Anarchy. Or not. Just a way to wiggle out of fulfilling your responsibilities. Barely a month into winning an election and forming a government, the Aam Aadmi Party has proved that it knows how to hog the headlines — much to the discomfiture of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi — but it will not and maybe cannot actually get down to work.
Sleepless in Delhi: New Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is surrounded by supporters following a night sleeping on the pavement during a sit-in protest on Tuesday. Pic/Afp
And indeed, why be serious when being ridiculous will ensure TV cameras trained on you at all times? Sleep on the ground next to your car so agitate for the suspension of a minor police official. So what if you are the chief minister of a very important little city state? You are one of the common people as you keep telling us. You have to take the only recourse open to a “common man”.
Arvind Kejriwal, say some, is a very shrewd tactician who has a clear roadmap. Therefore, right now he wants the Congress to withdraw support so that the Aam Aadmi Party falls. Then he can claim the moral high ground and return to the prime position of power without responsibility. Maybe. Or maybe, Kejriwal and the others just got caught in their own trap. By inviting the “common man” and “common woman” to join their movement and oust entrenched politicians, they did not bother to check either ideology or political understanding. To end corruption was their sole motivation. Tragically, being in government has to mean more than that.
As a result, the law minister Somnath Bharti has shown very clear racism and sexism in his behaviour and speeches, especially in his vigilante attack on Ugandans. Rakhi Birla has demonstrated a lack of maturity in her understanding of governance — hardly surprising since she is just 25. And Kumar Vishwas, who is apparently a poet or a stand up comic, has spent his career making rather uncharitable remarks about everyone. The latest revelation is an old speech where he commented that nurses from Kerala were too dark to be considered anything other than “sisters” unlike their more beautiful Northern counterparts.
One problem for Kerjiwal, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan — the brains behind this movement — is that the “common person” is chockfull of prejudices which are unfair, cruel and unacceptable in a democracy. Government has to rise above this — a lesson even the BJP has sort of understood in spite of the ingrained Sangh Parivar hatred of Muslims and other religious minorities and the Gujarat riots of 2002.
And then there’s the other thing: it’s not all about corruption. Yes, corruption has seeped into every corner of public and private life and it’s a scourge. Because it affects the system, you cannot stop the system entirely. There is too much at stake to do that. The only way is a parallel approach where you clean and you work at the same time. Did I really say that? It’s hard, hard, unimaginable work. So much easier to move your government to the streets, protest for some trumped up cause and then claim self-righteously that you will not work until your demands are met instantly.
The funny thing is, this is exactly what these three did with the India Against Corruption movement, turning Maharashtra social activist Anna Hazare into a mock Mahatma Gandhi. And it worked up to a point. People came in thousands, the UPA government at the Centre floundered and fumbled, Baba Ramdev ran away in a pink salwar kameez and everyone fasted. But unfortunately, the Lokpal did not get passed the way India Against Corruption wanted it to, the movement petered out, the Big Three split from Hazare and formed their political party.
In which light, this current agitation can also be seen as one more way to run away from it all. Regroup later after getting rid of some embarrassing elements and then try to milk the “common” person’s weaknesses once again.
India’s bigger political parties might yet have the last laugh. To pick up that old chestnut from Abraham Lincoln, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Or can you, if your name is Arvind Kejriwal?
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona