Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Open Letter to Team Anna

Let me put this upfront. Unlike many hacks who claimed last year to be bosom pals of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, I claim no such honour. I have probably met Kejriwal twice and I am sure he doesn’t remember those meetings. Much to my sorrow, I have never had the opportunity of meeting Kiran Bedi. My colleague at The Sunday Indian Anil Pandey does keep in touch with activists and I sort of vicariously keep in touch with the world of activism through him. So last April, when the Anna and the Lokpal wave first hit Delhi, I was as astounded as others. I did send an SMS to Kejriwal offering some unsolicited help. The Sunday Indian comes out in 14 languages and my offer to Team Anna was to use our pan Indian staff to translate their draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill into all Indian languages. We did that and even put it up on all our 14 language websites. That April, The Sunday Indian also came out with a special supplement on the Anna movement. In that supplement full of praise for Anna, his Team and his movement against corruption, mine was the lone dissenting write up.

I am glad I wrote that piece of contrarian dissent and grateful to my editor-in-chief Arindam Chaudhuri for letting the piece go. Today, as newspapers say that Team Anna will not campaign against any political party in the forthcoming assembly elections, I humbly urge Team Anna-particularly Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi-to do some soul searching. For there is little doubt in my mind that it is the acts and utterances of these two that have so badly damaged the Anna movement, almost to the point of derailing it. Much has been written about them and their deeds by so many pundits. I will point out just two support my belief that they damaged their own movement.

The first was the absolutely crazy decision to campaign against the Congress in the Hissar Lok Sabha bye elections. By campaigning against the Congress in Hissar, it looked as if Team Anna was in a way supporting the Chauthala family of Haryana, many of whom have been charge sheeted in courts for corruption. With this single act, Team Anna changed from being activists to political opportunists. Virtually everyone knew even before Team Anna jumped into the fray that the Congress would lose that election. So what were they trying to prove? Why didn’t they campaign against other corrupt and tainted candidates in many other bye elections that were held at that time? And why didn’t they campaign against someone called Mr Sreemalu, formerly of BJP, in Bellary when bye elections were held recently? Does any one have any doubts about the extent of the mining scam in Bellary? Or, as I argued, they knew the scam tainted candidate will win hands down anyway? Team Anna also showed no inclination to campaign against Y.S Jagan Mohan Reddy in bye elections. The value of his assets went up from many lakhs in 2004 to more than Rs 400 crores. Then again, everyone knew that Jagan Reddy will win hands down despite charges of corruption.

The second blunder was committed by Kiran Bedi. She has been most vocal and loudly contemptuous while lampooning politicians and their unethical behaviour. So it was bizarre to see her explanations when it was revealed that she used take money for business class fares, actually travel economy class and pocket the difference for her NGO. Kiran Bedi perhaps forgot the adage about Caesar’s wife. But then Indians are not stupid and most, like me, realized that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. If Bedi had gestured mea culpa and not tried to brazen it out, the image of Team Anna would not have taken such a hammering.

There is still time for Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi to salvage the Anna movement against corruption. But they need to understand two things: first, it doesn’t pay to be arrogant. And second, do not take middle class Indians for granted.


1 comment:

  1. First, the big problem with team Anna is that they have anything that they can claim their own product or unique. Lokpal or Jan Lokpal is around for over half century which creates Déjà vu effect, and there were many leaders who submitted their versions of Jan Lokpal diluting effect of team Anna's version.

    Second, Anna's team gives impression that make many, including myself, think that they are trying to stay in news, even with wrong reason. There were headlines with "Anna is India, and India is Anna", "Anna is above parliament", Congratulation to Sehwag after double century etc. They need to understand that they don't need to have an opinion about every thing happening around, and stay focused on the goal.

    Third, not all ideas are Scalable, probably fasting is one of them. Fast may work well to suppress district level officer, but it just cant suppress everyone in the world. Gandhiji understood it, probably team Anna doesn't. Too bad, they have already overused their best weapon, and now they have to ask people for more of them.