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Team Anna’s Blindspot

Team Anna’s decision to enter the fray in Uttarakhand’s state elections is fraught with risky political calculations that may adversely impact their anti-corruption campaign and tarnish their reputation as a self-proclaimed apolitical force. Chief amongst these is the group’s celebratory attitude towards the passage of their cherished Lokayukta Act by the four-month old Khanduri government. In their thinly-veiled support for this effort, the team has demonstrated either a lack of familiarity or has deliberately turned a blind eye to the actual situation in the state where corruption has reached an all-time high.

It is no secret that the hurried effort to pass the bill was a desperate attempt to bury the BJP government’s record of corruption ahead of the state assembly elections. Hot on the heels of Ramesh “Nishank” Pokhriyal’s dismissal as chief minister, the all out effort to hide the many major scandals and shortcomings of the administration was handed a golden opportunity in the form of Team Anna’s Lokayukta legislation. In Team Anna’s original proclamations of victory at the state level, they conveniently ignored this sleight of hand and worse, inadvertently abetted in burnishing the reputation of a scandal-ridden government whose vast array of potentially corrupt dealings had yet been investigated. In fact, its recent small nod towards the Maha Kumbh scandal in the interest of balance, has only reinforced the notion that they have chosen to ignore the other elephants in the room for narrow political gain.

Moreover, despite the intersection of demands between Team Anna and Baba Ramdev, the television guru’s trail of sweetheart deals, landgrabbing, and questionable business practices in Uttarakhand should give Team Anna pause. These controversies are less familiar outside the state, but local media and social activists know full well the extent to which successive state governments have shielded Ramdev from scrutiny, while extending all sorts of privileges and benefits to his vast business empire at the expense of the people of the state. It would thus behoove Team Anna to stay away from Ramdev’s far more controversial and partisan efforts.

This politicization of corruption, picking and choosing which scandals to highlight and which to ignore, as well as tacit alliances with controversial figures, unfortunately threatens to discredit the goals of the campaign. It invites accusation of political interference and sinks their movement in the muck and mire of politics as usual. Worse still, it leaves in the lurch all those who have been victimized by corruption, particularly the people of Uttarakhand who cannot bear another term of this nonfunctional governance. Likewise, it contributes further to turning the state into a giant playground for outside interests.

As such, it would be in the interests of the state if Team Anna addressed the local face of corruption, rather than foisting national priorities on what is really a referendum on the continuity of the present government. If they do not do this, their movement will fade into partisan rancor, and remain only as that very same media creation that its critics have dismissed.