The Anna Hazare movement seems to be closing in on a strategic crisis: what should it be doing now? The stunning ability of a diverse group of activists to stir up public anger against corruption caught the government totally off guard. The movement has also shown its ability to play hardball with government negotiators; the brinkmanship that we saw during the protests in New Delhi was close to what strategic thinkers call a game of chicken.
The strategic clarity of the protesters was in marked contrast to the confusion in the government, which oscillated between scorn and surrender. A sense of stubborn certitude was central to what the Hazare team was doing. They refused to budge. It worked when the entire leadership was collected around a single issue: the Jan Lokpal Bill.
But this strength now seems like a weakness, as the movement tries to get more broad based. The recent dissensions in the Hazare team provide ample proof of this fundamental dilemma. Two senior members—Rajendra Singh and P.V. Rajagopal—have quit because they do not like the fact that the movement is getting involved in electoral politics. Hazare has attacked Prashant Bhushan for his controversial views about a plebiscite in Kashmir. Swami Agnivesh has been seething for long. There are fears that the movement is losing its unity.
The central problem is that there is a collection of individuals who have not learnt the art of compromise. It works as long as there is one issue on the table. But maintaining a coalition of tough-minded individuals is very difficult when there are many issues to be tackled. Can they keep their individual views aside?
The main conundrum is about politics. The JP movement began as a protest against corruption, but later backed opposition candidates in elections, most famously in Jabalpur when a young Sharad Yadav defeated the Congress candidate in 1974. But there could be other pressure points, especially when the final comparisons between the activist and parliamentary versions of the Lokpal Bill are being discussed.
The Hazare movement has good strategists, especially Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal. Their clever planning is in contrast with the silly histrionics of Kiran Bedi and the vacuous pronouncements of The Leader. The team has shown it can outwit the government, so it is quite possible it will be able to overcome the current dissensions.
But there can be no doubt that running a single-issue protest and a more complicated national campaign are very different challenges. To use a business analogy, the Hazare team has been a very successful start-up, but it has to adapt to become a stable corporation. Is Team Anna fragmenting? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org