Indian politics needs drastic systemic changes. With vested interests entrenched deep and solid, no change that even remotely threatens to upset the existing order can come from outside, it has to come from within. The political class has moved into a cocoon of its own and is not expected to surrender the exclusive advantages it enjoys vis-a-vis others without a dogged resistance. Team Anna is correct in diagnosing the problem.
However, the problem is not so much with the diagnosis – it is the easier part — as with the prescription. Now that it has more or less decided to be a political player, how does it go about it? It’s not yet clear whether it is going to launch a political party or build itself to be a force which is strong enough to influence politics. The first option is fraught with grave risks. The team could fell into the same trap as other political parties – all of them start off with core good ideas but eventually end up in the cesspool of power, money and corruption.
The second option is far better. It allows Team Anna the freedom to play the role of the outsider-insider in the system, question its flaws and seek answers. Since it is bona fide political player, it need not be defensive and wary of the rules of the game set and perpetuated by the political class. The efforts will certainly invite great resistance, however, it should draw confidence from the fact that it may not win elections but it can be in a position to play the spoiler and cause electoral damage to parties.
But to start with it needs to make a clear distinction and internalise the difference between the politics of power and the politics of service. It will continue to have public adulation and support so long as it sticks to the latter. It offers the team a unique advantage, similar to the one the team has now: it makes the team a superior moral force. It can continue as the permanent pin-prick of conscience for the political class, forcing it to mend its ways. The only difference is it would be working from inside.
However, the game changes once the Team decides to get into the politics of power. It would be contesting elections to win seats and get respectable numbers. While there’s some validity in the argument that it needs to have the numbers to make itself a political force of change, the reality is the quest for power is where all contamination of good ideas and corruption of the soul begins. Power is a destructive pursuit for those willing to transform the system. Moreover, if Team Anna decides in favour to be in the politics of power, it stands to lose its moral edge over other parties. It becomes one of them, not any different.
The team has to make a choice. If it wants to power then it will need to form an ideology and build a support base around it, if it does not then it can afford to remain a scattered force yet powerful. Right now, The Team Anna movement is a combination of several civil society groups, thus there are several ideas, which are often contradictory. Prashant Bhushan is supportive of the Kashmiris’ right to self determination while others in the group don’t agree. Baba Ramdev, also a distant part of the loose formation, is more comfortable with the saffron ideas while no one else in Team Anna is agreeable to that. The point is, the group is disparate. And that should be its strength, the way it is now, not weakness.
Is it possible to be part of the political system without contesting elections? That is something Team Anna should aim at now. Having representatives in assemblies or Parliament should be a matter of convenience, not compulsion. Its task from now on should be to reach out across the country and convince people about the need for change. It will be a long, tiring process but if it wants to make itself heard, Team Anna will need to do more than fasting at Jantar Mantar.