The last time a chief minister refused VIP accommodation was when Mamata Banerjee chose not to move out of her humble lodgings in Kolkata’s Harish Chatterjee Street. Now, Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister designate, has taken a leaf out of her austerity book, rejecting the most obvious and, perhaps hated, symbols of the prevailing in-your-face VIP culture. Kejriwal has refused to accept his official accommodation — a government bungalow — that comes with his new status. In addition, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief has jettisoned the Z-plus security cover offered to him by the Delhi police. It’s worth recalling that Banerjee, too, departing from conventional practice, refused special security cover due to her as head of a state.
It can easily be argued that Delhi, in the recent months, has encountered what would have been once considered impossible within the realm of current politics. An alternative template of political culture is now in the making in the Capital, otherwise infamous for its darbari style of transacting of politics. How the AAP- driven changes will play themselves out in the coming days, in impacting and transforming people’s cynical notions about political culture, is yet to manifest itself.
Kejriwal’s detractors may argue that spurning VIP accessories — chief ministerial bungalow, VIP security cover and lalbattis — are the easiest, if not the most populist thing to do; that the tough part of running the administration and meeting the high expectations of the people, is still to unfold. But that criticism is hardly a valid one.
Let’s consider the bleak context in which the fledgling AAP is ringing this phenomenal changes in.
By now we are distressingly familiar with the arrogance of everyday political culture. The greater the indifference of elected representatives and heads of states to serving the people, the more their craving for accessories of political power and privilege.
The quintessential politician’s sense of entitlement has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. Armed with impunity, our elected legislators in states and at the Centre, have perfected the art of breaking rules even while demanding the same be enforced for ‘ordinary’ citizens.
Regardless of seniority and rank, politicians across the spectrum misuse their power and acquire more and more wealth.
According to a study of the assets declared by candidates in the recent Madhya Pradesh assembly polls by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), 141 recontesting MLAs, across parties, reported a jump in their assets in the last five years. Their assets have grown from an average Rs1.71 crore to Rs5.81 crore, a jump of over 240 per cent, since the last election. That’s not all. Recall the incident earlier this year of Vitthal Radadiya, then Congress MLA, pulling a gun at a toll attendant, later quitting the Congress to join the BJP. Alarmingly, such cases have not been few and far between. For instance, a Shiv Sena MLA this very year was caught on camera, going on rampage at a toll booth because he was asked to pay up. While in yet another case an MLA supported by Congress led a mob to vandalise a toll plaza against farmers having to pay the toll.
Amid such decadent political culture, even symbolism, when it sets afoot a refreshingly different political culture, brings a whiff of freshness. True, the AAP leadership will have to be extra vigilant against efforts to co-opt the new legislators into the corrupt ways of the old system. By laying down a strict code for the AAP’s first-time MLAs, the leadership is sending out a clear message of political propriety. A message that will surely gladden the hearts of the politician-weary electorate.