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Anna rolls up sleeves for battle with Arvind, finds Mamata shoulder to fire from

Anna Hazare with Arvind Kejriwal during his daylong fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in March 2012

New Delhi, Feb. 27: There’s a popular vernacular saying that may not be out of place in the telling of the Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal tale of one-upmanship: guru gur, chela chini, the teacher offers jaggery, the pupil turns it to sugar. Effectively, that the pupil often runs away with the teacher’s lesson and turns it into his own thing.

Having crested the anti-corruption tide whipped up by Anna two years ago, Kejriwal decided to leap into politics. Anna didn’t like politics, or so he said, but he liked being left out cold in the remoteness of Ralegan Siddhi even less.

And so he decided to gnash at his pupil’s leap, even if that required him to flirt with politics, as he has begun to do with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, the muse of his vengeful pursuit. This election season, politics can afford a wry smile. Two of its most vociferous baiters have now embraced it with competing gusto. One, in pursuit of ambition whose contours expand each passing day, the other in pursuit of spiking that ambition.

Mamata may well have found in Anna a handy booster for her political aspirations beyond Bengal, but the old man from Ralegan Siddhi has arrived behind Trinamul armed with his own axe to grind — to spite Kejriwal, the protégé who is trying to put his mentor in the shade.

“He (Kejriwal) should have concentrated on Delhi, turned it into a model state and showcased it before the country. But instead of that, he appears to be in a hurry and wants to contest the Lok Sabha elections,” Anna said disapprovingly in an interview ahead of endorsing Mamata; some of those close to Anna quoted the activist as having remarked: “Arvind is greedy for power”.

Mamata Banerjee seeks Hazare’s
blessings in New Delhi on February 18

Anna, who had declared that he would never enter politics or support any political party, has not merely backed Mamata’s candidacy for prime ministership, he has also announced he will campaign for Trinamul. Some distance to travel for a man who until recently thought all politics in India was corrupt and compromised and, therefore, deserving of being derided. But when Kejriwal has jumped headlong into the political game, with stunning initial success, why should Anna be left behind.

“I am supporting Mamata for her principles,” was Anna’s way of explaining his change of heart over political parties. But clearly, part of his turn in tactic is also to undercut the march of his erstwhile pupil.

In face, the electoral strategy prepared by Anna’s team appears hinged more on spoiling the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) than winning, according to sources.

Team Anna, comprising activists who fell out with Kejriwal after he floated a political party, were keen on putting up credible candidates from all the Lok Sabha constituencies AAP decided to contest. The first focus, naturally, happens to be Delhi, the stronghold of the AAP.

Trinamul has decided to field candidates in all seven Lok Sabha seats in the capital. Every candidate will have to be endorsed by Anna. “In north and south India we will field suitable candidates in consultation with Annaji,” Mamata said during the joint news appearance with the social activist.

That the intent was to take on Kejriwal is also clear from the fact that Trinamul has adopted the AAP style of seeking applications from people interested in contesting elections. The response has been overwhelming so far. Some 150 applications have been received in Trinamul offices for the Delhi Lok Sabha seats. The applicants are mostly retired bureaucrats, police officers and judges.

A “war room” manned by Anna’s activists to launch the “Mamata for India” campaign has been opened in a three-bedroom rented flat at 141 South Avenue. With logistics — including 25 computer stations — provided by Trinamul, Anna’s team members are working on creating two websites “mamata4india” in English and “didi4india” in Hindi to counter the AAP’s formidable cyber presence.

The other strategy, under Anna’s guidance, is not to hurry with declaring the candidates. The target is to get potential AAP rebels, sources said. The activist does not have a known personal following in Delhi but does enjoy links with prominent AAP activists as they worked with him during the Jan Lokpal movement.

So far, the AAP has announced only two candidates from Delhi, Rajmohan Gandhi from East Delhi and former TV anchor Ashutosh from Chandni Chowk. There are signs of a rebellion in AAP ranks over ticket-distribution, especially from old-time activists opposed to lateral entrants being handed the party ticket. The Anna-Didi team could be banking on drawing advantage from such discontent.

“Our first list of Lok Sabha candidates is not expected before the announcement of poll dates,” said a Trinamul leader, indicating the game plan to wait for the AAP list and rebellion to come out in the open.

Apart from Delhi, Trinamul plans to put up candidates in some half-a-dozen other states. Most of these are also on the AAP radar. These are states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

To attract the Muslim voters, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari has also come out to endorse Mamata. Bukhari, like Anna, had written letters to all non-BJP chief ministers about the implementation of the Sachar Commission recommendations for the welfare of minorities.

“Mamata was the only chief minister who replied to my letter. I believe she is the best secular leader at present and the country deserves her leadership,” Bukhari said, lauding the welfare measures for Muslims being taken in Bengal.

Mamata and Anna now plan to hold a rally in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan some time in March to launch the national campaign. Already advertisements on TV channels showing Anna backing Mamata are being aired. Trinamul has plans to launch a high-pitched campaign with the help of Anna’s activists across the country. It’s moot what success they fetch, but for Anna it probably will be enough to merely unsettle his protégé.