Views | And the winner is…politics-as-usual

Indian politicians may be a bumbling lot, but they are cunning enough to have been able to neutralize the Anna movement

Well, here’s another fine mess. The Anna brigade wants to get into direct electoral politics, and Nitish Kumar has said that Narendra Modi is not at all acceptable as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014.

Meanwhile, L.K. Advani has gone and written in his blog that while there’s no chance of a non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), non-Congress Third Front government coming to power after the next Lok Sabha elections, “a non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible."

Let’s consider Advani’s view first. Well, he’s merely speaking the truth, isn’t it—even the obvious truth? He has also said that such governments, as history has shown time and again, have little chance of surviving long. The big party on whose support it depends—whether the Congress or the BJP—always pulls the plug when it believes the time is right. Thank you, Mr Advani, for being candid.

Nitish Kumar’s party, unlike say the Akalis, has never been a very faithful member of the NDA. He has governed Bihar well, and surely has the right to have Prime Ministerial ambitions. This is hardly breaking news, but the BJP still hasn’t figured out how to handle this.

Not that it knows what to do about Modi either.

In the midst of all this comes the Anna announcement. Now, it’s Indian politics’ worst-kept secret that the first phase of Anna’s Jan Lokpal movement was aided massively at the grassroot level by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

photoThis also directly led to what has been called the “complete mishandling" of the situation by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The government reacted to Anna as a political threat, having failed to notice that at some point, it had become a people’s movement, fueled by middle-class rage and an opportunistic media. The RSS itself was taken aback at the support Anna generated, and since then, has disengaged itself quietly. Which is one of the reasons why this time round, Arvind Kejriwal’s fast could not mobilize the numbers we had seen last year at the Ramlila ground. The government again reacted to the situation as a political threat, and this time the move worked. The Anna movement was forced to define itself as a political movement, which is exactly what the government wanted.

It’s not surprising that the Anna movement may be on the brink of petering out. What is surprising is that it succeeded to the extent it did, given its motley collection of retrograde idealists, ambitious would-be politicians, well-meaning but confused liberals and general loose cannons. Finally, it did have to do with the people’s anger at the UPA government. But the activists soon exposed their lack of a clear, coherent vision. Add to that what any Congress government knows from decades of experience in ruling India: that if you hem, haw and hedge over something long enough (in this case, the Lokpal issue), and insert it into a “Constitutionally proper" hall of mirrors of committees to ensure an indefinite in-limbo status, the Indian public will simply lose interest and move on. And in this case, it was just too easy—does any political party really want a strong Lokpal?

To my mind, the Anna movement has effectively been neutralized, and its internal divisions may soon descend into public bitterness. It will, over the months, find itself to be a bit of an orphan, other than lip service from the BJP, which will use it on an as-and-when basis to gain minor political mileage. If it does enter the political fray in 2014, Anna’s party will make hardly any difference, unless it jettisons a number of its most prominent faces and becomes part of some national anti-UPA alliance. But that too will come only at the terms set by the established political parties.

The Anna movement was supposed to be against venal Indian politics-as-usual. Well, politics-as-usual has won.