If the results of the five state assembly elections have brought a feeling of despondency to the ruling Congress party, the public’s verdict this week should also be making social activist Anna Hazare and his team uncomfortable.
The anti-corruption movement launched by the veteran activist last year shook the political establishment, and in the heat of the moment it was widely assumed that any political party with even the slightest taint of graft would bite the dust at the polls. Team Anna also suggested that parties that had opposed a strong Ombudsman (Lokpal) Bill in the parliament would face the wrath of the people, and they hit the campaign trail to ensure that this would be the case.
But the election results have instead not just highlighted the limits of their particular stripe of activism, but placed a question mark over the motivations of such agitations generally.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), swept to power in Uttar Pradesh, has been critical of the Anna Hazare movement, and was instrumental in blocking the introduction of the Ombudsman Bill in the upper house of parliament. But the SP has also been hit by numerous allegations of corruption, including an SP candidate who was jailed.
The results in the neighboring state of Uttrakhand were also telling. This was the only state that was pressured by the anti-corruption movement to pass the Anna Hazare version of the Ombudsman Bill. Anti-corruption crusaders spent much time there during the election trying to mobilize support for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and its chief minister for bringing the landmark legislation. But B.C. Khanduri not only lost his seat, but saw his party come in second to the Congress.
Even in Punjab, where the BJP allied with a bigger regional partner to retain power, it lost several seats in the urban constituencies that were the focus of the Hazare campaign. The BJP, which thrives on the urban vote, couldn’t take advantage of the anti-corruption campaign, and ceded ground to its rival the Congress, which was the target of the whole Anna movement.
The attempted mobilization over the issue of corruption seemed aimed more at targeting the Congress, rather than corruption. Indeed, newspapers and magazines have written extensively about how anti-corruption activists were given active support by local BJP and other Hindutva organizations in the elections. English weekly Open even ran a cover story a couple of weeks back describing Team Anna as the “BJP’s Team B.”
This shouldn’t be surprising – key players in the anti-corruption movement, including Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, openly hobnobbed with the BJP and other rightists. These elections have therefore exposed the hypocrisy of the anti-corruption crusaders and brought into the open the hidden agenda behind the agitation.
The anti-corruption brigade are increasingly looking like part of a Hindutva project motivated not by a good cause, but by a desire to capture power in New Delhi by displacing the Congress party.