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Will Team Anna survive the controversy storm?

Last updated on: November 2, 2011 12:08 IST

Will Team Anna survive the controversy storm?

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Seema Mustafa

It seems as if the movement against corruption is in disarray. The volleys fired against some of its key members by the Congress and its supporters appear to be taking its toll, says Seema Mustafa.

Social activist Anna Hazare himself has gone on a maun vrat as he says he is feeling 'weak' but probably more out of the realisation that he has been speaking too much, and in doing so, has created and deepened fissures within the team.

Instead of giving shape to the movement, and analysing hasty decisions like that of campaigning for political candidates, the committee seems to be of the view that it should expand the numbers, and dissolve the core segment altogether.

Perhaps this will work, but currently the problem does not seem to be the core nature of the committee but the inability of the members to strategise the movement.

For instance, the decision to campaign for non-Congress candidates at Hissar, regardless of whether they were corrupt or not has not done Hazare and his team well, and till date they have not been able to offer a convincing explanation.

The charge of being with the Bharatiya Janata Party has thus found new supporters, with Hazare unable to completely shrug this off.

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Image: File picture of Anna Hazare and his associates coming out of the finance ministry building after a meeting of the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill
Photographs: Reuters
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Hazare seems to be in a disassociating spree

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The team members are from different walks of lives, with differing ideologies. The attempt to isolate corruption from other burning issues was thus bound to run into trouble, particularly as corruption itself cannot be confined to the fiscal, and includes corruption of action and ideology as well.

Hazare's initial clean chit to Narendra Modi as a good administrator created a storm of protest, and had him scrambling to disassociate himself from the Gujarat chief minister.

He succeeded to an extent, but not totally with Muslim organisations staying away from the campaign altogether. Similarly, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan's comments on Kashmir had Hazare rushing to disassociate himself with the support for a referendum if necessary, going to the extent of saying that action would be taken against Bhushan if so required.

Clearly, the intention to keep the team isolated from issues other than corruption insofar as the movement itself was concerned, cannot work on the ground. The media and those feeling the heat from Hazare's movement are not going to allow the de-linking and every comment from prominent members of the team will be highlighted, debated and criticisised.

It is thus, difficult to see what will be the advantages of having a larger team, as this could actually make the current chaos anarchic.

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Image: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi

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Key members have stayed away from committee meetings

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And will provide more masala for the Congress and the government to chew into, as judging from the recent disclosures about former cop Kiran Bedi's fiscal manipulations, the government sleuths are digging deep into the files of those who have made their movement against corruption a mission.

Hazare himself has not attended the core committee meeting, and two key members such as Medha Patkar and Santosh Hegde have stayed away.

Since the last meeting of the core committee, considerable water has flown under the bridge. Relations between the members are strained, and the tensions will further obstruct the formulation of a proper, far thinking strategy to take the movement forward.

For now, it seems to be going backwards, in that the campaign has been stalled by the ferocious attack from all quarters, and the activists who really thought the worst was over, are finding out that it has all really just begun.

There is urgent need for them to be at least two steps ahead, and that can only be if one, there are no more skeletons in their cupboards; and two, they are able to strategise the movement, their responses, and their views on issues other than corruption.

After the disastrous experiment at the Hissar by-polls, one would expect the core committee to decide against campaigning for political candidates. Or if it does, then the party should not be the consideration at all, just the honesty and cleanliness of the candidates.

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Image: Former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde

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Team Anna needs to get out of this mess

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At the same time, the movement should rid itself of religious and jingoistic nationalist symbols, and in the process move away from the ultra right wing forces that are perceived to be calling the shots.

One cannot say that all this will work because success in one field invariably leads to demands for intervention in other areas. Secularism, human rights and other issues cannot be ignored in the long run, and clearly the team members have different views on these.

And if articulated, these will create controversies fanned by an extra enthusiastic media.

At the same time, if these are not articulated then persons such as Prashant Bhushan will be compromising the many causes they are speaking for and this will be a heavy and unacceptable price to pay.

It now remains to be seen whether the team can lead itself, core or expanded, and get out of the mess that currently seems to be drowning the movement.

Instead of expanding the movement to cover corruption as a larger issue, the members seem to have got caught in exchanging words with the Congress, and defending themselves against the various charges being hurled against them.

All are undeniably shaky, and cannot get away from the fact that whatever they have done in the past -- like Bedi's (non) payment of dues -- will become a national issue in the current climate.

Those fighting corruption are expected to be squeaky clean, and apolitical -- at least publicly. Somehow, both these requirements seem to have been transgressed.


Image: Senior lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan

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