Saturday, April 1st, 2023 00:45:16

Does India Need An Opposition?

Updated: June 21, 2014 12:54 pm

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party, after the Gandhis’ decimated Congress, is the only one with national presence, and thus can fill the slot of the main opposition, if it succeeds in its attempt to resurrect itself. But, considering its disastrous misrule in Delhi and flight of its founder and other stalwarts frustrated with Kejriwal’s conduct, in addition to the baggage of charges chasing it, will it becoming main. Opposition be good or bad for the Indian polity? Kejriwal of post-Delhi polls has gone through a metamorphosis.

If the intellectuals and a couple of journalists and academicians could have their way Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAM) would have been installed, even with four MPs, as the main opposition to take on Narendra Modi. They admire the brave heart fight Kejriwal fought in Varanasi. And see honour in his defeat as well. He is, according to this tribe, the most equipped to become the alternative to the Modi Raj and save India from him. They do not tire in praising his courage in contesting Modi in Varanasi.

There is an old saying, fools tread where angels dread to go. Also there is not much difference in courage and brave heart and foolhardiness. Even Don Quixote thought he was brave. Ironically, AAP’s seniors some of whom have left the party have different take on this as well. They feel, it was egoistic and foolhardy of Kejriwal to put all the resources and manpower for his election. He remained stuck in Varanasi and thus could never properly campaign for his candidates. It was not a brave heart but a childish, to put it mildly, stubbornness. Would such a leader be good as Opposition leader?

Kejriwal enjoyed the attention of the people even beyond India’s shore and the publicity he received because he was fighting against a prime minister nominee. There was nothing brave heart or courage about it. During Indira Gandhi years, politicians used to say if one wants to see one’s name in newspapers, just criticize Mrs Gandhi. This is true now vis-a-vis Modi.

In any case why is there such hurry? True, while India has a majority party that along with its allies rules at the Centre. After a few decades India has done away with coalition politics and it has a single party’s stable government. But an Opposition which is an integral part of democracy is just not there. However, this is not a calamity or ominous signs of something dangerous happening next. There is a precedent. From 1952 to 1967 there was no opposition. Yet those who sat on the opposite benches were the best watchdogs with teeth and they were even able to restrain Jawaharlal Nehru. Can one compare Ram Manohar Lohia, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Acharya Kriplani and Feroze Gandhi in the Congress Party itself and occasionally Mahavir Tyagi with the present lot of MPs. The list is too long.

In the present Lok Sabha, there are hardly any in the opposition parties to be as good as the few named above. The deep knowledge of the society and of the rural India, of the traditions and culture and most importantly of the political history is not the virtue of most legislators. While the 50s and 60s legislators were jailed for fighting for freedom of India, nearly half of the present lot face criminal charges. Lalu Yadav has been jailed for corruption. Such MPs whether in the opposition or on Treasury Benches can hardly make a good parliamentarian.

Kejriwal of a few months ago was not like this lot. Yes a founder member of AAP alleged that Kejriwal had CIA links. His NGO and those of almost all his colleagues like Medha Patkar have allegedly been funded by Ford Foundation. Yet, with all the mud-slinging and free for all in casting aspersions, it is necessary to study Kejriwal the man before dwelling on the question whether AAP becoming an opposition party would be good or bad for the Indian polity.

For such a study a distinction between Kejriwal of today and of the one who floated a political party and fought Delhi Assembly election has to be drawn. When he launched his Aam Admi Party (AAP) and entered electoral fray, his strategies were innovative and simply brilliant. He showed how sharp his brain was and his finger was on the pulse of the people. Wherever he went in Delhi people would rush on the streets to have his darshan.

For people a star was born in the political firmament who like a knight in shining armour would save Delhi and its people from the misrule by the Congress government. With the possibility of a corruption-free society one could dare to dream—acche din anney wale hain.

The media really adopted him as their darling. Every paper carried at least two if not more articles and reports relating to him. His popularity was at its zenith. They found in him a man who had begun to resonate with the young, unlike Rahul Gandhi, and ‘adopted’ him. With the media and Delhi’ites behind him, he overshadowed every leader in the Capital. Even a surging Modi had a tough time dealing with him in Delhi.

The Kejriwal of then showed promise of cleansing Indian polity of corruption and the corrupt, and building up a people-participatory government. His concept of a people-participatory government was unique. He injected a new strain in Indian politics which could replace the jaded political parties which had rusted using the conventional campaigning style that had let caste, faith and other sectarian differences creep in.

Kejriwal translated his concept immediately. The list of candidates was prepared from the list of five names suggested by people from each of the 70 constituencies. AAP’s mandate was drawn up through similar method. The result: A fledgling party with hardly any resources had secured 28 seats, just eight short of majority in Delhi Assembly.

That was the moment of triumph for Kejriwal. His handsome win reverberated all over India and thousands of young across the country offered to be volunteers. AAP units began to spring up in other cities. The people and the media saw in Kejriwal a crusader to clean Indian politics. Congress and Rahul receded in the background.

The manoeuvres to form a government in Delhi started. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too was short of majority by five, the Congress was merely a rump with eight seats. BJP refused to form government by engineering defection. This is when the Congress, worried of the growing popularity of Modi, and yet unable to do anything to stem it, thought of supporting Kejriwal to form government.

It wanted AAP to fight a proxy war against the BJP. At that time Kejriwal’s image was as clean as that of Modi, only while he was getting popular across India, Kejriwal’s popularity was limited within Delhi and NCR. But it was expected to extend to other parts. So Congress went all the way to help AAP and give it strength to halt Modi. The temptation of being a chief minister was possibly too much. Kejriwal held a referendum by AAP as to whether it should take the Congress support to form the government or not. Kejriwal then announced that an overwhelming number of respondents had said yes. This is where Kejriwal slipped up. He should have got the referendum done by a professional outfit. Many including his party men felt that the in-house referendum was not the right thing to do.

His 49-day chief ministership is well-known. The DNA of protest, bandhs and dharnas in the AAP leaders meant a disastrous tenure as administrators. The bureaucrats could have advised and helped them run the government but Kejriwal suspecting them of being corrupt alienated them. At the end Kejriwal possibly choked over his inability to govern and as a result face loss of popularity. He resigned.

Meanwhile Kejriwal had learnt to compromise, give precedence to the ‘dictates’ of his supporting Congress and keep his own values on the shelf. He stopped talking about corruption in the UPA and targeted all his guns on Modi. Gone were the days when he could target a Salman Khurshid or Mukesh Ambani. Instead Modi was shelled morning to evening, he talked about capital cronyism, of the alleged nexus with Adani and of course Modi’s alleged divisive trait. Congress and Congressmen had become sacrosanct.

This Kejriwal, having tasted power and perks of a chief minister and his close associates started to dream big! Abhi mukhya mantri, phir pradhan mantrii was the slogan that psyched them.

They jumped into the General Election and put up 432 candidates far more than either the Congress or the BJP nominated. This is the period when Kejriwal possibly went through a metamorphosis. The youngish looking man with tousled hair and brightness on the face gave way to an angry, dictatorial attitude and a darkish face with an expression of I Know The Best, I am the only honest politician. With a war cry, he declared his candidature against Modi in Varanasi. His Congress backers (or bosses?) could not have been more pleased. His supporters in the print and electronic media went in top gear to paint a picture of what his win would mean. Over 150 foreign-funded NGOs went to Varanasi in his support.

Well, he lost by almost 300,000 votes but his intellectual friends say there was honour in defeat. What honour? Was he garlanded and congratulated for his defeat? In fact one writer referred to ghats in Kashi as strips (along the ghats known as Kashi) and that made one remember the Las Vegas strip. Fortuitously the radicals are ignoramus of this.

Naturally with such friends the Kejriwal who brought fresh air in Indian politics is lost to a Kejriwal who has a bag full of serious charges and who has also aroused suspicion about his real ideology, if any, and of having links with those who hate a stable India and a India where all religions have to be treated equally and fairly.

The Kejriwal of today faces four criminal libel suits. His party is fraying, with leaders and associates leaving him. Protesting over not getting a ticket for 2014 General Elections, Aam Aadmi Party’s Founder Member and legal cell president Ashwini Upadhyay called Arvind Kejriwal a ‘liar’ and a ‘CIA agent’. “This man is a liar. He tells lies,” shouted Ashwini. Others who have resigned include Shazia Ilmi and Capt Gopinath and Anjali Damania.

Kejriwal’s options are shrinking. He had to depend on his NGO friends to fill the seats in AAP’s political affairs committee—Medha Patkar, Rajmohan Gandhi. Trapped by circumstances and surrounded by friends in the intellectual mafia which is not really in sync with the former associates of his, and the indirect influence of those who fund his NGOs, today’s Kejriwal is most likely driven by various pulls and pressures. Not a desirable person to be leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.

The Kejriwal who used to say that corruption, communalism, high command culture, dynastic rule and caste-based politics were main issues of AAP, has forgotten some of them and compromised on other issues.

The people who were given tickets were mostly co-NGOs. Meera Sanyal, Medha Patkar, Yogeshwar Yadav, to name a few. Notably, Upadhya had earlier questioned AAP for entertaining people funded by American organisations like the Ford Foundation by including them in the various committees to formulate policies. This shows apart from the hold of the Left that of the Fund-givers. This is not desirable.

The people’s alienation with AAP and anger with Kejriwal is evident from the fact that out of 432 candidates 214 forfeited their security deposits. The trickling of his members, including founder members, is slowly becoming a regular flow.

The AAP must also explain its communist links as Kejriwal insists his party is neither Leftist nor Rightist. It is believed the party’s Lok Sabha candidate from South Mumbai, Meera Sanyal, made a lateral entry from the banking sector. Let it be known that her NGO, Pradaan, works in Maoism-affected regions of the country.

The recent refusal of Kejriwal to furnish bail and get released from jail was one more theatrics from the drama kings. He did not get any political mileage by keeping himself behind bar. No one bothered. He however before going to jail and then while there kept giving conflicting statements. It was all very confusing.

It is possible that the AAP finds a way to be re-born, albeit with a vastly altered script rather than what it visualised for itself a few months ago. Indian society is very forgiving. Kejriwal has to shake off his media well-wishers who have their own agenda and identify a few key issues and then to systematically build a programme that speak for the people.

By Vijay Dutt

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