Anna what went wrong

Dec 29, 2011, IBNLive

Things had been looking difficult for Team Anna ever since the Bombay High Court rapped them for demanding a free venue. Many anguished supporters had then questioned why the court had to question the cause of the agitation if it had no jurisdiction over what charges to be levied. What these supporters forget is that Team Anna had asked for an exemption citing the cause of the protest, namely national interest. Hence, it was legitimate that the court had to examine the validity of such a cause before even considering if an exemption was valid or not.

The verdict was the first time the fault lines within the movement became visible. Some of the younger activists had started distancing themselves from the decisions. They claimed that a number of decisions had been taken by the senior members without considering their inputs. That was not all, Anna himself said going to court was a mistake.

But nothing could have been more telling than the absence of crowds at MMRDA on the first day of the fast. There were Anna supporters still negating all this on the web, saying news channels were lying, that the crowds were there. But surprisingly the mostly pro-Anna twitterati also seemed either accepting of the wane of the phenomenon or even calling Team Anna ‘Self proclaimed saints’. Though the crowds improved on the second day, the damage to Team Anna’s morale had been done.

So what went wrong? According to Team Anna insiders, they did not have enough time to mobilise the crowds and educate them about the technicalities that made the government bill unacceptable to their cadre. They also said the confusion about the venue could have been one reason. Medha Patkar dismissed the whole thing saying this was not a game of numbers. Some others blamed it on the generally ‘indifferent’ Mumbai public, citing how they did not come out to vote even after 26/11.

But that was not what their leaders were saying on stage. Both Bedi and Kejriwal appealed to people to come out of their homes, to take a day off from work maybe and support the movement. But the bigger blows to credibility were being dealt by the junior leadership. In their speeches they claimed various conspiracy theories. A fire in the Airtel offices leading to jammed networks, which till now has only been partially restored, was being called a deliberate attempt by the government to scuttle the movement.

Reality check, Airtel is just one private service provider in the city, all others were functioning well. The routine refusal of autorickshaw drivers at stations to come to BKC was being seen as a larger conspiracy. Any Mumbaikar worth his salt would know there are certain areas autorickshaw drivers just refuse to ply, even if you offered him a seat on KBC. While there are many Internet commentors who seem to see conspiracies in everything, coming out and claiming them to be legitimate reasons for a low turnout was suicidal.

Senior journalists covering the proceedings said this was the exact way propaganda worked during political stand offs and riots. With all the vociferous claims by Team Anna of the potential of violence before the fast, such talk could have easily created problems. Rumours being palmed off as the truth, is potentially dangerous.

Out on the street there are many reasons being cited for the lukewarm reception Team Anna got in Mumbai. There is of course endorsement to the theory that Mumbai is not a very political city and especially not on working days. The daily bread and butter takes precedence over everything else. Some youngsters and upper middle class people who were part of the movement earlier cited the high handed behaviour by certain factions of Team Anna to be the reason they lost interest in the movement.

Social analysts claim the various contradictory statements made by Team Anna members contributed to the problems. Some residents talked about the politicisation of the movement citing instances where it seemed to them, that the core committee was exchanging barbs with parties in a manner similar to politicians.

Yet others claimed Team Anna had a ‘my way or the high way’ attitude and did not believe in effectively negotiating terms for a bill that would benefit everyone in the long term. Some others complained about the ‘moral high ground’ claimed by their representatives everywhere and wondered if Team Anna felt that they could do no wrong.

Team Anna that frequently invokes Gandhian values, for a brief period overlooked the fact that Gandhi, believed in giving in some ground every once in a while, so that a better agreement could be reached at a future date. The art of negotiation is always about creating a win-win and not over powering the opposition. At the end of this episode of Team Anna versus the government, neither parties have been able to better their positions and the common man is lost in the rhetoric from all sides.

One cannot call this the end of the movement, but it surely is time for Team Anna to regroup, introspect and learn from their mistakes, lest they be confused with those who brook no opposition and rule with an iron fist. As the famous quote goes, “It only takes a liberal 20 years to become a conservative, without changing a single idea.”



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