The irony is hard to miss. Arvind Kejriwal and his band of firebrand activists dug the Lokpal matter out of near oblivion to transform it into a serious national issue. They made Anna Hazare the mascot of their movement and around his innocent and honest appeal erected a movement powerful enough to send the entire political class cowering. With immense goodwill from the streets, the media and elsewhere, they took the establishment head-on, rendering it helpless. They ensured, through obstinate posturing, that the Lokpal was not going to be manipulated the way the government wanted it.
Before the movement imploded and lost momentum, Anna had become as central to it as India Against Corruption. If Anna was the symbol, Kejriwal and his comrades were the substance of the anti-corruption crusade that shook the nation’s collective conscience two years ago.
But Team Kejriwal failed to acknowledge the change. How things shift! Now, as Parliament finally readies to clear the bill, the latter suddenly appears out of place, and is out of the frame. Anna Hazare looks set to take all the credit and the nation’s gratitude for the passage of the bill.
It’s likely that despite their intense struggle for the institution of Lokpal, Kejriwal and his team will be seen as losers and perennial whiners; as a bunch of inflexible people incapable of listening to the other view and making pragmatic compromises for the sake of a noble cause.
For the record, his team still calls the government’s Lokpal Bill ‘Jokepal’ and finds absolutely no merit in it while Anna and his group of activists have found the bill satisfactory. Now that the bill has been cleared in Parliament, it is seen as Anna’s bill as having received the endorsement of the House, not Kejriwal’s.
The end result: Anna climbs in public perception while Kejriwal shrinks. It might be counterproductive to his politics too.
His political journey as the fearless, incorruptible leader of a brave, new political outfit has been a charm so far. He still enjoys high credibility among the masses and the classes. He is still considered a breath of refreshing air in the putrid world of politics. But what if the Lokpal credit is snatched away from him? It could have serious consequences.
For one, once the Lokpall Bill is made into an Act, there’s no reason why other political parties would be respectful to him or his outfit.
Anna will be the toast of the nation, and will be hailed as the statesman-philosopher-doer. His haloed status could possibly drive Kejriwal and his group to irrelevance. Expect the latter to be scathing on the bill now, but they are likely to find few takers. For a party which has put all its eggs in one basket – the Aam Aadmi Party has not spoken on any other issue beyond Lokpal so far – it is a complex problem.
Now that AAP is isolated on this particular issue, its political rivals will pounce on it. Surely, they were waiting eagerly for the bill to pass to do just that.
Once Anna and his group perch themselves on the moral high ground, projecting themselves as the most important civil society voice in the country, they can easily occupy the rebel-reformist space occupied by the Kejriwal group. They can come up with ideas for change and the government and parties would be happy to do business with them since they are more amenable to reason. The irony in the entire situation is that Kejriwal is now in direct competition with Anna and he stands to lose everything if plays his cards wrong.
The fact that he has launched a political party now and is part of the political circus makes him a smaller threat to other politicians. He is no more the voice of the apolitical civil society – Anna has taken over that credit - thus he could be handled politically.
How Kejriwal positions himself post the passage of the Lokpal Bill would be interesting to note.