Two issues have been receiving some special attention in the media in recent weeks, though it is not surprising. The first issue is LK Advani’s statement made in his blog that a non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government backed by either of the two major parties is a strong possibility. The second one in Anna’s alleged support to the idea of going politic, while dissolving Team Anna as no longer relevant.
In the case of the first issue, the media has been unnecessarily laying stress on only one part of the statement made by Advani. Advani, let it be remembered, had also said that what was a “strong possibility” may not last long. Why should the media keep harping on the first part of the BJP leader’s statement? The point is made that what Advani was subtly suggesting is that Narendra Modi can’t be a Prime Ministerial choice for the BJP to impose as its candidate in the likelihood of the NDA winning the next general elections. There seems to be a deliberate effort to damn Modi in some media circles. Take the interview Modi gave to Shahid Siddiqui, publisher of the Urdu Weekly Nai Duniya. It was brave and quite daring on the part of Siddiqui to undertake the task for which he deserves to be admired. But the Samajwadi Party of which he is a member is supposed to have expelled him. It is the Samajwadi Party that stands condemned. Not Siddiqui, who was merely doing a professional job. One would have thought that all the leading papers would publish an English translation of that interview in full, as a service to readers. About the only paper which did is The Telegraph (July 28). Writing in Business Line (August 7) columnist Rasheeda Bhagat noted that there is no “tall leader” in sight for candidacy to the Prime Ministership except Modi, though she was quick to add that he “continues to be controversial and unacceptable to NDA allies like Nitish Kumar”.
If Modi is unacceptable, would the BJP name Advani himself as an acceptable candidate? Over to the readers.
On the Anna issue, again, there is a wide difference of opinion. Writing in The New Sunday Express (August 5) Soli Sorabjee, a former Attorney General of India noted that though “unfortunately, a movement that started with a bang has temporarily ended with a whimper, the underlying moral impact of the movement has not disappeared. He feels sad that Anna’s followers should digress “with other issues which do not have the same wholehearted public support, while also noting that “fast fatigues” have become noticeable with people “not enthused by the spectacle of periodic indefinite fasts which have life-threatening consequences”. Deccan Herald (August 4) feels “it is unfortunate that Team Anna, after raising the nation’s hopes about forcing the establishment into bringing an effective instrument to fight corruption has taken an unwise decision to enter politics. Said the paper: “It is hard to dispel the feeling that by entering electoral politics, Team Anna has undermined itself and done irreparable damage to the cause of fighting corruption. The political ambitions of a handful on the team have put in jeopardy the cause. It has only itself to blame for the likely demise of the anti-corruption campaign”. Editorially, The New Indian Express (August 4) was more positive. It said that “while the contours of Team Anna’s proposed political alternative are still hazy, it is a welcome decision in the right direction.” Said the paper: “…..the move to enter the political arena is the logical extension of the agitation, especially after most mainstream political parties have decided to ignore or dismiss the movement both in form and content.” It went on to say: “In a democracy, no movement can be confined to the streets alone…. (Team Anna should usher in an era of politics with a difference with decentralisation and democratisation as core values….” The Hindu ( August 3) felt that “Team Anna’s image has not benefitted from some of the positions its members have staked out, particularly their intemperate attacks on Parliament and parliamentarians.” India, said the paper, “needs a strong Lokpal now,” but noted that while “we may fault Anna’s tactics, the reason a strong law is not yet in place to deal with corruption because the government is simply not interested in having one.” Writing in The Times of India ( August 5), columnist Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar perhaps has made the strongest and most logical case against Team Anna going political. In a letter primarily addressed to Anna Hazare, Aiyar said the idea of the corruption movement being turned into a political party is “madness”. Please, he told Anna, abandon the idea. As Aiyar saw the situation, a mass movement can only flourish on a single issue like fighting corruption. A single issue could draw support from many existing institutions. He told Anna, “But a political party has to take a stand on a wide array of issues. This will irretrievably dilute your focus on corruption.” As Aiyar saw the situation, creating a party will only stir up all the contradictory ideologies and passions that Anna’s supporters had set aside to focus on corruption. What was the point, therefore, to jeopardise the unity of Anna’s supporters? As Aiyar told Anna: “You feel humiliated today as a movement that is ignored by parties. Alas, you will face far greater humiliation when your party is, inevitably thrashed at the polls. Voters vote tactically for parties they think can come to power and you will not qualify, save in a few areas. Electoral defeat will make your claim to speak for India ring hollow.”
Aiyar’s advice to Anna is that he must “get back to grass roots”, strengthen his movement there first and then expand upward. Very sound advice indeed. As Aiyar put it, Anna should learn “from Mahatma Gandhi”. Anna’s stand, of course, is that “there is nothing wrong in forming a party”, only he would not join any. That is poor consolation to his admiriers. What needs to be noted, however, is that the response on the Group’s website to the question whether Team Anna should jump into politics has been 90 per cent positive. That says something! Whether it will yield any useful results, only time can tell. What worries many is whether it is worth taking the risk only to get mired in senseless controversies.