Divide and rule?

Now what did I say about Anna Hazare? That he is a loose canon? That he always makes statements and then retracts them? That he adopts positions and then goes back on them? That he never fails to leave his backers with a sense of being let down?

All of that is now happening to ‘Team Anna’, isn’t it? Whatever Anna may or may not have told the New York Times, I find it difficult to believe the paper could have got it so far wrong as to completely misquote him on the ‘egos’ of his team.

Egos they do have — and Anna was completely right about that. But he is also playing true to his form by withdrawing that statement as he has done many times before — the latest being when he first described Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the best chief minister in the country, eliciting a grateful response from the man, and then labeling his administration as the most corrupt he had ever seen in the country.

Years ago, Hazare had done the same to Bal Thackeray, playing hot and cold with the Shiv Sena supremo. He first called Thackeray corrupt, then went to tea with the Sena tiger at Thackeray’s home, Matoshree. Suddenly, the Sena supremo was the best anti-dote to corruption in Anna’s book, before someone got to the ‘Gandhian’ again and, hey, presto! Thackeray was out of favour again.

That’s why Thackeray is the only politician who has openly cocked a snook at Hazare, saying at his annual Dassera rally on Thursday that while Anna’s movement was right and honest, he would achieve nothing for the manner in which he was going by it. For Thackeray knows, as most other politicians in Maharashtra do too, that it is very easy to influence Anna’s mind – to the extent that he can even turn against his own, if duly impressed.

And, I believe, that is what is happening now in a very subtle and covert operation undertaken by the UPA government at the Centre. I have reason to believe that certain elements in the union cabinet have set Anna’s old team against his new one– those who had supported Anna all these years were extremely upset at being completely cut off from the social activist by those we now know as ‘Team Anna’. The likes of Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal had kept them completely away from Anna during his August agitation, thus giving those who would want to break up the movement a crack in the door edgewise.

So now they are using the old against the new and now that Anna is back in his village and cannot be watched like a hawk by Bedi and Kejriwal all the time, he is open to influence by old friends who are letting him know how he was ‘used and misused’ by these NGOs, who perhaps did not bring him up to everything they were saying to and being told by the government during the negotiations.

His information about lawyer Prashant Bhushan being anti-globalisation is also part of that campaign as is his impression that the ego of his new friends is endangering his reputation. And Anna is nothing If not indiscreet in his statements to the media. So while he has been kept on a tight leash by his new team (did anyone notice how he was not allowed to be alone even on television chat shows?) it was but natural that Anna would have to go home one day — and then those wishing to discredit him would have to do little more than allow him a free rein to help discredit himself.

That is happening in double measure, I can see. The Congress is delighted at his statement that he will campaign for the defeat of the party in Uttar Pradesh and other states going to the polls shortly. As they are by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s Dassera statement that his organisation had fully backed Anna and actively participated in his anti-corruption movement.

That gives the party an opening — and a credible one this time — to label Anna as biased and a tool in the hands of the saffron forces. They couldn’t have asked for more or even any better.

And, yes, it is the ego clashes of both Anna’s old and new friends that is helping them along.

It is divide and rule at it’s very best, I should say. And knowing Anna well, I believe it will be a long, long time before he catches on. But by then it might be just too late for us all who genuinely need an end to corruption.

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