Is Team Anna unravelling?

Posted: November 30, 2011 in Corruption, India
Tags: , , ,

(A truncated version of this piece appeared on the editorial page of the Sakal Times today)
Around six months ago, the people were disillusioned. There seemed to be a ‘disconnect’ between the government and the citizens; corruption cases were popping out of the woodwork and politicians of all hues stood accused in various scams. Names of everyone from the prime minister to the lowest-ranked bureaucrat were being muddied, and just no one seemed to be in control at the helm.

Into this mess came Anna Hazare with his simple call, “Let’s end the corruption around us”. His simplicity and his earnestness struck a chord. After all, why would a retired army driver/villager-turned-social activist step into stem the rot of something that, for all practical purposes, seemed beyond any redemption? Wasn’t he better off in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, which he had reformed and transformed?

So when Hazare launched his anti-corruption movement the people suddenly found the outlet to voice their angst. His small bunch of supporters became a crowd and then a movement. People believed that someone finally had the guts to grasp the bull by the horns. And the politicians were worried. Proceedings in both Houses of Parliament that week mirrored the disgust of the people. There was excitement and hope in the air. People believed that the government was finally listening to them.

The government began in earnest to go after Team Anna. Their PR machinery went into overdrive digging up all the dirt they could find. The financial dealings of the NGOs run by members of Hazare’s core group were being questioned; Arvind Kejriwal was slapped with notices by the IT department; But the dirt just wasn’t sticking. Team Anna was in control.

Now six months later, the script seems to have gone awry. The first rumblings began when Team Anna talked about campaigning against the government in the various by-polls. A lot of people thought it was the wrong move. He was deviating from his focus on corruption, it was felt. Some members of his core group distanced themselves from the movement, others quit. Soon after, Kejriwal paid back the Rs 9 lakh, that he owed the government with the explanation that he was doing so under duress. Not everyone was convinced.

Then Kiran Bedi was accused of making full cash claims on air tickets she was entitled to at a concession. She admitted she had, and offered to pay back, but the damage was done. Soon fingers were again being pointed at the Trusts being run by some members of Team Anna. Prashant Bhushan put his foot in his mouth when he spoke of the need for a referendum on Kashmir, which angered many. Recently Hazare’s blogger, who quit the team, claimed that people close to the activist were using him to further their own interests. It seemed to a lot of us that Team Anna was exceeding its brief – that of tackling corruption.

The latest scandal to hit them has been one, again involving Ms. Bedi. This time she has been accused of receiving huge donations to impart free computer training to children and families of BSF, CISF, ITBP, CRPF and police personnel under the banner of her trust ‘India Vision Foundation’, which, it is alleged, she never did. She has denied the allegations. Unfortunately, now the dirt is beginning to stick.

People know Hazare is an honest man, but they are beginning to questioning the honesty of some of his team. Secondly, is personal honesty and integrity enough to tackle issues of national importance? It’s also obvious that the government machinery is in overdrive to ensure that anything and everything unpleasant about Hazare and his team is made public. With their backs already pinned to the wall, can Team Anna take the fight to the government on the issue of corruption and the lok pal bill, when they themselves now stand sullied? Let’s hope for the sake of the lakhs who believe in Anna Hazare, they can.

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