Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Some Lessons from the Team Anna Episode

None other than Mr Anna Hazare declared, in writing, that Team Anna stands dissolved.  After an eventful year in which it captured the eyeballs (if not the imagination) of the entire nation, it was indeed a feeble end for the brand, Team Anna.  It is now clear that while the latest fast unto death ended with an announcement of forming a new political party and clarion calls for ‘total revolution’, whatever formation that will eventually come out of it will not be the same or continuation of the Team Anna.

One may agree or disagree with the demands and/ or methods of Team Anna. But no one can deny the role played by them for more than a year.  Team Anna succeeded in attracting a sizeable number of people from at least the urban middle class.  Not many ‘apolitical’ movements can claim that in post-independent India.

There are always lessons to be learned from such movements irrespective of their success or failure. What are the major lessons from this Movement? To my mind they are as follows:

How not to conduct negotiations?

Team Anna was in a unique position to create history.  For the first time, the Government officially engaged a civil society group, at the very highest level, in drafting legislation.  While many NGOs and Institutions have played stellar roles in drafting various Bills in the past, their involvement was more of advisory than participatory.  However, Team Anna could not hold on to this unique position because they lacked the basic negotiation skills.

Any negotiation, to be successful, must be conducted for win-win, in a spirit of give and take.  Holding on to maximalist positions will not take us anywhere. ‘My Way or Highway’ will only get us on the highway to nowhere!

Team Anna instead of reaching a mutually acceptable midway position with Government, decided to play hardball and stick to their own version of Janlokpal in spite of serious reservations about some of its provisions.  It was juvenile to expect the Parliament and Government to surrender all their will to a group of individuals on such a serious policy change.  Also, in any case, it would have made much more sense to make a beginning by adopting a mutually acceptable solution and then continue to seek improvements, if necessary, after closely watching the efficacy of that solution.

The rules of public discourse

Not just in negotiations, even in conducting public discourse on the subject, Team Anna failed to maintain basic decorum.  Even elements of government were guilty on this count.  Often, the representatives of both sides resorted to discrediting the other side than engaging them on the strength of logical arguments. This is the result of larger than life egos coming to play, overtaking the very objective of the discourse! In the process, any chance for converting more people towards their own cause was also lost.

Let me just quote the three rules prescribed by Buddha for maintaining harmony in a group while conducting interactions: 
  •  Use only words that contribute to harmony, avoid all words that can cause the community to break
  • Share insights and understanding together
  • Respect other’s view points and don’t force another to follow your own view point

(as quoted in ‘Old Path White Clouds’ by Thich Nhat Hanh)

These principles are self-explanatory and readers might remember how the negative comments and personal attacks in public vitiated the very atmosphere of the interactions.

Efficacy of Satyagraha

I have come across comments that show the failure of Team Anna as a proof for the uselessness of Gandhian Satyagraha and Non-violence as means in fighting for justice!  This cannot be far from truth. Let us call a spade a spade! Team Anna tactics were only a very poor and thinly disguised imitation of Gandhian methods.  The failure of such a poor imitation is not a proof for the inefficacy of the original.

The members of Team Anna or even Mr Anna himself are not votaries of non-violence or Satyagraha in any sense.  They only used the fast-unto-death as a means to put pressure (you may even call it blackmail) on the government. 

Gandhi’s Satyagraha was always inward looking- a kind of self purification through which he appealed to the moral principles of the opponents.  Anna’s methods were always outward looking- in which he projected all the evils on to the politicians per se and ruling party in particular.  Not once, Anna insisted that his followers must desist from being party to corruption in any manner. Despite the occasional ceremony of oath taking etc, the emphasis was always on the government and the politicians rather than the people.  They always maintained that 120 crore population of India was with them in the fight against corruption. Then who was indulging in corruption?  Some aliens? That is one question they left unanswered.

If at all, Team Anna movement has only reiterated the efficacy of non-violence ans Satyagraha. They almost managed to achieve what Naxals and various fringe groups could not achieve after so much of violence. It was only their lack of conviction in the non-violence (remember calls for targeting MPs’/Ministers’ homes etc?) and use of methods that were clearly out of the purview of Satyagraha that called their bluff, eventually leading to loss of all public support.

Primacy of Democracy

The Team’s decision to engage in political process reiterated the primacy of democracy.  In a democracy, the people (and not the so called public opinions manufactured through in house referendums) must have the right to decide on who (and how) should govern them.  Howsoever valid one’s ideas may be, one has no right to enforce it upon others until one has succeeded in converting that idea into the opinion of genuine majority.

No democratic government can go against a true majority opinion. If they do so, they will perish at the very next election.  In India, whatever elections that took place recently have clearly shown that majority of people is yet to consider corruption as a political issue.  No political dispensation has suffered in India on account of their corrupt image.  That is why government is not concerned about Lokpal as an issue.  This is true even for the state governments.  Two states that are required to go for elections in near future and are governed by a party (BJP) other than the ruling party at the Centre, namely, Gujarat and Karnataka, have failed to even appoint Lokayuktas.  This clearly demonstrates that across political spectrum, the anti-corruption mood is not seen as of any consequence.

Dilution of the objectives

In a movement like India against Corruption, people join on the basis of a specific objective.  The participants might be ideologically poles apart yet agree to work together for the same objective.  It was incorrect to believe that all the people who visited Team Anna’s agitation sites were otherwise apolitical or against the current political system.  A large majority of them might surely have been followers of some or other political party and yet joined the Movement because they wanted to fight corruption.

It is imperative for survival of such movements that the Movement retain its focus on the single objective. Team Anna went far beyond that.  Their latest fast-unto-death was also for reasons other than Lokpal.  They wanted a Special Investigation Team to be constituted to investigate corruption charges against as many as 15 Ministers of the Central Government (that too without even filing an FIR or a complaint before any court).  Lot of people saw this as diluting the original objective and adopting a more anti-Congress stand.  More so, because their demands did not find mention of some of the very high profile corruption charges against the members of the opposition parties!

To come back to our proposition, such dilution of the objective and partisan approaches make the people to reconsider their affiliations and priorities.  When Team Anna went against UPA ministers personally, it lost many followers.  When it refused to acknowledge the role of Sangh constituents and attacked Narendra Modi in public, the Sangh followers (who constituted maximum percentage of vocal followers of Team Anna as their anti UPA position converged with that the latter’s stand) too left, leaving Team Anna with little choice but to call off the agitation.

What went wrong?

Team Anna came to the scene as an apolitical group that is interested in the cleaning up of our society.  They should have done some basic research in the nature of corruption in our society. That would have shown them that corruption is not limited to the higher echelons of the polity alone.  It is all pervasive and each of us indulges in it in some form or other.  They should have understood that we as members of the society cannot out source our responsibilities to any agency, be it Lokpal or Janlokpal.

Corruption cannot be defeated if we accept the maxim that “bribes are not corruption but compulsions”.  A bribe is a bribe and it is corruption, even if it is made to the doctor in the operation theatre of a government hospital.  Bribe taker and bribe giver are both guilty of the crime of corruption; no matter how one tries to rationalise it.   What compulsion is that makes us to enter inside a reservation compartment of a train and seek out the ticket checker to bribe him for getting a berth?  If we sleep in an unreserved compartment for a night, would that make such a compulsive difference? 

Lokpal or Jan Lokpal; we will continue bribing and indulging in corruption to ensure small comforts to us and our family.  When we are willing to pay, the government officials will be tempted to take the bribes, even if they are scared of being caught; again to ensure little comforts of their families.  So long as both the giver and the taker continue the collusion, no Lokpal can catch the culprits.  Instead, the Lokpal officials using their quasi-judicial powers might also end up harassing the officials as well as public and thereby creating further avenues for corruption!

I do not believe that Lokpal or Jan Lokpal will offer a panacea for us, removing overnight all the bad things in public life.  Laws and institutions can only act when we are willing to stand up.  Unless we fight the demands and instead of succumbing, file complaints against such illegal demands and provide evidence in trials, no institution can fight corruption.  Similarly, we as a society must also stop our habit of respecting the rich, no matter what their source of richness is!  Ill gotten money should not get respect or support from society.  Only then the corruption can be tackled.

For a short time, it was easy to convince people who were incensed with the large scale scams being reported.  However, as the time progressed, people became more and more aware of the realities of the proposals.  More people understood that Lokpal will not save from the transactional corruptions that they face in their day today life!

Do not underestimate your Government

Never underestimate a government or its Ministers or its resolve.  One may agree with them or not, but considering the government as weak institution and yourself as so powerful will only lead to results like the present one! You may love or hate your ministers and leaders; but do not underestimate them.   Most of them are really capable and much smarter than us... the very fact that they have reached those positions and have managed to retain those positions proves that fact.  Same applies for the bureaucrats.  Each one has gone through the daily grind of the public administration and has gained enough experience in dealing with every type of crisis.  To expect them to give-in without any fight was really naive.

India is not a monolithic country

Many supporters of Anna thought the movement and the fasts were India's jasmine revolution moments.  However, they forgot the fact that India does not think alike, behave alike or have same priorities. Unlike smaller countries which are easily susceptible to revolutions by people, it is not feasible to conduct a revolution in India. It is too diverse for its people to come together on any issue. The closest people came to such an understanding was under Jayaprakash Narain, post emergency, yet the response was not uniform across India.

The television shows, Twitter debates and Facebook campaigns do not show the entire India, though these media can easily make one fall prey for delusions of public opinion. When it comes to the real decisions, the silent majority from the various diverse groups react as per their own wisdom and logic.  The very diversity and size are the greatest insurance for survival of India and its political systems!

What should have been the way?

Team Anna, being the ‘apolitical civil society’ should have recognised these simple facts and decided to educate people on the drawbacks of indulging in corruption.  They should have appealed to the moral, rather than political side of human beings, to change the way we look at things.  They were not under any pressure to achieve immediate results. They had the support of many enthusiastic youth, willing to work hard.  They should have panned out all across the country and increased the awareness among people about rights and duties and also the necessary values and virtues of social life.

But the members of Team Anna were clearly impatient. They couldn’t even wait till next elections. They wanted to dethrone the current government at any cost; as if on orders from someone else!  Members had their personal agendas to cater to.  Such a game could not be sustained for long; and the results are for all of us to see.


I do welcome Team Anna’s decision to become part of the political process, because that is the only way to force an ideology or view point in a democracy, unless you are willing to reason and convince the majority to accept your views. However, I am not very optimistic about their success, as I do believe that there are too many inter se contradictions among the group that will pull it down at all stages. 

I have consciously desisted from commenting on the personal aspects of the members or strategic aspect of the Movement. However, there might be many more useful lessons from the Movement that I have failed to notice or record above.  Readers are welcome to add their own lessons by way of comments.  Hopefully, various lessons from the success and the failure of Team Anna will serve the future Movements for similar objectives.


  1. Well written. As you are aware and it is cliche that I was against every aspect of this Movement and was on a self-appointed mission to oppose it with my limited means till its death. There might have been some unintended & accidental benefits from this Movement but those do not take away its basic flaws, most of which you have also brought out.

    We had circulated our published book on the Movement extensively. (Mumbai Judiciary, Supreme Court, Bollywood, President, MPs, college students etc) Do not know if it helped but found atleast one MP talking about a concept from that book in Parliament i.e. Value Education to curb Corruption at the root. Pleasantly surprised to see Baba Ramdev talking about that concept today.

    1. I'm for the Value and Moral Education as a compulsory subject, like language, upto graduation level. Can Anirban furnish the details of the book @rajkumar23singh and oblige?

  2. It was a good read. The thoughts are really useful for a genuine movement not for Anna Movement.

    Very practical thoughts and very much executable ideas. May be I will be able to use them in future provided you allow me to :-)