Dear Anna Hazare,
Frustrated by your failure to draw large crowds or sway Parliament, you have decided to convert your India Against Corruption movement into a political party. This is madness. Please abandon the idea.
A mass movement can flourish on a single issue like fighting corruption. A single-issue movement can draw support from many existing institutions and parties. It can bring together those who quarrel on many issues, but are willing to join hands on corruption. It attracts people because its message is simple and clear.
But if you form a political party, you distract attention from your big message. A movement can be based on a single issue, but a political party has to take a stand on a wide array of issues. This will irretrievably dilute your focus on corruption.
Your supporters are divided on issues other than corruption. Prashant Bhushan is a red-hot socialist who wants to hugely increase state powers. But others see that the state itself as the very fount of corruption, and campaign for economic liberalisation. Some of your supporters are devotees of Baba Ramdev or the RSS. But others are staunch secularists who cannot stand Ramdev or the RSS. Many Muslims back you on corruption, but hate Ramdev.
Creating a party will stir up all the contradictory ideologies and passions that your supporters have set aside to focus on corruption. Why jeopardise the unity of your supporters? An angry public hates existing political parties. Why convert yourself into yet another hate object?
You want to fight elections to sway politics. But raising money to fight elections can taint you beyond redemption. Success in politics entails alliances and coalitions, and this will mean compromises with the very parties you castigate as corrupt.
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 very few areas. Electoral defeat will make your claim to speak for India ring hollow.
The problem is that you and your team have been spoiled by the mass public attention you attracted last year. You incorrectly thought you had suddenly become great national leaders. Dead wrong. You were important not in yourself, only as a channel for middle-class anger against existing corrupt political parties.
You are puzzled and frustrated that that you no longer command huge crowds. The lesson is simple: don’t trust the middle class to give you sustained support. The middle class has a very wide rage of interests. It can get angry on one issue for months, and then switch altogether to other issues.
This was demonstrated in the anti-Mandal student agitation of 1990. When the Prime Minister VP Singh proposed reservations for OBCs (other backward castes) in government service and educational institutions, Delhi’s upper caste students rose in revolt at what they viewed as casteism triumphing over merit. Thousands of marchers paralysed the city, and college students started immolating themselves day after day. No political party could stem it. The movement looked phenomenally strong.
But then along came L K Advani’s Rath Yatra. The middle class suddenly lost interest in the supposed iniquity of OBC reservations and switched to the mandir-masjd issue. The anti-reservation movement that once looked so strong just vanished, never to return.
Annaji, a national anti-corruption platform cannot be based on support from Delhi’s middle class or TV anchors. You must get back to the grassroots, strengthen your movement there first, and then expand upward. Learn from Mahatma Gandhi, who did not go on Dandi marches or fasts every few months, or abandon fasts because the crowds were not large enough. He spent most of his life in grassroots work at his ashrams, and only occasionally launched satyagrahas against the British Raj. He did not seek quick success, or switch strategies because the government was ignoring him.
You have failed to conquer Delhi. Instead of seeking a quickfix in a new political party, please accept that the way to change India is not from Delhi downward but from the grassroots upwards. You have so far enjoyed credibility as a grassroots crusader seen to be above politics. Join politics, and you may doom yourself.
You have more dependable fans and followers in Maharashtra than you will ever have in Delhi. Please go back to your grassroots and try to cleanse Maharashtra first. If you cannot cleanse Maharashtra, why imagine you can cleanse India?