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Hazare’s teams that wilted away
- Former aides cite lack of ideology, dictatorial ways
Anna Hazare

Every time there’s a buzz about a split in Anna Hazare’s team, those in the Gandhian’s former circles give a knowing smile.

Some say Team Anna’s time is up. Others say, “Wait a little.” The consensus is that Anna will part ways with his “core team”, or its members will leave one by one today, tomorrow, someday soon.

“The expression ‘Team Anna’ is a misnomer,” says Kumar Saptarshi, a socialist and former MLA who heads the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in Pune. “Anna is averse to the collective.”

Saptarshi worked closely with the Gandhian in the late 1990s to organise his anti-corruption movement. They had known each other since the 1970s when Saptarshi was MLA from Ahmednagar, and both were mentored by the late Congress minister, Balasaheb Bharde.

But, he says, when he saw that Anna picked aides arbitrarily and that his assent was needed for every appointment, “I excused myself out.”

He was neither the first nor the last. Anna’s “core team” has changed with practically every agitation since the early 1990s, when he undertook his first widely reported fast against corruption. The list of those who joined him and later drifted away has distinguished names: social activist Baba Adhao; socialists G.P. Pradhan and Govindbhai Shroff; economist H.M. Desarda.

The long-timers in the Anna camp are either “devout followers who won’t take decisions, or individuals deriving personal benefits from the movements”, said an aide who would not be quoted.

Desarda, an academic who was with Anna until his April agitation in Delhi, says he and the others had been attracted by the veteran crusader’s pro-people campaigns. “Most of us worked for a more socially equitable, alternative paradigm,” he says but adds that lasting social change has never been an objective of Anna’s movements. “It is more proprietary for him. His is not a public movement but an Anna Hazare movement.”

The common reason for the brevity of their associations, according to those who have worked with Anna in the past, is his aversion to any ideological positioning or building an institutional framework. Another reason is his alleged distrust of people who favour collective decision-making mechanisms. An Anna aide concedes: “There is no such word as ‘consultation’ in his dictionary.”

Plus, minus

Anna’s biggest strength is his simplicity. “This country loves a fakir,” says another of his associates in Anna’s home district, Ahmednagar. “He carefully projects himself as a paragon of sacrifices.”

In Ralegan, he lives in a temple, hardly ever visits his home, treats the villagers as his family, eats once a day and follows a discipline that is hard to emulate. But is he another Gandhi? “No,” says Subhash Ware, secretary of the Pune-based S.M. Joshi Socialist Centre.

“Gandhi was concerned with collective character-building and formed a team of leaders. Anna deals with corruption from case to case and doesn’t build or inspire a second-rung leadership.”

Anna is incorruptible, but tens of his volunteers in the anti-graft crusade face charges like extortion across Maharashtra. “He has been silent on that,” says an ex-aide.

Yet Anna has always received huge public support because he is exquisite with his timing, Desarda, a former Maharashtra Planning Board member, says.

When the state was reeling under drought, Anna backed the watershed development movement; when the country was discussing decentralisation, he led a campaign for power to the panchayats. In the past decade, it was the RTI campaign. Now, it is corruption and poll reforms at a time of gigantic scams.

Fog and flip-flops

Desarda spells out one of Anna’s key limitations: “His heart is in the right place, but you need a head to give it direction.”

The lack of clear thinking means Anna has often let himself be used by politicians in their games against one another, an aide says.

In 1997-98, Anna failed to provide evidence against Shiv Sena minister Babanrao Gholap, whom he had accused of corruption. That, Sena insiders say, was because a Gholap rival had promised the necessary documents but failed to keep his word.

Gholap filed a defamation suit and a Pune court sent Anna to jail for a month, though the Sena government released him the same evening at Bal Thackeray’s instance.

In 1994, Anna attacked then chief minister Sharad Pawar for alleged graft but later withdrew his allegations, recalls his supporter Ashok Sabban of the Bhrashtachaar Virodhi Jan Andolan Samiti in Ahmednagar.

Such flip-flops are usual with Anna, the critics says. A few months ago, Anna had praised Narendra Modi only to retract. In 2009, he praised a Pune MP, Gajanan Babar, but later withdrew his remarks.

Quick partings

In the early 1990s, Anna had no organisational or institutional backing but kept attracting supporters. Among the first of them was Shirubhau Limaye, a socialist leader and former freedom fighter in Pune.

Limaye, elder brother of the late Janata Party leader Madhu Limaye, headed a broad-based anti-corruption movement, the Bhrashtachaar Virodhi Dakshata Samiti. He backed Anna’s 1994 campaign against Pawar. Soon, Anna overhauled Limaye’s organisation and renamed it the Bhrashtachaar Virodhi Jan Andolan Samiti.

After Limaye’s death, Anna founded a trust, the Bhrashtachaar Virodhi Jan Andolan Nyas, that superseded the Samiti.

A wave of other activists such as G.P. Pradhan, Adhao and veteran Gandhian and environmentalist Mohan Dharia joined him, only to fall out with him silently.

“He has no vested agenda but his style is dictatorial,” says the 84-year-old Adhao, whose work in the unorganised sector over the past six decades has been colossal.

Adhao recalls how Anna wound up the Pune office of the anti-corruption campaign in his absence and moved back to Ralegan without giving him any prior notice.

“We had trained workers in the legal and constitutional aspects, but one fine day, Anna told me the earlier unorganised set-up was better,” he says. Anna was on his own again, having dissolved the network. Adhao has since not met him.

Once Anna parts with someone, he never patches up, a close aide says. But anyone who touches his feet wins his trust for the time being. “You win his heart when you touch his feet.”

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