“I will give up my public life if allegations are proved against me.” Strong words these from the normally reticent prime minister. It is obvious that Team Anna has provoked him enough. For the first time, the man with an impeccable track record for honesty, has been charged with corruption. He has put his honour at stake in retaliation.
He should not have. By responding this way he is making Team Anna, desperately seeking public attention and relevance, more important than it is. A prime minister is not required to dignify all allegations against him with a response. Once he starts doing that, there won’t be any end to it. Moreover, it is not about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh only; it is about the prestige of the office he holds.
Perhaps it was a deliberate ploy from the members of a team who used to be anti-corruption crusaders at some point. ‘PM vs Team Anna‘ makes for a good breaking news kicker. It elevates them to a status of equality with the prime minister of the country in no time. Yes, if they call him Shikhandi too, it cockles the hearts of many of their followers who understand little about the dignity of institutions. They love it when their leaders use foul and combative language against people in high positions.
On Saturday, the team had accused Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and 13 other ministers of corruption and demanded a Special Investigation Team probe into the matter. The SIT would comprise three retired judges. If it was not set up by 24 July, they had threatened to begin an indefinite fast from 25 July. The government had rejected the the claims as unsubstantiated.
Interestingly, the very day members of Team Anna were making allegations against the prime minister, the leader of the movement Anna Hazare was giving him the clean chit, calling him an ‘honest man’. Another prominent member of the team, Justice Santosh Hegde, the former Lokayukta of Karnataka, is upset with the allegations against the ministers. He said on Tuesday that he “disassociates himself” from these accusations.
Team Anna surely finds its irrelevance suffocating. In 2011, it captured the imagination of the nation with its anti-corruption crusade. With high voltage show of power on the street and in the media it made the entire political class cower. Then it succumbed to its own arrogance, and what many feel, folly. It had a chance to get a Lokpal Bill cleared by applying pressure on parliamentarians but it frittered away the chance by deciding to play hardball with the government.
By the end of the year, it was losing force and credibility. There were allegations of corruption against some of the important members and cracks were emerging in the team. Anna Hazare was getting disenchanted with the conduct of his team. It was losing popularity fast. Now the political class has regained the space it had vacated during the movement and ready to strike back. Its efforts to play political games by playing the BJP against the government were short-lived. The media is no more too keen on them.
The desperation shows in every accusation they make against leaders. One expected them to expand their movement by reaching deeper into the country — in 2011, it was primarily an urban movement. If it had to sustain, it had to extend its activities to towns and villages. Nothing of that short seems to be happening so far. Its only aim now appears is to stay in news by any means.
The attack on the prime minister is a deliberate tactic to grab attention, nothing more. The prime minister, on his part, should have ignored it. But now that he has put his honour at stake, he should face the challenge thrown at him by Team Anna.