Let’s start at the very beginning...”, goes the most acclaimed song from The Sound of Music. But contrary to this melody, the contents of the following paragraphs would not be music to the ears of those enthralled by Pied Piper Kejriwal.
Permit me to go back to the August Kranti of 2012. What was that about? It was billed as the second freedom struggle, this time against the most lethal foe of Indian democracy — ‘corruption’. Very noble indeed, because who can deny that endemic corruption has become a festering, cancerous wound? And it was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with ‘honesty’ as its sword and badge of honour (read magic wand, or its electoral symbol — the broom) which would make the Augean Stables squeaky clean.
However, it is this which is the heart of the problem. ‘Corruption’ was defined in a sufficiently amorphous and deliberately myopic manner — it was conveniently conflated with and limited to bribery by public officials and politicians. Crony capitalism, rack renting, ‘facilitation’ fees by the middle class to secure admissions and privileges — all were conspicuous by their absence. Because the population was neurotically frustrated by the prolonged, venal politics of the two major political parties, this direct appeal to their sense of morality worked wonders. When morality sprints on steroids, the intellect gets numbed, and so do the faculties of critical, rational analysis. This is exactly what the AAP wanted — that people would vote them to power without ever scrutinising or challenging their ideological position.
For the record, the AAP has repeatedly claimed to be a ‘post-ideological’ party, governed by the sole objective of eradicating corruption from public life. As stated earlier, this morality-laden framing of ‘corruption’ as the cause for every ill plaguing the polity and the system was a crafty ploy, and when hammered in repeatedly, became banal. We have a surfeit of banality, but what makes the AAP’s banality stand out is that it was hoisted on the broad shoulders of self-righteousness, hence brooked no question or challenges of inquiry. Anybody who tried doing so was labelled as being mired in, or a supporter of ‘corruption’.
‘Post-ideological’, linguistically speaking, is a fundamentally vacuous term. But it has benefits if used for political expediency, and Kejriwal & Co left no stone unturned to reap the richest harvest. As we have seen, it was catch-all populism, capitalizing on popular discontent and welcoming all comers. In reaching out to the business classes, Kejriwal has sung paeans to commerce and industry, and has insisted that “99 per cent” of businesspeople are the victims, not the perpetrators, of corruption. Although opposed to some particular cases of privatization or corporate malfeasance, he sees the root cause of India’s problems as the corruption of the country’s political class — blithely ignoring the much wider net of economic and political forces that entrap the aam aadmi.
Now all of this would have been fine, for there is no dearth of sophistry and chicanery in the Indian political firmament, and one more charlatan would not have had a cataclysmic effect. But, when the AAP formed the government in Delhi, and made this populism the flagstaff of what it dubbed as “governance”, there is cause for grave consternation. For India is a constitutional democracy, not the theatre for populism vaudeville.
Four instances are noteworthy. A clarion call to unfettered vigilantism is the first. On his very first day, Kejriwal thundered: “The idea is to instil fear in the hearts of corrupt individuals.” and exhorted the citizens to go on a sting operation spree with nary a thought as to the legality of such actions. He followed it up by transferring 800 Delhi Jal Board officials in one fell swoop. The ostensible reason: A sting operation by Headlines Today had exposed these officials’ misdeeds. It is intriguing that Kejriwal, a former IRS (Indian Revenue Service) officer, is either ignorant of the service laws which govern transfer or dismissal of public servants. Or, maybe, the nobility of eradicating corruption trumps such trifles as legality?
Somnath Bharti’s despicable depredations in Khirki Extension do not merit any detailed mention. What stands out, however, is Kejriwal’s steadfast defence of such thuggery, and worse, the belaboured efforts at claiming credit for busting prostitution rackets.
Third is the illegal largesse bestowed upon those who either stole electricity or defaulted on bills for over a year. Notwithstanding the allegedly illegal actions of the discoms, a blanket 50 per cent waiver is akin to rewarding theft. The Delhi High Court has halted the implementation of this grand loot scheme, but now the aam aadmi has been left in the lurch. Those enthused and enticed by Kejriwal’s assurance will now have to cough up not only the amount due, but also pay a hefty fine.
Fourth is Kejriwal’s attempt to corner the Jat vote in Haryana by pandering to the Khap Panchayats. He makes the same specious, dishonest plea as did Naveen Jindal — that the Khaps are an integral part of the Jats’ cultural heritage, and hence cannot be outlawed. Ever the clever sophist, Kejriwal goes a step further and defends them by invoking the fundamental right to freedom of assembly. A Chief Minister who has no qualms about holding the city and police to ransom by “staging” a violent dharna would obviously resort to such disingenuity. The freedom of assembly is not for protecting murderous gangs, but who cares?
After having voluntarily relinquished power, the AAP has petitioned the Supreme Court against imposition of President’s Rule, demanding fresh elections at the earliest, and alleging mala fide actions by the BJP and Congress. It is never easier to heap all blame on others than while playing up pretensions of victimhood.
Needless to say, the aam aadmi does not deserve this pantomime of opportunism conducted with messianic fervour. Sooner the Pied Piper’s spell is shattered, the better it is for the polity and constitutional governance.
The author teaches media law and jurisprudence in Bombay and Pune @SauravDatta29. Views expressed are personal.