Is Anna Hazare’s fast losing momentum?

Kishan Baburao Hazare aka Anna Hazare is at Jantar Mantar once again. Sure, he is upset. And, yes, he said he would go on an indefinite fast from Sunday until the ruling UPA dispensation sacks “15 corrupt ministers”.

A year ago, the same Jantar Mantar — New Delhi’s open platform for all kinds of protests against the regime of the day — had captured national imagination when Team Anna went on a fast demanding implementation of their own version of a bill to set up a public ombudsman. Riding on a wave of high discontent, he had managed to make the Manmohan Singh-led government lie down, even crawl.

Yet, this time around, there’s no sense of deja vu in the corridors of power in Lutyen’s Delhi. Instead, all that’s there is a wide grin, almost Cheshire-cat like. So just what changed in over a year?

Too Giant a Leap

In 2011, if it was the government that criticised the media for its “negative coverage”, this time it is Team Anna that’s scowling at the camera. For a team of agitators who thrived on 24×7 TV until now, that’s a huge turnaround. And that, in a way, explains the story.

The fact is Jantar Mantar 2012 has been a downer so far. Anyone who had been to Jantar Mantar and the Ramlila Maidan during Team Anna fasts last year would easily notice what is critically missing this time. Of course, there are the works — closed-circuit TVs, mobile toilets, steady supply of water, proper seating arrangements for the crowds and an army of TV cameras with special cranes for catching the ‘big picture’. But the passion, the atmospherics, is absent. Also missing are the ‘professionals’ who set the atmospherics last time.

Close associates Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia have been on a hunger strike since Wednesday, but the duo’s efforts have evoked poor public response and therefore, dwindling media interest.

The question is whether Anna could, finally, boost his crashing TRP stocks in the coming days, or, whether he will have to, finally, surrender his lead role and accept a supporting role to Baba Ramdev’s — who openly chided Team Anna for their inability to mobilise people — promised parallel show at Ramlila Maidan from August 9.

Middle-Order Collapse

Even as hard-core Anna supporters are hoping their man will come out with yet another hit show and revive people’s support, there are also whispers about the grave tactical mistakes Anna & Co made this summer.

Clearly they chose to overlook three critical facts: that a year in the life of politics/movements is too long a time to think everything will remain the same way. Second, the law of diminishing returns is a time-tested truth that can’t be wished away. Third, that familiarity breeds indifference, if not contempt, and that’s a fact applicable even in this 24X7 age.
Kumar Saptarshi, a well-known social activist and a one-time Anna associate-turned critic told ET Magazine: “I am least surprised because I know Anna too well. For Anna, satyagraha has become an event management, a brand promotion that thrives on publicity. For him satyagraha is no more a search for the many dimensions of truth or an attempt to win over the other side, but a tool to project him as a fighter against his declared enemies. Those who fear for his life, I can assure Anna shall never die fasting. He will only search for new platforms that can keep alive his show. Trust me, when he realises Kejriwal & Co has lost the steam, he will move over to Baba Ramdev.”

Yet, the fact is the issue of Anna’s plank — anti-corruption movement — remains as valid as it was last year just as politicians remain as indifferent, as they are, infighting corruption.
The Baba Powerplay
When Congress leader Digvijay Singh repeatedly challenged the likes of Kejriwal, Sisodia, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan to sit on a hunger strike instead of making the ageing Anna do that, it was clear to everyone that Singh was trying to lure the activists into a trap.
Yet, to the surprise of many, Kejriwal and Sisodia chose to fast, clearly overestimating their “mass appeal” and “connectivity with the aam admi”. The duo is struggling to carry on with their fast in the face of a clear lack of public interest; the two should have known why Delhi’s rootless leaders never venture out to “crusade” anywhere other than TV studios and press conference rooms.
And Delhi’s worst kept secret is that the RSS establishment is keen to teach Anna a lesson for denying what Mohan Bhagwat had openly stated — that RSS had extended support to his earlier Delhi shows. So the ‘cadre’ has been pulled out just as there are no candlelight shows in city corners outside Delhi too.
The way the more skillful and resourceful Ramdev — who never made any secret of his political plans and his lack of chemistry with Anna’s leading associates — walked in with his own crowds and walked away with them appeared clearly choreographed to show Anna who “could get the people and who can’t” and “who can lead and who can’t”.
Team Anna is no more focusing on Jan Lok Pal for which it had rallied people in the past and, instead, is targeting “15 corrupt ministers” without showing clinching evidences and by refusing to file FIRs despite government’s challenging them to do so. The confusion is all evident as Kejriwal and Sisodia are targeting President Pranab Mukherjee one day while Anna and Ramdev are congratulating him the very next day.
There is also no credible explanation as to why Anna kept quiet about his secret meeting with one Union minister till another one exposed it.
While his team members have progressed from debunking politics to talking about forming their own political party, Anna is blowing hot and cold on this political transition. Clearly, the by-now familiar tendencies of some Team Anna members to indulge in ‘politicking’ as well their own double-standards on the issue of probity have turned off many of their earlier supporters. Over to the Captain now to lift the team spirit.



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