Anna will be from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has expressed its “zero tolerance” for corruption, which apparently made it belatedly remove the Karnataka and Uttarakhand chief ministers. But the target of its admiration will be cagey about the BJP’s backing lest he is projected as a closet saffronite – an impression which has been backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) confirmation that its followers backed his movement and actively participated in it.

(08.10.2011 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])