Ranjona Banerji Column: He knew exactly what he was saying

With the ‘coward-psychopath’ tweet, Kejriwal makes it clear that PM and PMO are now fair game

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal yesterday called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “coward and a psychopath” on Twitter. This is not the first time you’re hearing these words, but admit this at least: your jaw dropped when you first did. And depending on your political inclinations and level of maturity, you giggled, sniggered, gasped or went purple with rage.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the media after the CBI raided his office headquarters yesterday. On Twitter, Kejriwal said: ‘Modi is a coward and a psycopath’. Pic/AFP
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the media after the CBI raided his office headquarters yesterday. On Twitter, Kejriwal said: ‘Modi is a coward and a psycopath’. Pic/AFP

Arvind Kejriwal, let us remember, is a mass leader of incredible acuity. He transformed himself from an anti-corruption activist to a politician in front of our eyes in a short span of time. He won the Delhi Assembly election twice for his party, the second time with a massive mandate, obliterating the opposition. This is in spite of some quite ridiculous stunts in his first term as chief minister of Delhi. He may have lost to Modi in the Varanasi Lok Sabha poll but he made his mark there as well.

These words against Modi are harsh and abusive. But Kejriwal is the sort of person who would know what the words he uses actually mean. Surprisingly, many in the BJP have asked Kejriwal to apologise for the “coward” part of his statement without mentioning the other word. The provocation for the Delhi chief minister was a raid by the Central Bureau of Investigation on his offices. The CBI claimed it was investigating his principal secretary on an old charge; Kejriwal says the CBI and the Union finance minister are both lying.

It cannot be forgotten that Kejriwal and the Central government have been at loggerheads since the Aam Aadmi Party won 67 of Delhi’s 70 Assembly seats earlier this year. The lieutenant-governor of Delhi (who reports to the Centre) and the Delhi government have fought over everything that they could and then some.

The CBI may be acting on a genuine complaint or it may be a stooge in the hands of the Centre. We have heard both these explanations so many times and in so many different political contexts that nothing makes sense any more. To the BJP and its supporters, when the Congress is in power, the CBI is the ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’. Now that the BJP is in power, Congress people call it the ‘Chaddi Bureau of Investigation’, referring in the vernacular to the khakhi shorts worn by members of the RSS, which is the BJP’s spiritual, philosophical and intellectual head. The end result is that most of the time, whatever the Central Bureau of Investigation does is sniffed at suspiciously.

What is now most evident from Kejriwal’s statement is that the prime minister and the prime minister’s office are seen as fair game. There was an aura of invincibility and ‘my chest is 56 inches of courage’ bravado around Narendra Modi in 2014. But the past year has not as been kind to Modi and his government as they might have expected. Events and election results in India have chipped away at the Modi image which no cheering NRIs in the UK and USA can save any more.

The empty promise of good days, the announcing of grand schemes with no back-up plans, two lacklustre budgets, communal unrest, disastrously irresponsible comments from ministers and BJP members, the One Rank One Pension protests, too many foreign visits with insufficient gain for the nation and the results of the Bihar elections going against the BJP, have shown India in one year that the prime minister’s words may be grandiose but they are not always substantiated. Accusations of grandstanding now come from previous areas of support even.

There will be some breast-beating about how low political discourse in India has sunk. That is true. But it is a fallacy that politicians in earlier days were always complimentary of each other. Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister of England during Victorian times, said of his biggest rival William Gladstone, also prime minister, “that unprincipled maniac — extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition”.

And then there’s always Winston Churchill, with what he really said, is supposed to have said and people wish he had said. Of Clement Atlee, who defeated him to become prime minister of England, Churchill is supposed to have said, “A modest man with much to be modest about.”

Let the outrage begin.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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