The anti-corruption movement is now in the news for all the wrong reasons. We have seen what could have been an extraordinary social mobilization process turn into a war of words, petty ego battles and some very poor leadership on the part of the key players in this movement. The euphoria of Anna Hazare’s fast in August had led some to believe that they represented the voice of the masses. What was not understood was that such movements rarely reflect the ‘voice’, and it is usually that ‘noise’ that gets heard. And this loud noise has a way of burying the voice of reason and caution. Many of us associated with Team Anna had cautioned about this and had asked people not to be ‘media hungry’ but to quietly go about mobilizing the people around the country. Well, the voice asking this movement to be converted into an enlightened one had few takers. People also constantly asked them to be more transparent and inclusive in the decision-making. Some of us who were associated with the campaign from the beginning got disenchanted, but held on with the fond hope of getting a strong anti-corruption law.
Unfortunately, what is unfolding today is not merely the handiwork of the mysterious ‘gang of four’ that Anna is referring to. While I am conscious that there are many out there who would love to see the anti-corruption movement die, I am also sensitive to the reality that some members of Team Anna are themselves offering the ammunition to shoot them with.
Let us look at how such a wonderful movement is slowly but surely losing its way. Ever since the fast was called off, there has been very little consultative process that civil society leaders have always been asking for. India is a large country with several credible activists who have been in the domain of anti-corruption for more than 2-3 decades. Their experience and wisdom was vital for this movement to succeed. Petty ego considerations and fears of the movement being dominated by other towering personalities did not let Arvind et al to include them in the decision making process. Not only was the process becoming the preserve of an elite few, it was also becoming more and more opaque. From decision making, to participating in the by-elections of Hisar, to taking electoral sides, to account keeping – nothing was openly discussed. Many of us quietly withdrew, as we believed that corruption had crept into the entire political spectrum and it was unfair to target out only one party. For asking voters not to vote for one party meant that they had to vote for another equally corrupt party which did not make any ethical or moral sense.
Fighting corruption had got many members of Team Anna visibility and suddenly each one was an expert in all matters that pertained to the Nation. From land reforms to electoral reforms to large development projects to SEZs, everyone became an expert on everything. The ever-hungry media only added to this hysteria and the evening television debates had them talking on everything under the sun. Apart from shifting the focus from the anti-corruption movement, it also exposed the lack of knowledge and political astuteness of many members. From Prashanth Bhushan shooting off his views on Kashmir to all the nasty consequences that the nation witnessed, it provided the powers that are an excuse to wait and watch.
The cracks that had developed earlier became more visible with the views of Swami Agnivesh. What is surprising is that many of us were blissfully unaware that Arvind was accounting all the donations received for the campaign under his own NGO and not under the larger banner of India Against Corruption. It is now clear that Swami Agnivesh knew about this much earlier but decided to speak only now. It also reflects the emptiness in terms of a moral high ground amidst the leadership of the campaign. Words like ‘Gandhian’ were indeed loosely used during the entire campaign and what we are slowly realizing is that Anna was just the right man at the right time. Unfortunately, he does not have the political astuteness nor the independent will that Gandhi had. Gandhi always led but Anna seems to allow other people close to him to lead him. This could mean disastrous consequences because the movement has got its emotional and moral appeal only because of his presence, and one cannot afford him to lose his way.
The movement also shows the inherent contradictions amongst the people at the helm of affairs. It is a morally bankrupt argument for Kiran Bedi to justify over-charging her sponsors for her travel in the name of ‘savings’ and ‘funds’ for her own NGO. It is like our politicians justifying their corrupt acts as means to keep the constituents happy by constantly taking care of their needs – whether it is bribing for votes or paying for the travel of people coming from their constituency. People living in glasshouses must realize that they cannot and should not throw stones. This is not the first time that she is having controversies surround her. Many know of the issues that existed in the way her daughter got admission to a medical college on the special ‘north-east’ quota many years ago while she was still in service.
People with enormous credibility like Rajagopal of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Rajinder Singh and other christian and muslim religious leaders who had earlier supported the campaign have now withdrawn. Medha Patkar is unusually quiet on the happenings. Many of us who were with the campaign keeping the cause in mind have also withdrawn from this mess and are continuing with the anti-corruption agenda in a localized manner.
This lack of leadership is something that is alarming and worrisome. Everyone associated in the campaign need to realize that we have to keep ‘fighting corruption’ as the work at the center and not ourselves or our own petty egos. We need to come together, ensure that the leadership is now above board, ask tainted individuals to leave the campaign, make decision making collective, transparent and inclusive and continue till we meet our goal of getting an effective and strong anti-corruption law. We need to go beyond succumbing to the temptation of being seen and heard all the time and focus on the work on hand. We need to understand that the Nation is watching and that we cannot consider failure now as an option. If we let the country down now, we will have only ourselves to blame. The ‘gang of four’ would have won their battle without firing a single bullet. And that would be a shame.