The Strange Politics of Anna Hazare

By Siddharth Singh, 12 Oct, 2011

Anna Hazare’s recent threat to campaign against the Congress party in case they don’t help pass his version of the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections is an artful move. Much as the Congress would like to dismiss this threat citing the non-existent political roots of Anna, it needs to tread with caution given it draws substantial support from the Middle-class in UP.  The Congress has pinned its re-election prospects, as well as the political prospects of Rahul Gandhi, to its performance in UP.  By threatening to strike the Congress where it would hurt the most, Anna has been very strategic.

However, while this move by him may see an initial success in Hisar’s by-polls (which is a constituency that wasn’t leaning towards the Congress in the first place),  it risks becoming a cause for the downfall of this movement. Political fault-lines in Uttar Pradesh lie – unfortunately – on issues of caste and religion, and to an extent – fortunately – on  the governance (or mis-governance) records of the respective parties. While the general call of ending corruption may resonate with the society, the electorate may not swing their votes in favour of parties that promise to implement certain legislation over others in the future. Especially not if the record of such parties on corruption and graft is equally if not more suspect than that of the Congress. In case they choose to do so, it may still not work towards meeting Anna’s goals.

Anna’s call may be further diluted in case the Congress manages to pass some version of the  Lokpal Bill before the UP elections. The Congress’ announcement that the Lokpal Bill envisages the body to be a Constitutional authority may work to dilute Team Anna’s position.

Realistically, two results can be expected from such an anti-Congress ploy in UP:  either Anna turns out to be successful in wooing the people away from the Congress, or he doesn’t. In the case of the first eventuality, if the result is the election of individuals and parties with a record of graft and corruption, then the purpose of the agitation would be lost. If the idea was to kick out the corrupt, then it makes no sense to work towards replacing one set of corrupt with another. This may lead to substantial disillusionment with the public. More so because a fractured mandate which includes the corrupt would diminish the chances of the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

In the case of the second eventuality, the Congress  would claim popular victory and support for its policy on corruption and the popular rejection of Team Anna.  Either way, this movement would only lose out on the popular support it has garnered.

Annaji, as he is known by the public, may well be advised to not go ahead with such a simplistic call which may well prove to be counterproductive. If he wishes to hold on to the legitimacy he has earned in the past few months, he ought not to alienate his core constituency by aiding – indirectly – the victory of parties that are no less, if not worse, than the Indian National Congress when it comes to the issue of graft.

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