Those who argue that Arvind Kejriwal should not take the political plunge because Indian politics is a dirty business are being unnecessarily cynical. True, the political climate with the unravelling of a fresh scam every few months does not really beckon honest and sincere individuals. It is no longer the kind of occupation which may attract men and women with moral fortitude. We have seen rank outsiders, like a group of IIT-ians participate in the political process and then gradually fade away. The noisy bustle, the mud-slinging, the tarnishing of the innocent and the glorification of outright scoundrels may instil fear in the hearts of the innocent adventurers taking the first uncertain steps towards politics.
Yes, there are several negatives which darken the political atmosphere in this country at the moment, but that does not mean the well-intentioned and the idealists will not get their hands dirty. Arvind Kejriwal should not be discouraged and be accused of being naive when what he is attempting is a laudable initiative. Like Anna Hazare, who broke ranks with him, he could have chosen to stay away from the muck and slush of everyday politics and be happy with slogan-shouting and token fasts at Jantar Mantar. But civil society groups will always have a peripheral existence unless they decide to be full-fledged participants and formulate an alternative plan for governance.
It is easy to raise one’s voice against corruption and point an accusing finger against a failed system. Corruption has become such an integral part of Indian politics and governance that the political actors can no longer comprehend at which precise moment they abandon the path of the virtuous and cease to be morally upright. The rising costs of elections have brought about a murky relationship between big business and politicians. When the political party comes to power, it is under obligation to gift lucrative contracts to corporate giants who had stood by them before the polls. Crony capitalism is born in a number of illegitimate ways and this is one of the obvious avenues.
Yes, Arvind Kejriwal does not yet have a properly-defined charter of governance. His Vision Document is as yet shrouded in ambiguities. We need detailed clarification on a number of issues. What is his party’s stand on economic reforms, on liberalisation, on poverty alleviation, on inclusive growth, on the Ayodhya temple, on the 1984 Sikh riots, on the Gujarat communal violence and an endless number of other issues? We know for certain that his party’s primary objective is to cleanse the society of corruption, to weed out politicians who are so cynical that they can’t think of a political arrangement and organisation without some form of corruption or the other.
But a beginning has to be made somewhere. For two years now, Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues, including the saintly Anna Hazare, built a civil society movement which would have lost direction and impetus in the days to come if it had not been kept alive by political intent. Those who had reposed faith in India Against Corruption need the sustenance of hope. They want to be optimistic that one day in the distant future — may be 15 years from now, or even 20 years — the party they had worked for would possibly be in a position to provide good governance and if not govern, then at least lead the Opposition.
Kejriwal has chosen the right way forward by being equidistant from the two main parties — the Congress and the BJP. There have been temptations within the movement earlier to target the ruling party of the day and be indulgent towards the Opposition. But that would have automatically lent a particular colour to the movement; it would have been painted with the same brush as the Opposition and would have been reduced to a perception that it was nothing more than the BJP’s stooge. Kiran Bedi’s slightly differing view on the subject — she wanted the BJP to be spared — exposed her proximity with 11 Ashoka Road. Under no circumstances can Kejriwal or Prashant Bhushan be accused of ceding their political independence.
So, a beginning has been made. Here comes the even more difficult part of the battle — the ability to swim across the negative currents because naysayers will be many. Arvind and his team must plan carefully for the polls in 2013 and 2014. They must try their luck in Delhi next year, where they have received the most encouraging and enthusiastic popular response. Already, the group is taking up civic issues like the power tariff, which appeals to the poor. Now is the time to focus on organisation. They must build grassroots structures at the neighbourhood level. Already, there exists an arrangement by virtue of which India Against Corruption has been mobilising people with rare ardour.
There may have been a great degree of support from the rural hinterland outside Delhi, but the IAC is built around middle class values and the group will do well to plan its campaign in urban pockets where popular disaffection with corruption is serious. What is significant is that they have waded into the muck. Kejriwal and his supporters must believe that there is no looking back from here. They have renewed the hope of corruption-free politics in a country desperate for honest men and women.
Diptosh Majumdar is national affairs editor of DNA