Today Arvind Kejriwal swears in as Delhi’s CM. It’s a moment in history.
How an NGO (non-governmental organisation) activist actually came to be the head of the establishment that he was fighting against, and how his fledgling party nearly dismantled established political giants like the Congress and the BJP in a city that operates on pedigree, network and provenance is the intertwined story of a disturbing question and an enlightening answer.
The question is: is there a way out of the seemingly endless tunnel of corruption that passes for governance? We thought no, because the system was not so much corrupt as corruption was the system. And the answer, as of last week, is yes, there is a way out. Kejriwal’s genius is in the discovery that the torch at the dim, far end is in the hands of the people themselves, not the elected representatives.
It’s a flickering ray, a candle held by an unsteady hand. Kejriwal’s AAP, with 28 seats in a House of 70, is supported by the Congress Party — 8 MLAs. More than the BJP, the main opposition party (31 seats), the Congress took the brunt of AAP’s attack during electioneering. Yet, as happens only in politics, pride surrenders to practicality, and the Congress and the AAP find themselves in the same side of the bed, though this may not last for long.
Kejriwal will find good governance a bad job. And not just because of the quicksand nature of House logistics. Like all chief ministers, Kejriwal, too, is dependent on the bureaucracy to implement his agenda, even though he may have won a battle over ideological power structures.
Delhi bureaucracy is one of the most nepotistic and corrupt in the country. It’s not clear whether that culture would change because the survival of the new kid on the block depends on it.
But here again, Kejriwal might just play his great Plebeian card: other parties huddle into conclaves to discuss crises facing them — an incestuous exercise among party chiefs, so their interests are protected foremost. AAP takes issues to people in a new brand of direct-to-home politics. Kejriwal may, in his first — and perhaps the last? — few heady days of power expose the corrupt bureaucrat to the public and let the people take care of the matter.
Except, what guarantee is that the people have changed?
We are a bribe-giving and bribe-taking people. Delhi has given a confused referendum — nothing really prevented the city from backing the AAP with a clear majority. Instead, Delhiites assuaged their own guilt in the proceedings by placing change agents like Kejriwal in a vulnerable position. AAP’s 28 seats represent the voters’ ambivalent position. They have, in short, outsourced their fight against corruption to Kejriwal, just enough to show they are for change, so long as it is not radical. Because a radical change will mean they transform themselves, a daunting prospect. Imagine a capital full of Mahatmas.
It is this moral ambivalence of the masses that lie at the root of Kejriwal’s difficulties. The administrative crises that are likely to confront Delhi in the next few months will mirror a people’s profound ethical confusions. What’s in question is a nation’s character. Whether at all we have one.
The author is writer, poet and the Editor-in-Chief of dna