Who killed the anti-corruption movement? Before starting out, here’s a sincere prayer: it should not die out. It takes decades build a good movement. It does not happen often that young people in the country get the opportunity to get passionate about a cause. It does not happen often that they rally around so enthusiastically behind a non-political figure promising change and hope. Movements such as Anna Hazare‘s are once-in-a-generation experience. Inspirational and uplifting at the same time, these in some way bring people in touch with virtues and values getting extinct fast.
Nobody is writing an obituary yet, but for all practical purposes the anti-corruption crusade is on the death bed. The decision of the original members of Team Anna to foray into politics threatens to spread it thin and dilute the core strength of the movement: credibility. With Baba Ramdev keen on making Lokpal part of his own agenda, the anti-corruption crusade is set to take a farcical twist. He simply does not have the moral force of an Anna Hazare or the cerebral strength of his team members. But everything is not over yet. The movement needs to reboot and start afresh. How? More about that later.
Let’s come back to the main question: who killed the movement? It is not the usual suspects, the government or the political class. It was not necessary that the movement had to come to a grinding halt after the Lokpal Bill went into the legislative procedural labyrinth. The crusade could still have continued, morphing itself into another form, taking up other causes. The bigger issue involved here was corruption, not only Lokpal. Suicide was encoded into the DNA of the movement. Its leaders put all the eggs in one basket and once the basket was stolen, they stood listless and confused.
It is curious that a movement with such noble intentions could leave people so sharply divided. This was something unique about it. Towards the end, it had managed to alienate all its potential supporters and created enemies too — there were many who sincerely wished the movement’s early death. Why is that? Corruption, after all, is a national concern. Nobody sane in the country would deny that corruption is a massive problem and it has to be tackled firmly. There has to be a reason why it ended up putting people in opposite camps instead of bringing them together.
The attitude of the leaders was a reason, but not the only one. The smaller lights were certainly too abrasive, confrontational and inflexible. They kept raising the bar for the political class despite knowing that it was practically impossible to bring it down to its knees and get the Lokpal Bill of their choice passed. From the point of view of strategy, their approach was self-defeating. They were not fighting to win, they wanted to lose and wear the halo of martyrdom. When pointed out the mistakes by well-meaning outsiders, they chose to be offensive, bringing up the ‘you are with us or against us’ situation.
The biggest blow to the movement, however, was delivered by its diehard supporters, particularly those in the media, specifically the television media. At some point, over-enthusiastic anchors had made the movement their own private war. They were virtually muscling the critics of the movement into submission on a daily basis. They were stifling all scope for intelligent critiquing and even the mildest of dissent. In the season of hyperventilation and high decibels, corruption had ceased to be a public issue. It was an excuse for anchors to promote themselves to a higher moral pedestal. The easy way to do that was to show others as inferior, fallen creatures. Team Anna’s battle was clearly the sideshow to the self-serving pompousness in the media.
Here’s one curious co-incident if you have not observed it already. The popularity of the movement collapsed soon after the BJP’s double standard on the Lokpal bill got exposed. For many of the supporters of the movement removal of corruption was never the primary purpose; it was a convenient weapon to take on the Congress. So long as leaders of Team Anna appeared to be playing their game they supported the movement with enthusiasm. When they started being equally scathing on both the Congress and the BJP, there was no reason to support them. The same set of people have shifted to Baba Ramdev now, though he lacks the firepower of Team Anna.
With everybody up to their own games, was there really an anti-corruption war? It looks highly suspect at this point. Team Anna’s announcement to join politics raises the suspicion that its crusade was never about corruption, it aimed at something else. There was just too much dishonest intent all around.
But all said, it was a good movement. It raised hope in people. It made them feel powerful. It instilled confidence in them that they could take on the system. Team Anna or any other civil society groups could still revive it with another set of leaders and with a sound, pragmatic strategy. Instead of going for something as grand as Lokpal, they can demand small changes all around. The battle against corruption has to be a long, multi-pronged one. It cannot be just abandoned. It would be betrayal of the trust of people who genuinely believed in the movement.