Journalists are not always the best prophets when it comes to predicting the future (see how often the get poll results wrong), but when Anna Hazare announced his fast in Mumbai, the consensus was that it would be a flop show. Journalists here can take a bow: they were right, even more than they bargained for.
So what was different between Mumbai and Delhi, or what had changed from April to December, in just eight months? In hindsight, it is perhaps easy to say that Anna’s fast was doomed from the start for a variety reasons. It would seem that Team Anna made some cardinal mistakes while its main opposition, the Congress, played its cards far more astutely. There is some irony here, because in a column on August 23, I had said Hazare’s success had much to do with his clever tactics, right timing, and the focus on the big
picture. All three were missing this time.
- First, as a leader, Hazare should have stayed focussed on the big picture and not on the details. He had wanted a Jan Lokpal that would oversee the PM and bureaucrats; to be honest, that is what the government’s bill offered. Details may vary, and always will, but as far as the common man saw it, the Congress-led government was actually making an effort to get a bill through and now, paradoxically,Team Anna was against it. This was perhaps the biggest mistake of all. Never take the people of India for granted. They will punish you, as many bruised politicians can swear by. As far as the people were concerned,the fact that the government agreed to a Lokpal was proof of their success; asking for more sounded like seeking the spoils of war, and that is how the likes of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi came across —desperate to promote themselves.
- Timing was the second biggest mistake.Anna styles himself as a Gandhian;one wishes he had learnt his lessons from Gandhi better. Gandhi led three major movements: Civil Disobedience, Salt March, and Quit India. There was a gap of a decade between each such movement. This gap reflected his understanding of India’s psychology. Few people can afford to keep taking time off from the daily drudgery of earning a living to back a movement, no matter how important for the country (and nothing was more important that India’s freedom). Giving long gaps allowed people to marshal their resources,earn some money to clear the outstanding debt, finish college, and prepare for the next battle. Here, Hazare goofed, and badly.While on timing, is also the question about the role of the media, which has been credited (or blamed depending on your viewpoint) for making the Anna fast in April a success. The April fast came just after India had won the cricket world cup and the media (particularly news channels) was looking for the next big story.Hazare’s timing then was perfect, and the topic was timely given the ongoing 2G scam. This time, the timing was all wrong. The 2G guilty have spent time in prison,and many journalists, particularly those in Maharashtra who have experienced Hazare’s fast before, were a far more sceptical lot. Not to mention that a Test series was on.The Congress also played its cards far better, particularly on the point that Team Anna had no Dalits, adivasis, OBC, or minorities.That took large sections away from Team Anna, whose tokenism to woo the marginalised was simply too little,too late. And many of the upper classes who turned out the last time were cautious of hitting the streets so soon again.
- Finally, Hazare and his team were wrong in targeting the Congress. It is no one’s case that the Congress is perfect, but then who is? And what is the alternative? The BJP may cry itself hoarse, but for too many people, it is just not an option.The local council elections in Maharashtra clearly showed that the people have no time for the likes of the BJP and Shiv Sena, who may be appear less corrupt,but far more communal. For millions, in the choice of a communal party or a corrupt party, it is always the latter.After Hazare’s last fast and the government agreeing to introduce the Lokpal bill, Team Anna should have been graceful and given the government time to go through the necessary motions that parliamentary procedures demand. In failing to do so, Hazare let down the people, the very same people who cheered him the first time. No wonder then that they did not turn up at Mumbai.The fear now is that a triumphant political class might simply not allow the Lokpal bill to pass.