The anticorruption movements in India of the last two years have met with great success among the populace, especially amongst the urban middle-class. It has been a political awakening of sorts for a class of people who were otherwise perceived (rightfully) as being increasingly indifferent to the politics of India and more concerned with the economics of livelihood and aspirations. This class of people, owing to their callous political choices and almost a pathological disdain towards exercising their franchise, has also been a major reason for the successful revival of a dynastic Congress party and the re-orientation of the politics of secular-socialism in the 21st century. Worryingly for the Congress (and the left libbers, the secular-socialists et al.), the anticorruption movements have mostly targeted this indifferent class of people to equip them with a certain political quotient that can potentially be extremely dangerous for the ruling Congress culture. To make matters worse, Congress & UPA have been presiding over the worst possible economic governance of India in more than 2 decades, consequently hitting at the core existential rationale of this previously indifferent class of people.

Taking a cursory glance at the 2009 LS polls gives the statistical proof of such a class of urban middle-class voters and their humungous indifference;

  • The overall voting percentage of 2009 LS polls was around 58%
  • Analysis of 60 “urban” LS seats suggests much lesser polling of 46.5%
  • Even taking into consideration all the errors in the electoral rolls and the migratory nature of the urban voters, this gap in voting percentage is huge
  • An overwhelming 71% of these “urban” seats were won by the Congress/UPA and only a meagre 23% were won by the BJP/NDA (rest of the 6% by non NDA, non UPA parties)
  • The Congress/UPA victory is more due to the apathy of urban voters than because of any positive swing for its policy interventions.
  • Thus the higher the urban vote, the greater the possibility of it being anti-Congress

The three strands

The singular achievement of the anti-corruption movement in India is that it has tried to activate the hitherto uncaring urban middle class voter into a participatory force in electoral politics. When such a participatory process is coupled with a robust cleansing of electoral rolls in the cities & towns of India by the Election Commission, the long term impact could be devastating on the political health of the Congress party in general and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in particular. To understand this impact it is necessary to first analyse the nature of the entire anticorruption movement in India. The truth is that this is not a monolithic movement but has many subsets within various fault lines and can be broadly subdivided into 3 major strands. The interplay between each of these strands with the politics and masses on one level and intelligentsia and news media on another level paints the picture of an India at crossroads.

  1. The Judicial Activism model: is almost completely symbolized by the court battles of the new found Virat Hindu proponent in Subramanian Swamy. It is particularly focussed on individuals and is directly targeting the Gandhi family. Media reactions: have been one of disbelief, for they have been mostly forced to play this out for the sheer magnitude of the interference of courts, despite their distaste for Mr Swamy and his so called extremist positions. Political reactions: the Congress and the left liberals have been dumbstruck and the political right has been forced to co-opt this strand just to stay relevant in the larger right-wing mindscape.

  2. The Organized nationalist money back policy: is probably the most difficult to define strand of the anticorruption movement, spearheaded by the rock star Yoga Guru, Baba Ram Dev. Nobody really knows what to make out of it and even the most seasoned political pandits do not know what impact this is having at the ground level politics. The amazing reach of the Patanjali Yog Peeth in the small towns and villages of India, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, gives this movement a very strong ground network and also makes it the most organized of all the strands. Media reactions: have been mostly one of disdain in the mainstream English Language news but a lot more engaging in the other language media. Mostly media and intelligentsia are themselves confused about the socio-political impact of this campaign against black money. Political reactions: despite the nationalistic (predominantly Hindu) nature of this strand, politicians on both the sides of the divide have tried to co-opt this movement for their own benefits, while the enigmatic Yoga Guru has kept them all guessing. Of all the three strands of anticorruption movements in India, this one has the potential to make some big impact, although it is uncertain at this point as to the nature of such an impact.

  3. The Civil Society movement: is the easiest to comprehend, but the hardest to sustain. Popularized by Anna Hazare and his team (not necessarily synonymous), this movement is the most loosely knit and also the most spontaneous one – the reason for its success and also why it would fail eventually. With each passing day, the Jan Lok Pal struggle is rendered as a farce, the joke is increasingly on the people who blindly followed the movement. Media reactions: media has had a love-hate relationship with Anna and his team depending on how it suits them; as long as it was perceived as a movement of NGO’s with the usual suspects leading from the front, media had a reasonably favourable opinion, the moment it turned towards the logical anti-Congress political stand, media’s opposition gained proportionately. Political reactions: All political parties have tried to ride this tiger but have mostly failed. Now that it is petering out, every party wants a piece of its slice, most of all the ruling Congress party which is looking for some straws to cling on to, in the next electoral battle.

The Anna electoral phenomena

From the highs of August Kranti in 2011 to the whimper in August 2012, the Anna movement has come a full circle; in 2011 the entire parliament had to stand up and take notice of the anticorruption mood in the country, while today a motley crowd of retired government officers and bearded psephologists were able to convince the anshankaris to give up their fast and in effect their cause celebre. The funny part is that the intelligentsia and the media alike are portraying this as a political masterstroke of sorts by the strategist Arvind Kejriwal; in reality it is anything but. Arvind could not fathom that this civil society TV show was increasingly taking the proportions of a drama gone sour and was traversing the downward spiral of diminishing returns with each passing fast, instead he believed that making loud noises about corrupt ministers in the much maligned streets of Delhi would grab him more eyeballs – that was a fatal error.

Team Anna committed the same mistake that the Delhi Sultanate has been held guilty for many years now, an exalted self-belief on the city of Delhi being synonymous with India. Thus Anna Anshan 2.0 was reduced to a Jantar Mantar magic show, while the rest of India went on with business as usual. The great success of the Ramlila fast in August 2011 was that it had all of India participating, while this time there was no effect on other cities and towns of India. Today the Anna Hazare movement has been co-opted by the Delhi based mainstream media, soon it will lose whatever little credibility it has left. The left-libbers have again won a battle and sadly India has lost once again, for Anna Hazare has been defeated from within.

In the aftermath of the political announcement of “Team Anna”, editorials and newsroom debates have gleefully started parroting the “division-of-opposition-votes” theory and are proclaiming the rebirth of UPA 3.0 in 2013/14. There is even talk of how Anna Hazare could be the face of opposition for Congress and the whole electoral campaign being funded by certain corporate houses. Then there are conspiracy theorists who firmly believe that “Team Anna” itself was a Congress construct to create a mirage of an opposition to eventually co-opt it and divide the opposition votes – frankly, these internet day dreamers give too much respect to Congress strategizing and have zero knowledge of electoral politics of the grass-roots kind.

What is even more surprising is that even seasoned political observers (some belonging to the right) also subscribe to this theory of division of votes. Either they are being deliberately blind to the political realities or their over exposure to social media narratives has numbed their real political antenna. This is a classic case of prophesising based on a dubious Cheeranjivi-PRP-AP2009 leitmotif as a template for an all India general elections. The basic fact is that Andhra Pradesh (or for that matter Tamil Nadu) is not India, in fact India is more often than not the exact opposite of these southern states in terms of electoral calculus. These identity-hero worshipping southern states live in their own make believe world of politics that almost run parallel to their own blockbusters running in myriad silver screens of various towns, villages and cities. Take the case of Andhra Pradesh for instance;

  • It is a state where a popular film star came to power with a thumping victory in assembly elections after forming a political party just 9 months earlier
  • It is a state where another popular film star forms a new political outfit and manages to get a whopping 17% of the popular vote overnight, even in the post liberalized Indian society
  • It is a state where the son (a complete novice) of a dead chief minister is today considered as the biggest political force, at least in SeemAndhra, and manages to win 15 of the 18 assembly seats in by-elections

Team Anna Party could be a political force to reckon with in a parallel universe where the whole of India is in a heightened state of Andhra Political fiction; in the real world the entire movement will dissipate in less than a year for they have fallen into the trap of entering the Hamam and will soon stand naked with the rest of the usual suspects.

Anticorruption movement and the urban vote

What is more likely to happen in the next elections is probably a repeat of what usually happens in India when there are massive anticorruption movements, which have, by the way, always been synonymous with anti-Congress and anti-Nehru-Gandhi parivar. Previously, we did see how drought impacts electoral fortunes of the ruling establishment, presently, we shall establish how the urban vote impacts a corrupt government. Historically, on two previous occasions in India anti-Congress mass movements have had a huge impact on the urban vote – 1977 & 1989 – on both the occasions urban voting percentage was around 60% and the Congress performance was affected.

Urban LS Seats




62% (polling in 60 seats)

59% (polling in 60 seats)

Congress seats won



Opposition seats won



[*Data tabulated from Election Commission of India statistical reports]


Epilogue: The one possible consequence of Team Anna’s newfound political trajectory is the redefinition of internet & social media fault lines, which was hitherto considered to be overwhelmingly leaning towards the right and consequently towards BJP. This could offer a lifeline to the left-libbers and some breathing space to the Congress’ online existence, which has been making many unsuccessful attempts at creating a social-media eco-system, especially to counter the NAMO brigade. The impact of these online campaigns on electoral outcomes are limited at best and insignificant at worst, yet they do play an important role on the overall optics in the larger political picture. For the Congress to win Gujarat, it would require a far greater coordination in the offline world at the ground level, even though Modi seems to be on a stickier wicket than earlier perceived (especially with drought on the doorstep of the state). There are rumours that the Kejriwal political grandstanding is aimed at achieving the unthinkable in Gujarat by integrating the anticorruption narrative with the anti-NAMO forces and sprinkling it with star social activists – a danger foreseen by a former ideologue of the Sangh in informal discussions almost a year ago. The question is will other members of the team or even Anna himself play along?

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Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.