Saturday, April 05, 2014

The shifting targets of Arvind Kejriwal

There are things about activists and polemicists, memory has little place in their argument. Arundhati Roy said she would secede from India after the nuclear tests and she is still around; Medha Patkar threatened ‘jal samadhi’ many times, but, of course, with the grace of God, she, too, is still very much with us. So it is with Kejriwal. He first denounced politics, and then decided to contest elections. Despite the fact that his party did exceedingly well, but not enough to form a government, he swore he would not take the support of the BJP or the Congress, but within a week, accepted the Congress support to form a government that is now history.

The collapse of the Aam Aadmi Party government on Friday has opened itself up to as many analyses, as the streams of opinion that constitute the party, and I suppose, this republic. Arun Jaitley of the BJP says it is the end of a nightmare. The Congress and Shiv Sena said that he ran away from responsibility. Others say it is deep strategy to get out of a losing game and jump onto a winning one — the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
You would have to have been an incredible optimist to believe that it was going to work in the first place. Here was a man who had built up a movement that tore the insides out of the United Progressive Alliance. He reluctantly entered formal politics, but shocked everyone by winning 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly elections, just three behind the BJP, whose party it spoilt. After playing coy, he accepted Congress support and formed the government, which came apart last Friday.
From the outset, he declared war on two key pillars of any government — the administration and the police. For this, he got the grateful thanks, not so much of the middle-class which wanted better governance, but the poor who face the brunt of the thoroughly corruption riddled system daily.
All this while, Mukesh Ambani did not figure in Kejriwal’s demonology. But suddenly, he is there, now manipulating the Congress and the BJP to bring down the AAP government. At the heart of the Kejriwal system is the concept of constantly shifting targets. When one proves elusive, head for the other. So, first it was the Congress, then the Delhi administration and now Mukesh Ambani, BJP and Narendra Modi.
Kejriwal thrives on constant movement and all-pervasive enemies. In another time and place, they yielded fascism.
But thankfully, as of now at least, Mr Kejriwal does not believe in strong arm tactics, though his lieutenant Somnath Bharti is not quite above that either. In another era, Kejriwal, a saviour like Robespierre or Mao would have simply shot/guillotined his opponents, and replaced the government with his men. But in the era of democracy, he had to confront a system that works with thorough rules. And the rules said that he did not have a majority. It also said that the administrators and police could not be purged simply by fiat; there had to be due process.
Since taking on, these two key components of administration, who are admittedly overwhelmingly corrupt, was central to the Kejriwal mission. It was clear that he was not interested in making things work, but on making a point and having made that in 49 action-packed days, he has left Delhi still waiting for its saviour.
Well, it’s not just Delhi. It is the whole country and that is what lends power to the AAP. The system is rotten; both principal parties have run it at various times, but they have simply used it to their own benefit, leaving the masses to their fate.
As if to highlight the Kejriwal drama, the national Parliament was showing last week just how unconcerned it is about the issues that affect the people. And the message coming across from everywhere seems to be that there is no hope.
But, and this is the beauty of democracy, it leaves us options, unlike the poor Chinese, who had to suffer Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution in succession, losing tens of millions. There can be little doubt that the churning that we are witnessing is going to come up with a positive result for the nation. No, it may be Modi, and it may not. Changes of the kind the country is looking for do not come in election cycles. These relate to longer term social and behavioural shifts.
There can be no doubt that we need a paradigm change in governance, not just in the way our police and municipalities function, but how our corporates behave towards investors, banks and consumers. It is difficult not to see that one era — the one that came with Mandal and the crony capitalism of liberalisation — is coming to an end. There are some who would take us back up the road to the Mandir. But that, too, is not what the country is looking for.
Mid Day February 18, 2014

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