Monday, October 10, 2011

Sideshow at a by-election becomes mainstay

Congress, Team Anna fight each other where they do not count              

Hisar: The Congress party is not particularly sanguine about winning the Hisar Lok Sabha by-election of October 13, which has fallen vacant after breakaway party leader Bhajan Lal, known for making crossing over parties the staple of Indian politics. His son Kuldeep Bishnoi, a member of the state assembly, is the contender from the Haryana Janhit Party (HJP), that his angry father floated when he left Congress. He is facing rival Ajay Chauthala of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), and grandson of Devi Lal. It has fielded Jayaprakash, a Jat, to fend off  the anti-Jat stance of HJP. The Congress leaders are not seriously hoping to beat the Bhajan Lal and Devi Lal camps.
So the Congress is training its guns against the Anna team which has been vociferously campaigning against the Congress. Anna Hazare’s lieutenants Manish Sisodia and local boy Arvind Kejriwal  turn the heat on the Congress at the market square in the heart of the town on a Sunday evening. The response is enthusiastic. Whether the few hundreds who gathered there can serve to transform the 1.3 million voters against the Congress is as difficult as Congress hoping to win the election.
But thanks to the high pitch rhetoric of Anna Hazare and his colleagues against the Congress, the by-election which would have remained a mortal combat among the local giants, now has drawn national attention as television channels and national newspapers played up the fight.
The Anna team is playing a difficult game. Kejriwal says that they want the Hisar vote to go against the Congress – and they want all the 1.3 million votes to go against the party so that Congress draws a blank – so that it will be forced to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in the winter session of parliament. “We are not against the Congress. We do not hate Congress. If the Congress passes the Jan Lokpal Bill tomorrow, we will withdraw our campaign immediately,” says Kejriwal.
And he contests BJP leader Sushma Swaraj claim in Hisar earlier in the day that the Anna team’s campaign against the Congress will benefit the BJP and the HJP candidate Bishnoi it is supporting. “That claim is misleading,” protests Kejriwal. “We are not for the BJP. If the BJP had been in power and it did not pass the Jan Lokpal Bill we would have carried a similar anti-BJP campaign,” he says.
Both Sisodia and Kejriwal tell the small crowd that they can choose any of the 44 candidates in the far out of the 45, and all that they have to do is to knock out the Congress candidate. They say, and this remains weak and unconvincing, that they are not endorsing any other candidate. They feel that a defeat in Hisar would force the Congress to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in the winter session of parliament, and if the candidate who wins in Hisar on October 13 turns out to be corrupt then he will be punished under the Jan Lokpal. It is rather a convoluted argument but they are playing it up for all its worth.
The masterpiece of Team Anna’s campaign is of course the video message of Anna Hazare asking people to vote against the Congress. But it is not a straightforward recording of Anna’s message. It is a montage of evocative images of Anna’s fast at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, the frenzied crowds, the images of Anna sitting alone at Rajghat before the day of the fast, Anna reclining during the fast, a weak old man standing up against an insensitive government represented by the images of Congress leaders, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tiwari, Pranab Mukherjee. In the middle of it all is the quite, frail voice of Ana, much like that of Mahtam Gandhi. Then there is Gandhi hymn, “vaishnav jan ko…” The video is interspersed with rousing patriotic hits from olf Hindi film songs, including poet Pradeep – the man who wrote “Ai mere watan ke logon” – refrain from his song in ‘Jagriti’ of ‘Vandemataram’. It is a superbly cunning agitprop construct, which will put to shame any totalitarian government or party’s official propaganda machine.
And Kejriwal tells the crowd, “Each one of your votes will be the life breath of Anna. This government wanted to see Anna die. You can save Anna’s life with every vote of yours.” That is as much that any Mark Anotny would like to do for any Julius Caesar. But the image of Anna Hazare is that of a Gandhi, not Caesar. Only, the crowd is small at the market square, and quite discerning as well.

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