I tried hard, therefore, to empathize with Team Anna. But it didn’t last. N. Ram of The Hindu, in the course of a televized discussion, urged critics of the jan lok pal bill to ignore the angularities and eccentricities of individuals in Team Anna the better to appreciate the social significance of the movement. This is easier said than done because it’s harder to read social forces than it is to react to human faces.
So when Anna pointed to the scar on his forehead (which he attributed to hostile Pakistani fire) and declared that he was now engaged in fighting home-grown thieves and then called them traitors for good measure, I was appalled in a shabby-genteel way by the crassness of his rhetoric. But Anna, at least, had an excuse: the Congress’s minions had called him names too. To watch the likes of Arindam Chaudhuri and Om Puri bluster and splutter their way through diatribes about the political class, was to learn that this movement was without intelligence or discrimination.
The clincher, though, was a performance by Kiran Bedi, a member, along with Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, of Anna’s core group. Arvind Kejriwal is the political strategist, Prashant Bhushan is the in-house legal mind; it isn’t clear to the outsider what Kiran Bedi brings to the inner circle. Annoyed by Parliament’s failure to begin a debate on the lok pal bill on Friday, she began to slag off Parliament in particular and members of parliament in general. They were lazy, callous and unworthy of respect. Even as she was speaking, she spotted an MP in Ramlila Maidan and began heckling him publicly.
In the end, it wasn’t what she said as much as the way she said it that torpedoed the reluctant admiration I had built up for Team Anna’s campaign. Kiran Bedi, pioneering policewoman, pranced around the stage trying to parody the uselessness of MPs. The wisdom of doing this aside, it was the grotesqueness of the performance that was striking. She borrowed a scarf, draped it like dupatta over her own head and launched herself into a little skit, looking for all the world like a talentless schoolgirl bidding for attention. In the end, I turned against the jan lok pal crusade not on ideological grounds, but aesthetic ones. Anna was a star, but his repertory company, it turned out, was full of amateurs and bit players auditioning for lead roles, small people dwarfed by a giant stage.
A must-read piece.