Monday, November 18, 2013
Essentially Arvind Kejriwal is a political accident, the kind that flashes across the scene one moment and is forgotten the next. But his movement is making a buzz that no one can deny. While his ideas are a contributing factor, the main reason for the buzz lies outside his persona and programme. He has become a symbol of the general public's disgust with the reigning political class. For too long have the people been suffering at the hands of exploiters robbing and ruining the country with apparent immunity. To those drowning in the all-encompassing political mud, Kejriwal holds out a straw.
Whether he will get the numbers he needs is an entirely different matter. True, our electorate was vigilant enough to defeat the mighty Indira Gandhi after the atrocities of the Emergency. It was also angry enough to keep the Congress out of Amethi in the last elections and to throw out the BJP in Karnataka. But these were exceptional cases of public outrage boiling over. In general our electorate is so diverse and plagued by such disparate problems that anything like concerted action is difficult to emerge. Look at the bankers, IT professionals and other highly qualified, service-minded people who contested the last elections from Mumbai and Bangalore -- and lost.
Kejriwal has the additional handicap of looking like a one-man band. He had first come into the limelight under the halo of Anna Hazare. Inexplicably the grand old Gandhian publicly washed his hands of his one-time disciple. Kejriwal has two respected associates, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and scholar Yogendra Yadav. Inexplicably again, both have chosen to remain in the background, leaving Kejriwal to shine as the solitary leader of his party. How can this help?
The white-capped leader makes up by his organisational skill and his originality. Some 10,000 volunteers are working full time, taking a break from their studies and/or work. There are wellknown professionals, too, lending their services free. Sameer Nair, for example, who made some magic as CEO of Star TV some time ago. An unnamed person has placed his sprawling bungalow at the disposal of the party for a token rent; it is now the war room of the campaign. It is petty and typical of the Congress's defeatist mentality that Home Minister Shinde has ordered an investigation into foreign funding of Kejriwal. The Congress playing moral?
Some of Kejriwal's ideas show a freshness of approach. A session of the Delhi Assembly at Ramlila Maidan may be a bit too dramatic. People of each of 2700 mohallas deciding by themselves how to spend public funds may be a bit too romantic. But mohalla commandos helping with security in their areas sounds like a good idea. So is the perception that problems vary from area to area and each area should have its own tailor-made manifesto. However, if manifestos talk of subsidised electricity and free water, the new party is succumbing to the freebie tricks of the old parties. We have repeatedly seen subsidies working as an invitation to corruption.
Let's grant that overall the Kejriwal juggernaut is transparent, sees power to the people as an article of faith and is engineered to fight corruption. Is that enough to win an election? Sheila Dixit's demonstrable failure as Chief Minister will no doubt help; she could not even make an effort to address the problem of women's safety, confining herself to platitudes all the while. The infighting in the BJP ranks is another favourable factor. But are these enough to capture power?
The nature of politics is strange. The herd mentality often gets in the way of individual discretion. Habits substitute for deliberation. Party structures and long-established groundlevel networks cannot be easily overtaken by newcomers. The Congress and the BJP may lose some ground, but that need not necessarily mean Kejriwal turning victorious. If he wins, it will be, despite his minuses, a turning point in Indian politics. If he doesn't, it will still have been a worthwhile effort, carrying home the message that the people will continue to fight the political mafiosi until victory is achieved.