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How Anna Hazare’s 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Arvind Kejriwal could have helped Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha election

While the movement around Jan Lokpal Bill is widely acknowledged to have hurt Congress, the original plans might have been different. Author Rahul Roushan argues in his book ‘Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha’.

(Following is an extract from the chapter named “Hindutva vs the ‘Ecosystem’” from the book “Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha” authored by Rahul Roushan)

The ecosystem not attacking the Nehru–Gandhi family acerbically was seen during the anti-corruption movement too. None of the influential leaders of Team Anna, especially someone like Arvind Kejriwal, took the name of Sonia Gandhi as one of the corrupt leaders who should be kicked out.

Had Anna Hazare’s fast ended differently, say without the whole acrimony where the Congress tried to attack the movement and brand it as RSS-sponsored, it would have only helped the Congress. Perhaps, the ideal end to the entire drama would have been Rahul Gandhi promising to constitute the office of the Lokpal, and endlessly played TV visuals where he is seen offering a glass of orange juice to Anna Hazare, ending his fast-unto-death pledge.

The cases of corruption, such as 2G, CWG, coal scam, would have been effortlessly blamed on Manmohan Singh in the popular narrative, which would have been built once Rahul Gandhi became UPA-III prime minister in 2014.

A few weeks before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had expressed confidence that history will be kinder to him. It was virtually a farewell statement that hinted that he too knew that regardless of what happened in the 2014 elections, he won’t become the prime minister again.

And had the Congress won—and there could have been a fat chance of it winning had the anti-corruption movement ended the way I described in the earlier paragraph—history would definitely not have been kinder to Manmohan Singh. The darbari historians would have painted him as the villain to make Rahul Gandhi the hero. A rehearsal of the same was already done in September 2013, when Rahul Gandhi tore an ordinance by his own government that protected convicted lawmakers.

I have my reasons to believe that the anti-corruption movement, when it was launched, was not really aiming to pull down the Congress-led government. Swami Agnivesh, one of the original members of Team Anna, was once heard talking over the phone—purportedly to Congress leader Kapil Sibal, though he later said that it was another Kapil—where he compared his colleagues with wild elephants (mad elephant or pagal haathi to be precise).

Agnivesh was heard saying that Team Anna had lost their way and were behaving like wild elephants who were not ready to stop their onslaught. So, was Team Anna supposed to behave in a restrained manner and end their movement after a certain period of time?

Maybe they were, because a short-lived movement by the ecosystem would have helped the Congress. It would have created an environment that was against a corrupt ‘political class’, where the Congress and the BJP were to be equally seen as corrupt, thus denying the BJP any political advantage on the issue of corruption—similar to what had happened ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, where an environment was created against the political class over the issue of domestic security and not against the ruling class or party. That would have been a job perfectly done by the ecosystem, but somehow it decided to stretch it beyond the comfort of the Congress party.

It seems that the global developments around that time, especially the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2010–12, which resulted in regime changes in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa, gave a false hope to the ecosystem that they, too, could bring in such a revolution in India. If successful, it would have allowed them to rule directly, without needing the crutches and crumbs from the Congress party. Perhaps, that dream made them run amok like wild elephants, in the words of Agnivesh.

In fact, TV journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, in a viral video clip presumably recorded sometime in 2012, is heard saying in Marathi that he had advised Arvind Kejriwal to do a ‘Tahrir Square’ in India around the anti-corruption movement (Rajdeep Sardesai has confirmed the veracity of this video clip by repeating the same in his book 2014: The Election that Changed India’, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2014). Tahrir Square is situated in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and it had seen mass protests in February 2011, which went on to be one of the crucial events of Arab Spring. It resulted in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for almost 30 years non-stop, before the protests broke out.

It can’t be ruled out that the ecosystem actually thought that they could pull off something similar to an Arab Spring in India too. If so, they were essentially trying to capture power directly, instead of getting a share of it via the Congress. This possible plan and desire of the ecosystem could be crudely likened to a criminal or local dada deciding to fight the elections himself, instead of lending his muscle power to some other candidate and being his sidekick.

That plan, if it existed, didn’t really fructify as Anna Hazare movement fizzled out over time. It couldn’t gather mass support like the movements in the Arab world did. Team Anna especially failed to attract any meaningful support outside Delhi. Some planned protests in Mumbai attracted very thin crowds and subsequent protests in Delhi had started losing sheen. Other parts of the country too gave very tepid response to calls for local protests. However, the passion and energy kept running high among the dedicated team and it often reflected on social media platforms.

The ecosystem soon realized, if at all it was hoping to rule directly by overthrowing the Congress in some popular uprising, that their plans were impractical. However, they didn’t lose all hope. Their desire of bypassing the Congress and capturing power directly resulted in the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which did exceedingly well in the December 2013 Delhi assembly elections. It gave them hope that they could make an impact in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections too, only to find out that Modi was too good for them.

[The book ‘Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha’ has been published by Rupa Publications (March 2021). It is authored by Rahul Roushan, an entrepreneur and media professional, and currently the CEO of OpIndia digital group.]

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Rahul Roushanhttp://www.rahulroushan.com
A well known expert on nothing. Opinions totally personal. RTs, sometimes even my own tweets, not endorsement. #Sarcasm. As unbiased as any popular journalist.

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