Is Anna Hazare’s grand coalition of good-government activists cracking up?
Some serious stress fractures appeared this week when two prominent social activists on the 25-member core committee of India Against Corruption left the coalition. They were displeased that Mr. Hazare and his close ally, Arvind Kejriwal, had chosen to wade directly into politics by campaigning against the governing Congress party in a by-election in Hisar in Haryana.
On one level, the Hazare team’s experiment in politicking in Hisar was a resounding success: The Congress candidate won so few votes that he lost his deposit. But the departure of two highly respected members, from what has been billed as a big-tent organization aimed at transforming the national culture, could dim the movement’s luster.
“The decision to go to Hisar and U.P. was a big setback to the anti-corruption movement,” Rajendra Singh, a veteran environmental activist from Rajasthan who withdrew from the Hazare coalition this week, said in an interview. “To support a political party and oppose another was like acting as power brokers. They have defeated the whole credibility of the anti-corruption movement.”
The Gandhian activist P. V. Rajagopal also withdrew, saying he had not been consulted about the decision to get involved in the Hisar campaign.
“I do not know when the decision to go to Hisar and U.P. was taken,” he said in an interview. “I learned it through the media. I was not consulted even on the phone.”
He was surprised, he said, because this was a major change in focus for what had previously been an avowedly nonpartisan campaign.
“To oppose or support a political party, it was a huge jump,” he said. “A lot of people felt uncomfortable. You can not shift from one position to the other so quickly. It is very unfortunate.”
Mr. Singh accused the movement of operating with the same secrecy that so loudly decried in government.
“You talk about democratic values and transparency,” he fumed. “Where are those values and where is that transparency? We decided to work through a core team and such decisions are not even informed.”
This summer’s vast anti-corruption movement, stirred up by Mr. Hazare’s epic hunger strike, seemed poised to transform Indian public life. The normally indifferent-to-politics middle class rose collectively to its feet, donning topis and declaring, “I am Anna.” A torpid political class was jostled into action, pledging to create the anti-corruption ombudsman, or Lokpal, that Mr. Hazare was demanding.
In the flush of this victory, Mr. Hazare and his allies cast about for the next mission: giving voters the power to recall misbehaving members of Parliament, for example. But signs of discord in the diverse coalition quickly surfaced.
When Prashant Bhushan was mauled by right-wing Hindu activists for his comments in support of a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to determine whether to remain part of India, Mr. Hazare and others distanced themselves from his remarks and offered only tepid criticism of his attackers. Since then he has scarcely been seen among Mr. Hazare’s coterie.
The paper reported that she bought discounted tickets but billed organizations that paid for her tickets as if she had paid full fare, then used the difference to fund her charity. Responding to a barrage of questions from people on Twitter, Ms. Bedi did not deny doing this, but argued that she had in fact saved these organizations money by not flying business class and had used the proceeds for a good cause.Another top member of Team Anna has also been embroiled in controversy recently. Kiran Bedi, the former police official turned clean-government crusader, was the subject of two investigative articles in the Indian Express this week. As the winner of a police bravery medal, she is entitled to a 75 percent discount on tickets for India’s national airline, Air India.
“What wrong? What offense. Is saving an offense? And then putting the saving to a good cause a crime?,” she Tweeted.
Responding to questions via text message from a noisy public meeting in Meerut, Ms. Bedi said she had done nothing improper.
“I have done what any person who has total commitment to causes will do,” she wrote. “I generate and save all the time for education of under privileged children.”
She said she used the money she saved by not traveling business class to pay for charity.
“Many corporates are aware of my saving. And they were of course obliged that I gave them my day.”
Mr. Rajagopal said he was unconvinced by this argument.
“How can people respect you if you are not ethical?” he said. “Ethics are something not to be preached but to be practiced. This disintegration is a loss for the country.”
An editorial in the Indian Express argued that the episode is a useful lesson.
“Team Anna should square with itself and then start identifying what constitutes corruption, deception, and what is simply human resourcefulness, or finding a way to live with rigid and unrealistic rules. What, for instance, are the clear lines between ‘I used it for my NGO’ and ‘I used it for my political party’? ”
Mr. Kejriwal did not return a telephone call or text message seeking comment. But other members of Team Anna played down the divisions within the coalition, and said that the Hisar political experiment was less a full-bore entry into politics than a warning shot to a complacent political class.
“The idea was to give a mild warning to Congress,” said Medha Patkar, a prominent activist who is also part of the committee. The decision to become involved in the Hisar race, she said, was taken by a smaller working group in Delhi, not the whole committee.
“The issue of electoral politics and movement needs to be discussed at deeper level,” she said. “There is no big disintegration of the movement but, yes, there is a difference of opinion.”
Ms. Bedi said the Hisar vote was merely an effort to show voters they can elect representatives who support the Lokpal bill.
“We are on voter awareness to ensure the parliament gets MPs who vote for the Jan Lok Pal bill,” she wrote.
She said it was normal that some people would disagree and leave the movement.
“Team Anna is a coming together of strong activists and have own causes and views,” she said.
Was it a mistake for Team Anna to get involved in the Hisar election campaign? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.