Dear Shri Annaji,
You have become a symbol of clean politics. Your team is fighting a selfless battle for change. You got a standing ovation from the young and the old, the rich and the poor, from teens, men and women cutting across class and community. When you chose to fast, your admirers gave up even water in sympatico. When you suffered internal agony, they fought the summer heat and power-hungry politicians. Your simplicity, frugality, transparent exterior and interior, and the resolve to teach a lesson to the tainted establishment through democratic means made you a soft target. People saw Jayaprakash Narayan in you.
Like you, JP also emerged from nowhere and captured the imagination of the masses that had lost faith in the political order of the day. You are, likewise, expected to dominate the political discourse and not become a part of it by joining government panels and sending emissaries to parley with scheming political satraps. You thought writing letters would have the desired effect on those who are used to feeding them to shredding machines or put away in files. Masters at their game, they outsmarted you and your team. Even those Opposition leaders you trusted double-crossed you and your mission. While JP aimed to replace the existing political charter with his own, your team chose to work through the system. You have also opted for a hi-tech, choreographed agitational approach by hosting fasts at urban venues which get you immediate eyeballs. But the crowds are thinning. This doesn’t mean they have lost faith in you; it only indicates the success of the political class in isolating your group. They don’t want any outsider to capture their space. JP did, by becoming one of them.
The difference between you and the Lok Nayak ends there. JP took the politicians into confidence. He took over their leadership and directed and dictated them to follow his line. Unfortunately, you committed the cardinal error of trusting the ruling dispensation. Many of your staunch supporters feel that some of your key confidantes were keen to share the high table with senior ministers. While their motives were never suspected, their methods proved disastrous as the might of the government roundly defeated and derailed your movement. You were promised a clean and powerful Lokpal Bill so that you would turn down the heat. But they unleashed vicious propaganda against your team members. Stung by the filthy campaign, your team decided to influence the outcome of elections in state Assemblies but met with little success. JP was able to throw the ruling party out of power in 1977. The mighty Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay lost the elections.
Now you are being accused of playing politics. As your team relentlessly pursues its agenda, it has chosen to attack all political parties with which it had previously opened dialogues. Since your commitment to provide a clean alternative to the current tainted system is never in doubt, it would be better for you to float your own political party and provide an alternative agenda.
In 1987, V P Singh floated his own political party on the anti-corruption plank and defeated the ruling Congress to become prime minister. It is time for transition: Anna the social activist must become Anna the politician. I know your team and you have already announced that none of you are looking for a government post. This would perhaps give you the popular mandate to implement your vision. You have the resources. You have the middle and lower middle classes following you blindly. You possess a team that has seen the system from within. Even if most of your aides belong to the urban elite, they can mobilise others. Don’t forget that Team Anna, including you, has the largest following among Netizens who dominate the mindspace of young India. A cursory Google search reveals that you have 46 million page views as against 36 million for the Prime Minister; 21 million for Sonia Gandhi; 36 million for Narendra Modi and just 20 lakh for L K Advani. Surprisingly, websurfers are more interested in your mission than in rich entertainers like Amitabh Bachchan (43 million), Priyanka Chopra (39 million) and Shah Rukh Khan (32 million). Combined with your followers on Twitter, you enjoy more cyber-support than the entire political leadership put together.
Indians are worshippers by birth. But they worship only those who defeat evil. For you, all political parties are foes of the people. The only option left for you is to prove that you represent the masses who have lost confidence in politicians. You have to shun the occasional flirtation with the enemy. In an age where image defines character, you sport the right look—the knight in shining white khadi, Gandhi topi and guileless smile.
Annaji, you have engaged the powers-that-be in both open and secret dialogue but they just don’t bother. They have now challenged your acceptability by asking you to contest an election. Take them head-on. You can’t continue to dictate your agenda to those who have, rightly or wrongly, got the public mandate. Baba Ramdev and you symbolise the inclusive nature of Indian society: a combination of white and saffron, urban and rural, and khas and aam aadmi could be a surefire winner in an election.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla