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There is palpable relief, even glee, in the political class now that Team Anna is talking of joining their ranks. The playing field, they chortle, is finally level.
Four days after members of the now disbanded Team Anna announced their intention of floating a new political party, a disillusioned college teacher filed a case in a lower court in Meerut accusing Arvind Kejriwal of "cheating" Anna followers. "I had joined the cause believing it is apolitical. The recent announcement by Team Anna to join politics has deeply hurt me. This is a clear case of cheating, " the teacher, Harishwar, pleaded in his petition.
Ludicrous as it may sound to ask the court to punish Kejriwal & Co for starting a political party, Harishwar's petition should ring alarm bells in the Anna camp. It hints at the pitfalls ahead as the anti-corruption crusaders cross over from civil society activism to political power-play. For the first time, they are being made to feel the heat of popular anger which could ultimately coalesce into a fierce backlash when they start canvassing for votes. Their real test begins now, when they step out of the virtual world of Facebook messages and Twitter feeds into the rough and tumble of electoral politics.
There is a palpable sense of relief, even glee, among the political class at Team Anna's discomfiture. For over a year, ever since the wizened old man in a Gandhi topi from Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra burst into national prominence with a fast-unto-death at Delhi's Jantar Mantar, politicians were the ones on the defensive as Anna whipped up middle class anger against them. Today, the tables are turned. Team Anna is unravelling, beaten by dwindling public support and internal contradictions. After spewing venom at an electoral system for sending "criminals" and other undesirable elements to Parliament, its members have capitulated to become participants. The motto seems to be: if you can't beat them, join them.
"It's a level playing field now, " crows an MP who wished to remain unidentified. "Let them try and contest elections. Then they will understand what it means to represent the people of this country. Support in city drawing rooms and on television doesn't give them the right to dictate to the Indian Parliament as they were trying to do with their version of the Lokpal Bill. "
Most politicians believe that the threat from Team Anna is over. And there are enough signs of trouble in the Anna camp to justify this confidence : the haste with which Anna disbanded the team without breathing a word to anyone, the differences that have cropped up over Baba Ramdev's anti-corruption with Kiran Bedi tweeting her support and Kejriwal and others refusing to touch the saffron-clad Narendra Modi acolyte, the lack of clarity about the roadmap for the future.
Politics at this juncture is too fluid to write anyone off. But Brand Anna is undoubtedly losing its appeal, even to its core constituency of the urban middle class. This segment had flocked to Anna's road shows at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan last year because he gave them a voice by articulating their concerns. Corruption touches every class but Anna represented much more than an anti-corruption crusade. He promised a new type of politics, with the middle class as the vanguard, to purge a Mandalised system which had spawned the rise of the OBC and dalit groups.
It is interesting that the most vociferous opposition to Team Anna came from leaders like Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Yadav and Mayawati who have thrived on subaltern politics to end the dominance of the upper castes and the urban middle classes. Team Anna's collapse represents their victory. Anna's failure to arm-twist Parliament into passing the Lokpal Bill was a sign of defeat and the middle classes, who only admire winners, turned away in disgust.
Team Anna's future plans are pretty much up in the air. A credible political party needs an organisation, a dedicated cadre, funds and a clear ideology. At present, the members are pulling in different directions. Some like Bedi and Manish Sisodia feel that they should join forces with the BJP and RSS which would help them to mobilise people. Others like Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan veer to left-of-centre politics and are believed to be in conversation with some of the Left groups.
A senior BJP leader admits that the party is toying with the idea of supporting some Team Anna members, possibly Bedi and one or two others, in the next Lok Sabha elections. "But they will have to contest as independent candidates backed by us, not as Team Anna nominees, " says the leader.
Most mainstream political leaders believe that it is virtually impossible for Team Anna members to start a new party. Apart from the logistical problems, there is also the problem of getting a symbol to contest elections. A party has to win 4 per cent of the national vote to be recognised by the Election Commission as a national party and get an all India symbol. Till then, its members must contest as independent candidates on free symbols that may vary from state to state, even constituency to constituency. Nominees of the Janata Party which was formed overnight in 1977, for instance, contested on symbols of their erstwhile parties in that momentous poll that swept Indira Gandhi's Emergency regime out of power. The symbol of a farmer with a plough was allotted after the elections.
Team Anna lost the plot by attacking the political class as a whole. "Had they identified with their anti-corruption campaign with anti-Congressism, like Jayprakash Narayan and V P Singh, they would have created a platform on which non-Congress parties could have joined them. This would have been a formidable force. But by attacking all of us as corrupt and by taking an anti-politician stand, they have antagonised everyone. No-one wants to help them, " points out a BJP leader. As things stand today, Team Anna looks in danger of scattering in different directions. Some individuals may benefit if they manage to strike an understanding with a mainstream party. It's Brand Anna that will take the hit.
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