Significance Of Being Arvind Kejriwal
The broom, most appropriate symbol, swept away the traditional parties and cleaned the political arena for a change, a break from the messed-up past and a breath in a new “movement” led by an aam aadmi. Having secured a phenomenal success in Delhi, will Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continue to soar higher and higher and spread its wings over a large part of Northern India or will it hit the ground as fast as its spectacular rise has been against seasoned political rivals—the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? Is AAP’s referendum on forming the government in Delhi an exercise in hypocrisy with the veneer of people’s democracy? Or has Kejriwal even in his moment of triumph not forgotten that people are the source of his strength?
These are questions which are of utter importance, for on the answers depends the future direction of Indian politics. Will the feudal democracy continue to strangle our polity or would people get a voice as AAP has promised and forced other governments to be responsive and responsible? The class divide between the ‘rulers and the ruled’ fortified through power trappings like red-light syndrome, or moving around with semi-automatic- toting posse of securitymen has helped the rulers get away with studied aloofness and arrogance. AAP promised to do away with this class schism. And that endeared AAP to the jhuggiwallahs and social elites alike.
The general feeling after all the shadow boxing was that AAP should form the government, and start to implement its promises. If the Congress, which offered unconditional support, withdrew it, it will ruin whatever chance it might have of winning seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. So one adversary of AAP would have been outmanoeuvred. But Kejriwal, despite his claim, after the meeting of his political body, said, “We will take views of the people on taking Congress backing,” and appeared willing to form the government. Possibly, he was not left with any other alternative. His party would have been accused of running away from assuming power for implementing pro-people promises it made during its election campaign, once the Congress offered it unconditional support.
AAP assured during its campaign that it would replace feudal, dynasty-dictated democracy and usher in people raj. Such ideas breathe fresh air into the decadent and fraying system and that is why the aam aadmi voted for it in large numbers. In fact, Kejriwal made up for his earlier errors and said after a meeting of his political committee that his party would hold meetings in each of the 70 constituencies—and 270 municipalities—where opinion of the people would be collected. “And there is our answer.”AAP said that it will take the views of the people from December 17 to December 22, and ask them what they thought of forming a government with Congress. Kejriwal told the gathered media that being a people’s party, they would carry out a referendum among the people and decide what to do next. “Even when we drafted our manifesto, it was never done this way before, where we went and met people and asked them what they wanted.”
People can phone in, send a text message, or leave a message on the AAP Facebook page—very reality television like. People can also write in. “This AAP makes rotis, clothes and builds houses, it can even run the government”, he added.
Kejriwal, who was snubbed by the BJP, when he wrote his letter to Sonia Gandhi and Rajnath Singh, also had harsh words for the party. “The BJP, which cobbled up governments in many states, is running away from responsibility to form the government in Delhi.” An issue-based support” only after the two respond to the letter the AAP dispatched to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and BJP President Rajnath Singh . “There is nothing unconditional in love and politics”, Kejriwal quipped. After meeting the Lieutenant Governor, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal had said that he asked for 10 days time from from the Lt Guv Najeeb Jung to decide on government formation in Delhi. He had also written letters to both the party presidents Sonia Gandhi and Rajnath Singh for them to express their stand on the Lokpal Bill and various other issues.
“As per Delhi Assembly results, BJP was the single largest party and thus LG had called them to form government. They were only 4 seats short. It wasn’t a very difficult for BJP to buy 4 seats, why didn’t they,” asked Kejriwal in a press conference. Kejriwal said that it was surprising that Congress has decided to provide them ‘unconditional’ support. “Nothing comes for free, there’s something else that these parties want,” he said. Kejriwal said that the parties should express their views on 18 issues he mentioned in the letter. The issues are: (1) No VIP security, no government bungalow, no VIP culture, (2) No MLA, Councillor funds, (3) Janlokpal for Delhi and investigation of scams, (4) Audit of power companies and reduction of power rates in Delhi, (5) Investigation of power meters by independent agency, (6) Full statehood for Delhi, (7) Action on water mafia, (8) Regularisation of unauthorised colonies within one year, (9) Rehabilitation of jhuggis, (10) Regularisation of MCD employees, (11) Simplification of VAT, (12) Villages, (13) Women Security, (14) Education, (15) Health, etc.
Kejriwal said that their replies will be made public and then AAP will decide on government formation in Delhi. The parties have been given seven days to file their replies. “They may be willing to provide us unconditional support, but we are putting in these conditions.”
In the midst of all the moves of AAP, BJP Delhi in-charge Nitin Gadkari challenged AAP to form the government in the national capital and fulfill the promises they made in their manifesto. “The government formation has literally become a case of pehle aap as both the Congress and BJP are offering support to AAP. The BJP, the single largest party, with 32 MLAs, is not staking claims to form the government as it is falling short of four MLAs. AAP, the second in place, with 28 MLAs, needs to take a clear decision to form a government to avoid re-poll….”The BJP while asking Aam Aadmi Party to form a government assured it of constructive cooperation in fulfilling its promises such as slashing tariff by 50 per cent and providing free water up to 700 litres daily. Delhi BJP president Vijay Goels said if AAP was really serious about fulfilling the promises made to people, then it should go ahead and form a government. This was said as if the BJP really was a well-wisher of the people for it would avoid a re-poll but in effect they were challenges.
Salute to Anna for tectonic shift in Indian politics
Anna’s fast is over and his dream of Lokpal in some form has come true. The greatest contribution of Anna is that he has shaken the establishment and awakened the conscience of the common man against graft and in favour of good governance. The U-turn in Congress attitude to Anna for which Rahul might seek credit is indicative of new approach of the party as earlier its spokespersons called him most corrupt and joker. What happened in four states in current elections is worth soul-searching by all as media has not yet seen it as impact of Anna. I had already published likely outcome accurately in anticipation and Delhi was supposed to make BJP as a leading party. The results proved my hunch but more than that four major changes in the Indian political scene are now clear as enunciated below. First three-time win of two CMs and if we add Modi also, we can say three CMs by repeated performance have demolished the myth of anti-incumbency. The trite term was easy explanation of media to all changes of this type after one government completes a term. But it did not happen in three states. When given the choice, people have not thrown out the leaders who ruled them, instead voters preferred no change due to being satisfied by them.
Second factor that shows Anna effect is that these three leaders are by and large honest and not corrupt. The voter now started giving credit for transparency and became aware of this intensely due to the movement started by Anna. It also put an end to jor tor ki rajneeti as buying-selling of legislators had become common. Anna blew the air of clean life.
Third factor clearly is the value of good governance, which too includes transparency, development agenda and giving better results to the citizens. Good governance is valued now and will be the watch word of future political scenario.
Fourth outcome of the elections is experience of record voting in four states—around 70 per cent, which was not witnessed earlier. Everyone felt moved by the Anna movement but when it failed to achieve the mission at that time, the acute realisation that now it is for the voters to bring electoral transformation to show what is good for the country dawned on the voters. In other words, political consciousness to supplement the social awareness brought by Anna was compelling reasons for voters’ turnout. One of my friends, who is a manager of a government bank, told me a very telling story that his 18-year-old son student of IIT suddenly started pushing him to get a voter card. When asked why he is in hurry, he quipped, “I have to vote for Modi. We need him badly.” Countless such young people pushed the voting percentage up.
Let us see how Delhi reacted to it. AAP performance was greatly the result of Anna movement’s after effect. No one expected that it would do so well and it was virtually on the threshold of throwing out both national parties. It decimated Congress in Delhi as there was pent-up anger against the insipid leadership and inflation besides the worsening tide of economy. It was vote against corruption and administration. Shila Dikshit was one of the effective leaders Congress had but she could not afford to wash out Commonwealth scandal and arrogance of the party. The issues of price rise and law and order were in central domain. At the rallies while Modi was overflowing with vibrant crowds, the Congress could see how people were running away. AAP was making waves too. The writing was on the wall, yet no one was there to tell the truth to high command. Unfortunately, AAP did not get absolute majority but the way it conducted after creditable and surprising victory was inglorious and far from its claim to be humble and aam aadmi.
Now with suddenly acquired power, AAP is challenging everyone from Rahul Gandhi to Narendra Modi. Even when the Congress has offered unconditional support, Arvind Kejriwal has asked for itds surrender on 18 written points, some of which were absurd like abolition of contacts and ban on FDI. They professed Luddite economics and showed hubris in ambition that was far from humility. Their pretence that they want to serve not run for power is ridiculous as they fought election and politics is the art of power that would only bestow responsibility on them, which they avoid. After forming the government, they could do what was feasible and there is a clever ploy in seeking surrender of other parties on 18 points. All they could reasonably ask was to guarantee that support will not be withdrawn at least for two years unless they violate law. Again Anna distanced himself from it and misconduct shown by the AAP members at Anna’s fast venue brought down their hypocritical respect for the man who sustained a great movement and sacrificed for the cause. While AAP is now in limelight, Anna’s shadow on the entire change looms large and AAP has been diminished. Earlier, media was underrating AAP and now media has gone to other extreme in euphoria.
Post-elections development has adversely dented the party. Anna’s spirit is still alive and will guide the future of country.
By NK Singh
The BJP is running a calculated risk. It is possible that those who voted for BJP in Delhi Assembly polls was because they thought that AAP did not have a chance, but now they would be confident to cast their votes for it. Others, who voted for Congress because they didn’t want to vote for the BJP, might also shift to vote AAP. But some in BJP think in the general elections, the Modi factor would likely influence the voter. It was also thought that AAP was unlikely to perform as well as it did in the Assembly polls. Some of the BJP’s policy-makers felt that with people having vented their anger at the scam-ridden UPA, they were likely to be more ‘practical’ and vote for the BJP the second time around.
However, the BJP has been consistently underestimating AAP. There is nothing to say that the party will not do well in the second round of elections, Modi factor notwithstanding. The BJP should know that the ‘Modi factor’ had very little impact on the ground in Delhi. The party barely bettered their vote share from the 2008 polls, and all those anti-Congress votes went to AAP. A lot of wishful thinking?
The BJP has yet to realise that AAP promised to get rid of all the ills of the Indian democracy and political system. People were livid with the ‘rulers’ living behind golden curtains devising new devious schemes for self-gain and more power. The chasm between the people and the authorities helped the latter to be inebriated with power sans responsibility, be dismissive of the ‘ruled’ and generally remain above law. Kejriwal got immediate regard, appreciation and attracted the youth especially to his party. He campaigned on rickety rickshaws and foot and chose candidates for the Delhi Assembly polls, who had a clean slate. He promised to do away with all the trappings of power, which have developed higher strata for the politicians. No red light, no securitymen watching everyone with suspicion and no membership of Lutyens club for the elected members. He had breathed fresh air into Indian polity. He seemed to be the Messiah, who would clean the Aegean Stable of Indian political system. It was no surprise, except to the Congress and the BJP, that within months of setting up Aam Aadmi Party, Kejriwal could secure 28 seats in 70-member Delhi Assembly. In his hour of triumph, ironically Kejriwal made his first move, which could not have been made by an astute leader. Until then he had made no wrong move or any damaging statement. Without waiting for developments post-election, he said he would neither give support nor take support for government formation. That meant that the BJP, the single largest party with 32 seats, could not form government.
A veteran Harsh Vardhan, BJP’ chief ministerial candidate, declared the very day results were announced that he did not believe in horse-trading and would decline to try and form the government when invited by the Lt. Governor. But if Kejriwal’s AAP formed government he would support it on issue-based basis.That was the first salvo, disguised as a very positive offer, which Kejriwal should have seen through as an attempt to push him into corner and force him to form a government. The dissatisfaction began to be murmured. “Why was Kejriwal running away from responsibility, was he afraid that he would not be able to fulfill promises made in the manifesto, like reducing the electricity bills by 50 per cent and supplying up to 700 litres water free? The fact is that such promises were rather extravagant.
Matters for Kejriwal became more complex when the Congress Party, specialists in extending support and then withdrawing it at the time that suited it, offered unconditional support to AAP. If Kejriwal could see through the old tactics of the Congress, he would have called off the bluff and formed his government. Instead, he set 18 conditions for accepting Congress’ offer of support. Past masters in such political games, Congress threw back the ball in Kejriwal’s court, saying all the terms were acceptable.
AAP is almost certain to form the government but even if it did not, Kejriwal and his members are no more outsiders any longer—they are the insiders. “They have made many promises to New Delhi’s people and therefore need to show that they can walk the talk. Running an administration and leading to achieve stated objectives and goals requires a great deal of skill and perseverance. Delhi provides a great platform and opportunity for “Kejriwal Team” to hone these skills, even though by hit and trial.”
Whatever it might be, Delhi people have given the whole country hope. “I don’t want to talk of an individual’s politics”, an AAP senior said. When asked about his opinion of a Modi wave he said, “People will decide if he really has a people connect. There are still five months to go for the polls. But in Delhi, there was no such thing because he was not going to be the CM. He urged people to vote for Harsh Vardhan, but who is he? Leaders are not appointed by a high command or by parliamentary boards. They are born out of mass struggles.”
A deeper look at Arvind Kejriwal’s nascent party, and one can describe it as “activists”, who are not connected with the ground reality. The Congress stalwart and outgoing Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who was felled at the hustings by Kejriwal, was of the view that AAP just sold “dreams”. But, BJP ally Shiv Sena sounded a warning that Kejriwal’s challenge is for all political parties across the country. It is always good for the health of democracy when a new force emerges, BJP vice-president Smriti Irani said. CPM said AAP has emerged as a credible alternative to the Congress. Its leader Sitaram Yechury said more than the anger against the policies of the Congress what had helped AAP in the elections was they were seen as a possibility that can offer an alternative. Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar congratulated AAP and said: “It reaped the benefit of anti-corruption agitation of Gandhian Anna Hazare.”
The responsibilities now are scary, admits Kejriwal and finally, Kejriwal admits that the responsibilities and expectations on him and his one-year-old party are frightening. “Once a rickshawallah gave me all the money he had for our movement. This responsibility is scary. I am not scared about being not successful, but I am scared of making mistakes.”
But having said that, Kejriwal added that there was also much for AAP to be proud of. “We showed everyone how to contest elections with honesty. We never left the path of truth. And as all the sting operations and Prashant Bhushan CDs showed, we hit them where it hurt the most”. “I appeal to all those who want honest politics in this country to come together”, he said, adding that India deserved better. “India is full of first-class citizens, who have third-class governance.”
He, however, added that it was politicians and not politics that were corrupt in the country. He also dismissed the charge that it was his movement that had fostered deep cynicism against politicians. “That cynicism was already there. How else did we win the election?” Quite right!
“I am here to change the political process, not get tangled in political power. My margin of victory (over 26,000) was reflection of anger against the Congress,” said Kejriwal. “Kya hoon main? Mera kuchh aukaat nahin hai (Who am I? I have no standing)”, he said, adding that the votes for him were in fact all expressions of anger.
Yogendra Yadav summed up his argument by saying all the fallacies propositioned about AAP have now fallen flat. “At first you said we’ll fail if we formed a party. Then you said we’ll fail if we contest the polls. Now you’re saying we’ll not last long enough.” There have been several theories about AAP but this election showed that the voters were not chosen to buy them. Yadav added that they won’t to be a Delhi-centric party for too long and already has 307 district units in place across the country.
“After this performance, more people will want to join us and fight for us,” said Prashant Bhushan, indicating that the Congress and BJP just found themselves with a new opponent for the Lok Sabha! For the first time in Indian history, people had voted for truth and honesty. But many questions can be answered only after AAP spends some time in power. Can Kejriwal and his core team change human behaviour. Power corrupts. Ambitious, manipulative and authoritarian are some of the human weaknesses that once in power even the most honest fall for it.
Kejriwal has proved he is intelligent, can read the pulse of the people and do what they aspire for. “But he has been a bureaucrat, trained to believe that controlling others is the key to solving problems—more rules, more regulations and more controls. Can he then be a good politician?” One who fundamentally understands what the public good is, knows what needs to be done to achieve it and is motivated to work for it.
AAP now wants to contest the 2014 general elections from several states. But there is little chance of AAP going national effectively in less than five months. It needs organisations at each place, volunteers, who are clean and genuine and committees for selection and organising campaign. If they try to spread too fast, they could slacken even in Delhi, which has been their triumphant battlefield. An analyst said AAP’s strategy should be to run in selected sure shot constituencies in urban areas and the constituencies of RaGa and SoGa and some strongholds of BJP. They must win these constituencies if they are to survive and not to be discarded nationally. “People will also like to know your political agenda and national and international policies, like their stand on Article 370, FDI, dealing with Pakistan and on relations with the US and Afghan policy.” But AAP, at the same time, would have to be wary of the Congress, which could try to use it to fight Modi for it. The huge pro-Congress media would be used to project Kejriwal on par with Modi as Rahul is no match for him.
But in the midst of the commendable AAP victory, Antanu Dey , an economist, who blogs on India’s development at deeshaa.org, says things which are very negative to AAP and Kejriwal personally. He wrote previously in NITICentral. But it is worth quoting even if it annoys Kejriwal, or the kind of astute person he is, he might study it to avoid the pitfalls mentioned by Dey. He has written, “To me, Kejriwal epitomises all that is wrong with Indian politics. That is saying something when you consider that Indian politics is riddled with stupidity, dynastic succession, public corruption, insane populism, crude factionalism, blatant pandering, naked dishonesty, extreme selfishness, myopia and other repulsive features. The major concern that I have with the AAP and its leadership relates to its agenda.
“It began as a coalition of people fighting against public corruption. Public corruption, we must remember, is a phenomenon that is directly linked to the government. There cannot be public corruption without an active involvement of the government. Public corruption arises out of a combination of power that wields control, and a lack of accountability and responsibility…. “India Against Corruption” ….. led to the quite mindless proposed solution of creating yet another layer of government with even more control and even less accountability to fight the problem of public corruption which, as I note above, is because of too much government, not too little. It is akin to bringing more gasoline to put out a raging fire.
“….The public is gullible. There isn’t a nicer way to say it. The public has been electing venal politicians for decades and I don’t see any reason to believe that suddenly it has become smarter and is not going to be taken in by glib promises made by fast-talking charlatans. Certainly politicians do get voted out but the ones that get voted in are no different in any meaningful sense. It is a different bucketful but it is still drawn from the same cesspool as the one before.”
Well, Antanu Dey has thrown a lot of cold water on the change AAP has promised. For India’s sake one hopes that Kejriwal would keep a broomstick handy to clean his courtyard from time to time to keep him on track to clean the decadent political system. And prove Dey wrong. Any change always creates cynicism and negativity. One hopes Kejriwal would quash it.
By Vijay Dutt
(The writer is former Chairman, International Airports Authority of India)