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Several reasons can be attributed to the failure of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare’s mission 3.0. But the fact that it ended with a promise that the movement would provide a political alternative to the people has reaffirmed the significance of political parties in India’s democratic set-up. This notwithstanding the growing charges of corruption, nepotism and sectarianism in the system.

Hazare and his team had to call off their dharna (sit-down protest) not only because the crowds were dwindling, but also because the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)’s strategy of ignoring them contributed to a perception that the event had been an anti-climax.

This time, the long-forgotten strategy of late former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao—the mantra of silence —was used by the UPA government’s strategists. And it yielded good results.

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On earlier occasions, the tit-for-tat approach had backfired on the government. The government’s nervousness --– understandable because of the range of corruption scandals and controversies that it has battled --– had helped Hazare and his team to turn public (albeit only a small section of the great Indian middle class) sentiment against the government.

It took time, however, for Hazare, who had attained a larger-than-life image with his campaign against corruption, to understand the hard reality --– that despite all the warts, Indians still believe in political parties. (Hazare’s team should have at least drawn some conclusions from the increased voter turnouts in recent state elections).

It is true that they successfully gauged the public anger and frustration when they launched their campaign in August last year. Unfortunately, however, the crowd was mostly the urban middle class, which is more aware of its rights and prefers to be ignorant about its responsibilities. Its expression of solidarity was rather a knee-jerk reaction and in the national capital most of them approached the two-week-long hunger strike last August at the Ramlila Grounds as if it was a picnic. Even former army chief V K Singh, who a few months ago lost the Date of Birth battle, was spotted at the venue of the latest Anna protest.

When India became independent, the West had expressed apprehensions over how democracy would survive in such a diverse country. However, Indian political parties succeeded in identifying each group --– in terms of of region, religion, caste, class and language --– and tried to take everybody along, keeping them together but cleverly allowing them to be distinct.

While political parties tried to be a representative of each of them, team Anna claimed to represent an aggrieved set of people with no particular identity. They had only one thing in common --- anger towards the government and the people in the government. Anger is a relatively unstable emotion. And shows of public anger depend a lot on convenience.

In the last 65 years, democracy and elections have become a vital part of the life of the majority of Indians. From the smallest block of a family or a clan to village councils to the national level, elections decide who will lead. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which believes in a Hindu state of India, had to form a political wing to find acceptance in a Hindu-majority India. One can question the quality of the people who get elected as MPs and MLAs. But the average Indian considers the right to choose his representative to be a serious matter. And this makes it almost impossible for Hazare and his group to take their movement forward without a political formation.

A political party may give them legitimacy and an impression of accountability in the eyes of the public. But the differences in Anna’s team, which have come to the fore on different platforms, as well as its lack of focus may cripple its progress as a political party. All successful political parties in India today have had one specific target audience with a clear identity to focus on in the initial stages – Dalits in Uttar Pradesh for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, Yadavs and Muslims for the Samajwadi Party, Maratha pride for the Shiv Sena and the labour class for Communists. Once successful in mobilizing their target audience, they spread their influence beyond them. Here corruption was the issue around which Hazare tried to mobilize people. But will that be enough to keep the flock together under one flag --- a flag that belongs to the whole nation? The right to use this flag freely but reverentially was granted by Parliament a few years ago!

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