Kejriwal’s Anna headache

tsi_16march2014_22Aam Aadmi Party’s maverick leader Arvind Kejriwal, aspiring for prime ministership, has a big problem on his hands. It does not come in the shape of rebels and disenchanted politicos like Vinod Kumar Binny snapping at his heels but the very man whose aura and catapulted him into big time – Anna Hazare.

By all accounts, 76-year-old man Anna, the high priest of India’s anti-corruption movement, is extremely disenchanted with his former protégée’s growing political ambition.

After its stunning debut in Delhi assembly where it won 28 out of 70 seats, the AAP has emerged as a force and naturally come to acquire national aspirations. The party came into existence after over a year-long high-velocity anti-graft campaign led by Anna Hazare in the heart of New Delhi captured the national imagination and global acclaim.

A virulent 15 year anti-incumbency swept the Congress out of office in Delhi and helped the one-year-old fledgling AAP to conquer the national capital. It ran a government in Delhi with the outside support of the Congress. Kejriwal resigned as the chief minister CM over the issue of Jan Lokpal Bill after 49 days.

tsi_16march2014_23All this has not gone down too well with Anna. It is a far cry from the time when Kejriwal and the Gandhian crusader were referred to as Team Anna. Kejriwal was at the forefront of the Anna-led India Against Corruption (IAC) and it gave him the right platform to launch his political and social campaign which has undoubtedly found followers across the board. Kejriwal’s association with Anna Hazare in the fight against corruption gave him the national image required to give a leg up to AAP.

But that was then; the fraternal camaraderie has since then been smashed to smithereens. Anna betrays lack of faith in his former protégée, calling him a ‘power hungry’ politician. Kejriwal, the self styled ‘anarchist’ who was once his blue-eyed boy has now become his bete noir.

Last Thursday, Anna was more blunt than usual. “Kejriwal has stopped putting nation before himself and he is no better a politician than the others,” he rasped. This acerbic comment coincided with the day when AAP declared its second list of 30 Lok Sabha candidates.

Not just has Anna refused to support Kejriwal – despite the latter calling on him after his Delhi victory – he has taken regular potshots at his comrade. But analysts say the day for the big break between the two may not be too far. But his comment last week’s calling Kejriwal a ‘power hungry’ politician was a stinging rebuke to his  once protege.

tsi_16march2014_24Later Team Anna was joined by former police officer Kiran Bedi, activist Swami Agnivesh and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is now a key member of the AAP’s leadership. Kejriwal and Bhushan plan to agitate for the Jan Lokpal Bill that aims to cleanse the country’s corruption, provide compensation to citizens and and protect whistleblowers.

It was Anna’s fast in Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi in August 2011 that gave him a larger than real image. The image of this dimunitive old man – with an uncanny resemblance to India’s former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri,  his simple rusticity, his Gandhian fast and his assertion that ‘People’s parliament’ was bigger than the real one created a larger than real image and mesmerized people. People followed the team like the Pied Piper. The movement became so big that people all over India started sporting Gandhian caps with the legend emblazoned: ‘I am Anna’ on the lines of a similar campaign in used during the Egyptian uprising.

Hazare parted ways with Kejriwal last year when the latter decided to form a political party to pursue the anti-corruption movement started by the two in 2011 under the banner of India Against Corruption.

tsi_16march2014_25The first signs of the rift came when Hazare was clearly disappointed with Kejriwal for not responding to his 17-point agenda. The veteran Gandhian and former army driver  had written a 17-point agenda letter to Kejriwal hoping that if AAP leader agrees to it, Hazare would support him. Much to the old man’s shock, neither Kejriwal nor anyone else from AAP respond to his letter. “No one has given me any assurance on it. It is now very clear that these people are thinking of power more than of the nation,” he said without mincing his words. Even if AAP comes to power, the nation will not face a bright future as there will be no difference between AAP and other parties, Hazare added.

The only CM who responded to Anna’s call was Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Anna has now made it clear that he will campaign for Trinamool Congress candidates all over India in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Anna has endorsed her as a likely prime ministerial candidate. Banerjee had agreed to Anna’s 17-point agenda, which includes village-centric social and economic initiatives and proposals such as boosting vocational education and stricter laws against corruption.

Asked to explain why he would endorse Mamata Banerjee, Anna said, “She lives in a 10 by 12 room, wears hawai chappals…I want to say that after 66 years of Independence nobody has thought of changing the economic system, but Mamata Ji has thought about it.” He also added that the Bengal CM has promised to implement the 17 suggestions he gave to political parties.

The tension between Anna and Kejriwal has been simmering on for quite some time. At one point, Anna alleged that he suspected misappropriation in the funds collected from the sale of SIM cards during his fast at Jantar Mantar in Delhi in 2012. Then he alleged that he feared that funds collected by India Against Corruption were being used by AAP in its poll campaign. But he failed to substantiate both the charges.

Kejriwal has been claiming that AAP would get 100 seats in the Lok Sabha polls and the next government could not be formed without AAP’s support.  He has also claimed that  there is no Modi wave. “People are angry, it is only the wave of people’s anger,” he said, adding, “Results will be seen during elections.” But to be sure, he will have to achieve it without the support of Anna as he did during the campaign which launched him into limelight.