New Age Islam
Wed Oct 28 2020, 11:00 AM

Current Affairs ( 13 Sept 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Has Anna Movement Weakened the Civil Society?


By Dr. Amit Rahul, New Age Islam

What began as an apolitical movement against corruption culminated in the dissolution of Team Anna and the dramatic announcement of their entry into electoral politics. This came as a shock to many. Though it was largely being felt that the movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill had come to a dead end and the Team Anna members were themselves clueless about their next move, not many had anticipated that Anna and his lieutenants will ultimately make politics the means to achieve their ends.

Team Anna of 2011 was vastly different from its 2012 avatar. In the beginning, they were united, focused and had only one goal in sight - to achieve Jan Lokpal Bill for checking the menace of corruption. As the movement progressed, the demands began to resemble the multi-headed Hydra - black money, corrupt politicians, corrupt parties, total revolution and many more. This created confusion among the supporters and sympathizers and led to the gradual erosion of the support base of the movement.

The substantial public support for the movement in the first phase had made Team Anna over ambitious and they failed to acknowledge the dissenting voices both from within and from the various civil society members and groups. The outside support of civil society began to dwindle as one after another the members began to distance themselves from the movement. Instead of presenting a united front, the civil society was found divided and furthering their own agenda. The civil society was badly exposed, as they failed to keep their differences hidden from the public. Team Anna is equally responsible for such a situation, as they were unable to bring other civil society members on board through dialogue and discussion and widen the support base of the movement. Furthermore, they committed hara-kiri by calling their movement the ‘second freedom struggle and comparing Anna with the Father of the Nation - Mahatma Gandhi. By doing this they raised themselves on a high pedestal on which they failed to stay put. Also, this was interpreted by many as a deliberate attempt to dwarf other prominent civil society members.

In the recent past some of the prominent members of the civil society had done exemplary work and made the government either adopt pro poor policies or modify their policies to suit the needs of the vulnerable and the marginalized. The role of Medha Patkar in ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ and that of Arvind Kejriwal in activating India’s ‘Right to Information’ movement is known to every socially conscious citizens of the country. However, to sustain the movement, extra effort was required this time as the canvas was much bigger and the demand was directly pushing the government on the back foot. Unlike earlier occasions, when the government did not have to lose much ground to the collective action of the social activists, this time it was at the receiving end. Though, past record of the civil society members in general and the Team Anna members in particular helped in drawing good support from people across the country, particularly from the urban middle class, it was not enough to awaken a large number of people for a long struggle with the mighty state. 

In its talk with the government too, Team Anna showed lack of clarity as to what exactly they were expecting. They should have given more time to the government and should have been more democratic, liberal and accommodating while chalking out the contents of the Jan Lokpal Bill. On their part, they should have carried out activities across the country like seeking suggestions from union heads, political parties, community leaders, intelligentsia and the general public to keep the interest alive and work for the best possible Lokpal while the government was working out on the nitty-gritty of the Bill. If they had kept the options open and they would have got more time to ponder over the future course of action and organize the movement well. On top of it taking on the media which had made team Anna a brand proved to be their undoing. All this back fired.

The government and more clearly the congress party which was clearly under attack from Team Anna had been looking for a ‘chink in their armour’ and instead it discovered many. Realizing fully well the differences among the civil society groups, the government began to play upon the divisions within the civil society. This changed the contours of the game between Team Anna and the government. The government knew that the movement has a small life cycle and was waiting patiently to see it fade away into oblivion.

The dramatic announcement of forming a political party and providing a political alternative gave a deadly blow to the movement. There are many good and honest people in the parliament and Team Anna should have tried to convince those people and win their support for a strong, inclusive and effective Jan Lokpal Bill. He should have continued playing the role of a responsible civil society member instead of delving into an unknown political territory. The other side of the story is that by this announcement team Anna has again reposed faith in the same system which it had questioned in the beginning of the movement. This is like coming full circle for Team Anna. 

If there is any loser in the struggle between the government and the Team Anna, it is the civil society. Government’s indifference and ‘who cares’ attitude towards the movement and the backing off by Team Anna has heavily dented the image of the civil society. It is being largely feared that this may become the norm. The civil society needs to introspect and launch its movement afresh if it has to regain the ground which it has lost to the government. The civil society should focus on widening their platform from which they can truly act as pressure groups and make the government yield to their just and rightful demands. In a democratic set-up, people are the real power and the civil society will have to make efforts to involve the masses if they have to succeed in any future movements. They should continue with their struggle for a strong Lokpal.

Dr. Amit Rahu is associated with CMS Social, Centre for Media Studies, New Delhi