Tuesday, 21 January 2014


     What we are witnessing in Delhi today is historic-for the first time since Independence a legitimate political party has refused to play by the rules that all political parties in India have battened on for sixty-five years; for the first time a State govt. has taken on the Central govt. at its own doorstep; for the first time a Chief Minister and his entire Cabinet are sitting in protest in their own capital; for the first time their own police force is ranged against them in their thousands. The immediate reason for this may be the demand for the suspension of five police officials, but the actual reason is more basic, and fundamental to any democracy-- the accountability of the rulers to the ruled.
     The rulers are not just the politicians and the bureaucrats- they are also the larger constituency that benefits from the present status quo: the industrialists, the TV and news organisations, the " cogniscenti", the " glitteratti", the South Delhi socialites, the " intelligentsia" that makes a nice living by appearing nightly on TV panel discussions: in short, all those who are comfortable with the status quo. They have, with the assistance of disgruntled elements like Kiran Bedi and Captain Gopinath, unleashed a veritable barrage of abuse and condemnation against Kejriwal and his party over the last week, terming him a Dictator, Anarchist, Chief Protestor, Law-breaker and so on. It is because they feel genuinely threatened by the forces that the AAP has unleashed, the ethical standards that it has prescribed and demonstrated, the personal examples that its leaders have shown. Because they know that if these paradigms become the norm of a new India then the sand castles that these privileged reside in shall come crumbling down in no time.
    And so they accuse Kejriwal of not following prescribed conventions, protocol or procedure and thus encouraging anarchy. Let us look at just three of these alleged transgressions:
[1] Law Minister Somnath Bharti asking for a meeting of judicial officers of Delhi. What is improper about this? Isn't the judiciary a part of the government- funded, staffed, appointed by the state? Yes, it is operationally independent of the govt. ( as it should be) but it is certainly not a holy cow whose performance cannot be questioned, or monitored, by the people of this country through their elected representatives. The judiciary is meant to serve the people, just as the bureaucracy is, and it cannot have internal accountability only. An elected govt. has to have the right to review its performance, especially given the pathetic state of the disposal of cases in courts. In my view Mr. Bharti was within his rights to take a meeting of judicial officers to assess the shortcomings of the system( which is the first step to removing these shortcomings). Yes, he could have routed the request through the High Court, but this was a trivial error and certainly not the  grievous violation that the media made it out to be. To the contrary, the Law Minister should be lauded for his initiative in seeking to address the issue instead of washing his hands of it as ALL LAW MINISTERS OF THIS COUNTRY HAVE DONE SO FAR, as if the collapse of the judicial redressal system was no concern of the government!
[2] Subsidies on water and power to small consumers in Delhi( something for which Kejriwal has been contemptuously branded a populist). Really? The Central govt. dishes out more than 160000 crores worth of subsidy every year on just three schemes( Mid-day Meals, MNREGA and Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan). Just about every state gives subsidies on water and power. Here's something Mr. Arnab Goswami and his kind should consider: the Golf Club in New Delhi which has about 4000 privileged members( all of whom are now arraigned against Kejriwal) has been given 250 acres of the most expensive real estate in the country worth 60000 crores for a paltry lease of about Rs. 15 lakhs per annum. The annual return on Rs. 60000 crores should be at the very least Rs. 6000 crores: in effect, what this means is that every member of the Golf Club is being given a subsidy of Rs. 1.50 crores every year! The same is the case with the Gymkhana Club, another watering hole for the rich, the famous, and the now scared. According to the latest report of the RBI, the total non-performing assets (NPA) of the Banks in India is more than Rs. 1.60 lakh crores. NPA is just a euphemism for what the Vijay Mallyas and the Captain Gopinaths of the world owe to the aam aadmi( and refuse to pay) while flying all over the world in their private jets and pontificating in TV studios on the correct form of governance. Is it " populism" if indulged in by Kejriwal, and " entitlement" and " economic surge" when practiced by others ?
[3] Somnath Bharti's( Kejriwal's Law Minister) mid-night visit to Khirkee village has generated so much misinformation, ignorance of the law, reverse racism and hypocritical harangues that it is sickening. Shorne of all this, what does the entire incident amount to? Merely this: a Minister, in response to complaints by residents ( which are on record, as is the police inaction on them for months) of a locality personally visits the spot and asks the police to take immediate action by raiding the building where illegal activities are taking place. The police refuse and insult the Minister. This is the essence of the matter. All the rest- search warrants, lack of female police, racism, urinating in public, cavity search(!)[ the latest addition to the shrinking vocabulary of Ms. Meenakshi Lekhi] etc.- are red herrings and a smoke screen which no doubt the judicial Inquiry Commission shall see through. How was the Minister wrong in asking the police to take action? Is it a Minister's job to simply sit in an air-conditioned office and write on files?( a question which Kejriwal has asked and to which we are still waiting for an enlightened response from Ms. Barkha Dutt and gang). Does the police require a search warrant to enter a place where they have reason to believe that illegal activities are going on? Really, Mr. Salve? If so, then how do you explain their barging into the house in the Batla House encounter and shooting three people, WITHOUT A SEARCH WARRANT? Or their constant nocturnal forays into the poor whore-houses of GB Road whenever they are short of spending money?  
     No, sir, the opposition to Kejriwal from the BJP and the Congress, from the Arnab Goswamis, Rajdeep Sardesais, the Barkha Dutts, the Kiran Bedis, from the Editors of English dailies, from the captains of industry, from the Single Malts and Bloody Marys of Gymkhana and Golf Clubs, does not stem from any illegality or impropriety on his part, or from any ideological differences between them. It stems from their complete and total failure to comprehend what Kejriwal is and what he stands for. It stems also from the deep social divide between the upper crust of society( who are happy with the status quo where their money, power and contacts can ensure them a comfortable life) and the masses below them who have to daily bear the brunt of the system inspired corruption, harassment, inconvenience and indignity that the present dispensation guarantees them. This( hitherto unacknowledged and invisible) divide becomes clear when we compare the editorial slants of the English and Hindi channels in the coverage of the ongoing protests: the former are virulently anti AAP and only pop up panelists who support that view, while the latter appear to be more understanding of what AAP is trying to do.
   Those who are denouncing Kejriwal for being an autocrat, anarchist, activist and for protesting at Raisina Road are missing the most obvious point of his movement- THAT KEJRIWAL WILL NOT PLAY BY THEIR RULES ANY MORE. As they say in Las Vegas- you can't beat the house, because the dice are loaded against you. Everyone wants him to play with their set of dice( which they mysteriously call the Constitution and the CRPC!) but Kejriwal wants to play with his own dice, hence the confrontation. They want him to pass a joint resolution of the Assembly for bringing the police under the Delhi govt.-he's smart enough to see that the resolution will be thrown into the same waste paper basket where presumably the Ordinance on protecting convicted MPs was consigned by Rahul Gandhi. They want him to be a good boy and take his dharna to Jantar Mantar where all civilised protests begin and inevitably end, while the govt. of the day can get on with its gerrymandering uninterrupted-he knows that unless he disrupts the comfortable existence of the bourgeois he may as well relieve himself in the Yamuna for all the difference he will make. They want him to sit in the Secretariat and be guided by his bureaucrats and lose all touch with reality- he won't fall for this Pavlovian routine. They desperately want him to become one of them, red light, siren, gun-toting commandos, Lutyen's bungalow and all- he knows that if he falls for this he loses his USP and becomes just an intern in this hoary club of gnarled sinners. They want him to follow the script co-authored by all the political parties of the day, not one excluded, because this script contains an agreed-upon plot, wherein politicians make noises but don't act against each other, wherein corruption is just a sound-bite, where dynastic succession is a silently accepted sine qua non, where no one is interested in finding out whether the hundreds of proved Swiss bank accounts contain anything other than Swiss chocolates- Kejriwal, however, wants to write his own script with substantial inputs from the aam aadmi, not from the Ambanis or the Radias or the Shobhna Bhartias. They want him to talk about corruption but not do anything about it, something Manish Tewari's poetic flair would term " willing to wound but afraid to strike", an attitude as old as Chanakya and Kautilya which offers all of us a catharsis via the good offices of Arnab Goswami and little else- but Kejriwal is no respecter of Machiavelli or Chanakya, his vocabulary is limited because he can only call a spade a spade, he is colour blind because he can only see in black and white( the shades of greys can be left for the likes of Manu Singhvi), and therefore he insists on striking, not just talking.
   Is there any cause for surprise, therefore, at why the present dispensation, both in and out of government, is rattled by this five foot four inch " insect" from Ghaziabad? He is neither fish nor fowl, he defies understanding. The establishment has made the supreme mistake of trying to counter him by quoting the rules of the game( loaded in the former's favour, naturally!) they are past masters of- but Kejriwal has changed the rules, and now they don't know how to control him or neutralise him. For the time being only Kejriwal knows the new rules, and he is springing them on the carpet baggers one by one, catching them by surprise all the time.
    Forget the English TV channels-they rarely get anything right. Forget the Manish Tewaris, the Kiran Bedis, the FICCI spokespersons, the Minakshi Lekhis- they are either scared witless or rank opportunists. What they all do have in common, however, is that they have failed to see how the common man-the aam aadmi-are gathering behind this dimunitive man with the perpetual cough. The sincerity, integrity and commitment of this man is phenomenal, his capacity to harness the anger and frustration of the people is limitless. His defiance of accepted conventions and interpretations is not anarchy- it is nothing short of a revolution. When the people have had enough of injustice, callousness and indignity, they will not play by the rules of the rulers-they will make new rules. The French Revolution would not have happened if the existing rules had been followed. Tehrir Square would not have happened if everyone swore by the old rules. Changing the rules, Mr. Home Minister, is not anarchy-it is the beginning of a people's revolution. The sooner we realise this the less pain in the transition, the less violence. No matter how the stand-off in Delhi ends- capitulation by the Home Minister and the Police, withdrawal of support by the Congress, imposition of President's Rule, police violence on the protesters and their eviction- one thing is certain: Kejriwal is going nowhere. He, and his paradigms, are here to stay and haunt our rulers. With his uncanny understanding of the pulse of the people he has re-written the rules of politics and governance.There are now only two options Kejriwal has left the ruling class- either they change, or the people will change them. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014


          Arvind Kejriwal is the most under-rated man in India today- even now, even after he has staged the spectacular coup in Delhi. Most political parties consider him a flash in the pan: the Congress sees him as a limited urban phenomenon which will have no effect on its traditional rural votebanks  nurtured by the politics of " entitlement"; the Samajwadi Party and BSP still feel secure in their carefully woven cocoons of religion and caste, respectively; the likes of AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha and TMC in West Bengal are confident that the regional broth they have been cooking in their states has no place for any other ingredient; and the BJP, still smarting at being denied power in Delhi, is so far into denial mode that it refuses to even recognise the Aam Admi Party(AAP) as anything but the B team of the Congress! In short, they all see Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, as nothing but a latter day Bahadur Shah Zafar, whose writ does not prevail beyond the Yamuna.
        The facts tell a completely different story. What they tell us is that Kejriwal is a brilliant tactician, a master of guerrilla warfare who has completely routed the overwhelmingly superior forces of the Congress and the BJP by skilfully changing the rules of engagement. In the process he has caught the imagination of the entire nation and resurrected the hope that change IS possible. It is not only the issues he took up, but the manner in which he took them up, the personal demonstration of his beliefs, that made the difference in Delhi. Here's a list of what he did differently:
*  Total identification with the " aam aadmi"- in dress, language, uncompromising candour, the company he kept, consulting the " mohalla" on every issue, the whole tenor of his campaign. He did not hold huge rallies( like Modi) but walked the streets or drove in auto-rickshaws( not SUVs) to talk to people in THEIR houses; he was grateful for a donation of even ten rupees; he was beaten up outside police stations and VIP bungalows and arrested when reconnecting meters of labourers who were given electricity bills of Rs. 20000 for a month; he was rubbished day in and day out by TV anchors and all political parties. He personified, gradually, the harassed, vilified, exploited, unheard "aam aadmi" who saw in him, and through him, their chance to get even with the fat cat politicians and bureaucrats.
*   Making corruption the corner-stone of his political message. He saw, perhaps as no one else did, that, while the Material was still important for the voter, it was the erosion of the MORAL essence of the nation- exemplified by corruption-that evoked a deep anger, frustration and desire for change. His master-stroke was to take on both, the Congress and the BJP, on this as there was indeed little to differentiate them on this. He was rewarded by claiming a substantial part of both their vote shares.
*   Total transparency- in funding, selection of candidates, decision making. An unheard of phenomenon in ALL our political parties, it further reinforced the people's faith in him as walking the talk. These features were put to the test repeatedly -fake sting operations, special audit of his foreign donations, dropping of a candidate for having a case registered against him- but Kejriwal stood his ground, gaining even more credibility.
*   Attracting thousands of volunteers to spread his message. His party/movement/campaign-call it what you will-was supported on the shoulders of people who believed in the message, not people whose belief was proportional to what they were paid to spread it! And these volunteers were not musclemen or rent-a rabble types( the mainstay of all political parties), but students, IITians,NRIs, retired public servants, private sector execs on a sabbatical. Their faith in the AAP could not but be contagious.
*   Selection of candidates. Till Kejriwal muddied the waters, the democratic process in India was initiated by a party thrusting a candidate on the voter-take it or leave it. No reason was ever proffered for choosing or rejecting a person.For the first time ever Kejriwal announced a check list of criteria for screening the applications. He also introduced a kind of " primaries" where the short list was generated by the voters themselves: they therefore " owned" the candidate -he was their candidate in the true sense. Nothing else can explain the victory of AAP nominees( pitted against mainstream stalwarts and multiple-time MLAs and Ministers) whose names one had never heard of. Rakhi Birla? Saurabh Bharadwaj? Would any other party have even considered them for a ticket?
*   Complete and unambiguous rejection of the VIP culture that the people have come to detest with a visceral loathing that only Kejriwal could assess accurately. He confronted it with a simplicity of demeanor and personal conduct that took one back to the days of Gandhi, Acharya Kriplani and Jaiprakash Narayan-a reminder of what real democracy once was, and could be again, if the usurpers could be shown the door. It was a powerful appeal, especially to the young and the professionals who are no respecters of the in-your -face arrogance that has become the hallmark of the so called "people's representatives" today.
        The success of the " Kejriwal package" should not be seen only in the 30% vote share or the 28 seats he garnered in Delhi. Its true success-and future implication and promise-lies in the manner in which it has instantaneously changed the political narrative and public attitudes of our rulers. The BJP forewent the   support of four MLAs in Delhi and sulked in the Opposition benches, whereas earlier it could have purchased them in to time at all ; Sheila Dikshit started the process of moving out of her palatial bungalow within days of losing office; Vasundra Raje voluntarily reduced her security entourage ( and yesterday announced her decision to move to a less palatial residence) ; the Lok Pal Bill was passed in two weeks by the same Party that had stalled it for twenty years; Rahul Gandhi, no less, publicly stated that there was a lot his party needed to learn from the AAP; the Congress was forced to go back on its earlier decision of rejecting the Adarsh Commission report; the Haryana Chief Minister has declared a reduction in electricity tariff, and Maharashtra will follow suit any day, forced to follow the AAP's pitch in Delhi.  These are not isolated events but straws in a wind that is in fact the Kejriwal effect. They are welcome harbingers of a gradual change initiated by the victory of AAP in Delhi, and the ripples are moving out of Delhi in ever widening circles, engulfing the dinosaurs that have ruled this country for decades.
     The AAP victory in Delhi contains other positive indicators of the paradigm shift we are witnessing in our polity. It convincingly demolished age-old myths relating to elections in India, myths which justified practices that have corrupted and eaten away the very essence of democracy in our country. For example, Kejriwal  completely eschewed calculations of caste, religion or region in both the selection of his party's candidates or the manner in which he campaigned, catching veteran politicians, psephologists and TV anchors-who can conceive of no other matrix for elections-by total surprise. And the AAP succeeded hugely in its attempt to show that elections need not be held hostage to these factors-both SP and BSP failed to win a single seat; even better, their vote shares declined massively, indicating that even their presumed " captive " vote banks did not vote for them!  The Congress, which believes that it holds a Power of Attorney for all Muslims minorities and " weaker sections" fared even worse- not one of its candidates from these constituencies won. This has forced theMayawatis, Mulayams and Lalus of this world to go back to the drawing board, a withdrawal which can have only a positive fallout.                                                                                              To take another example, AAP contested 70 seats on a budget of Rs. 20 crore only( Rs. 2 crore was saved even out of this!). This works out to just Rs. 25 lakhs per seat, a figure with which no self respecting party in India would even think of contesting a Gram Pradhan seat! Kejriwal has effectively demonstrated that CLEAN politics is possible, if only our main parties have the will to stop tapping black money, that it is not necessary to bribe voters or ply them with hooch to earn their loyalty. Can anything be more telling than that a party just 15 months old with 20 crores in its kitty humbled two parties with a combined age of 100 years and coffers overflowing with declared funds of almost 4000 crores? If this is not the beginning of a non-violent revolution, then I fail to see what it is.
    AAP has shown that political parties do not have to ghetto-ise the electorate, carve them into separate components, create divisions among them, to win elections. Kejriwal has forcefully demonstrated that a party CAN appeal to ALL sections and classes of people- urban/rural, rich/poor, majority/minority, upper/lower caste, employed/unemployed- with a message that cuts across these artificial distinctions behind which all major parties have been hiding all these years. The voting pattern in Delhi proves this- he has been backed by a genuine cross section of all the categories above, and his appeal is not limited to any one of them. If even the super-rich of South Delhi who rarely come out of their BMWs to rub shoulders with the proletariat stood in line to caste their vote for an unknown ex-software engineer who bearded the lion's cub in the latter's own den, surely there is a strong message here? That the voter of India has finally been released from the shackles of an imposed identity and is now free to vote for a party that transcends such labelling?
    Make no mistake- the Agenda for the 2014 elections is now being set by the Aam Aadmi Party. All major and regional parties are desperately scrambling to reinvent themselves in the image of Arvind Kejriwal and his team. ( And that is where the real success of AAP is to be found- politics in India will never be the same again). Publicly, mainstream parties are in denial mode, but they are worried at the resurgence in the passion which the AAP is evoking across the country-hundreds of thousands of volunteers are joining the " monsoon insect" from Ghaziabad and the Modi wave is being replaced by the Kejriwal tsunami. Derisively dismissed as a Delhi phenomenon, the AAP is now being wooed in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, UP, and by the Left. 
     The Congress has already lost the 2014 elections. Till a month ago the BJP and Modi were the clear favourites, but Delhi has changed all that. Kejriwal has stopped the Modi juggernaut not just in Delhi but across the country-there is now a real possibility that the NDA will fall well short of the 200 mark. Here are some facts:
* Delhi, and the response in Bangalore, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Jaipur to name just a few, have shown that the AAP has tremendous appeal in the metros and urban areas. There are about 200 urban Parliamentary constituencies and AAP will almost certainly be contesting most of them. That is bad news for the BJP which was relying on them to reach the magic figure. If AAP can get even half the vote share in these towns that it got in Delhi ( a distinct possibility) Modi would have lost the war.
* North India was where the NDA was hoping to increase its tally: unfortunately, that is precisely the area where the Kejriwal effect will be most felt. The constituencies around Delhi- in UP and Haryana, particularly- are Kejriwal's to lose, in my opinion. After Muzzafarpur the Muslims are likely to desert the SP in hordes: most are likely to go to Mayawati, but a substantial number, fed up of both, will gravitate to the AAP. So will a fair percentage of the BSP's scheduled caste vote bank, if Delhi is anything to go by. The more liberal and educated Hindus, who had given up on both the Congress and the SP and had reluctantly decided to support the BJP for want of an alternative, now have one in the AAP. The combined effect of all this is bound to reduce the BJP's vote share in the state.
* That the AAP is now actively thinking of alliances in some states( with the Left and smaller regional parties) will also significantly dent the BJP's expected vote share as it will deny the the latter the votes that shall now move away from the Congress, and which the BJP was hoping to garner. Bi-polar  contests, where the BJP and the Congress faced each other one-on-one, would definitely have suited the former, but a tri-polar one with the AAP being the third pole would not. That, essentially, was the difference between Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh-Chhatisgarh and Delhi in the recent elections. There will not be many bi-polar gifts for the BJP this time around.
     It is a distinct possibility that the AAP shall capture 30-35 seats in Parliament ( seven of them shall come from Delhi itself, given the manner in which the BJP is demonstrating its pettiness there, nitpicking on a daily basis on the nature of Congress support to the AAP, allotment of houses and cars to the new Ministers, wild allegations of money-bags brokering deals to form the AAP government- being a bad loser is one thing, but being a stupid one is worse. The BJP is just refusing to learn any lessons from its humbling in Delhi. And matters for the BJP can only get worse, once Kejriwal starts digging into the alleged corruption in the four Municipal Corporations). These seats can only come at the cost of the BJP to whom they would have gone had there been no AAP in the fray. If this happens it will seal the fate of Modi and the BJP.
    With 30 or so seats in Parliament, AAP may well be the single largest party outside of the big two. To my mind, it will then become the natural choice to head the Third Front for three reasons. First, it will be the only party from this group to have a truly national footprint, all the others being one state wonders: being far more representative of the nation, the AAP will have a greater claim to head a national coalition government. Second, AAP does not yet have the inter-party baggage of mutual rivalries and competing egos that the others carry: Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi, Mamta and the Left, Mulayam and Mayawati, Nitish and Lalu. It will therefore be easier for these worthies to extend support to Kejriwal than to any one of each other. Third, the groundswell of support for Kejriwal will only grow ( just as it had for Modi) forcing the other leaders to fall in line. With 30 seats in the the AAP's bag the people of India would have found an alternative to the BJP and the Congress.
    Arvind Kejriwal as Prime Minister of India?
    In 2008 people were asking: Barack Obama as President of the USA?
    Res ipsa loquitor.