Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Curious Case of Arvind Kejriwal

The rise of Arvind Kejriwal is an interesting development in the current Indian social and political scene. But when we analyse his journey from the time of his leaving a Govt. job to a social activist to forming Aam Aadmi Party to the chair of the Chief Minister of Delhi (and also leaving it) to his foray into the next Lok Sabha election – we find that for all his purist rhetoric, idealist posture and talks of brining systemic change to Indian politics and governance, ironically in many ways, he exactly mirrors the qualities he criticises in his opponents. Arvind Kejriwal is a clever strategist and an ambitious & opportunist politician, who is ready to do anything to stay in the news for free publicity and increase his appeal nationwide. That is how he had built one of the most highly visibility movement in recent Indian history and used it for fulfilling his own political ambition. For all his talks of extreme transparencies, virtuous processes and absolute truths, he can be very economical with truth himself. Also team work and consensus building is clearly not his forte.  This is what has made him destroy the movement he had built and also the opportunity to usher in a new era of a truly “Aam Aadmi Govt.”  in Delhi and making an impact on the quality of politics in the country.


Let’s first check how he left govt. service. While serving as a Joint Commissioner in the Income Tax dept.  under the Ministry of Finance, he went on a paid leave for some study from 1st Nov’ 2000 to 31st Oct’2002. The condition for such leave was that the employee (Kejriwal) must serve continuously for at least 3 years after his return, failing which he must pay back the salary he drew over two years with penalty.  He executed a bond to this effect, with witnesses and guarantors. Kejriwal re-joined duty on 1st Nov’2002 but almost immediately again went on 18 months leave without pay and did not serve continuously. He resigned in February 2006.  As he had jumped bond, his resignation was not accepted.  The Income Tax Dept. sent him a notice in 2007 and again in 2008 asking him to pay up his salary that he drew during his leave under the bond. But Kejriwal, who was by then became a social activist, expected the govt. to relax the above clause and refused to pay up. He wanted the govt. to waive off his dues and deduct from his retirement benefits. After sending several notice finally the Govt. sent him an ultimatum to pay up before 27th Oct’2011, failing which he would not be relieved from his job and he would not get his retirement benefits. And that attachment of his property and criminal action could also follow. Mr. Kejriwal termed it an attempt to create obstacles to his agitation against corruption. When he did not respond by 27th Oct, the dept. asked his guarantors to pay. Mr. Kejriwal pleaded that his friends should not be disturbed. When it became clear that the govt. would initiate proceedings, he announced on 30th Oct’ 2011 that he would borrow from his friends and pay the dues of Rs.9.28 lakh. He wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on 3rd Nov’2011 enclosing the cheque. This is how the activist Arvind Kejriwal was born.


Even as he was serving in the Income Tax Department, he gathered a group of like-minded people and started the NGO called “Parivartan” in Delhi. Through this NGO, his group tried to curb graft by helping people navigate the hurdles of Income Tax, Electricity and food ration matters etc. In 2001, the Delhi RTI Act was implemented. This gave Arvind a readymade issue and so he quickly shifted his focus from corruption to RTI to set things right in MCD and other civic bodies. As the organisation grew, Kejriwal became its sole face and unilateral authority, while other members felt ignored and left out. As Kejriwal expanded his reach in other networks like the NCPRI, funding became an issue. Parivartan was still a campaign and not a registered NGO or trust that could apply for funds or grants. This is when he told the group that he already had an NGO registered by the name “Kabir” and it just needed to be activated and they can get funds. In Parivartan, the rule was that nobody would earn a salary more than Rs 15,000 a month. There were people who left the organisation after Kejriwal refused to give them a salary hike even though he was reportedly taking fellowships from some institutions, including the Centre for Equity Studies. This rule was never followed in his case, his associates say. This is when some of the old timers decided to leave Parivartan. Post Kabir, it became messy and objectives of the campaign seemed to have taken a back seat. The not so credible organization, Ford Foundation has since been a generous contributor of funds to Kabir, giving it nearly $569,000 between 2006 and 2011. But a request for audit of the funds of Kabir by his associates was turned down by Kejriwal and he was always secretive about the income and expenditure of the organization. Working in tandem with activists of the NCPRI, Kejriwal became a regular at World Bank and UN events and contrary to the norms of the organization, he would not consult the team before going for any such meetings. Also, with his strong media management skills, he suddenly became RTI's face in Delhi. He approached Indu Jain, proprietor of the Times of India and became a partner in a one-year-long campaign on RTI.  A  RTI Manch was established in Delhi and Kejriwal wanted to take all the credit for its work. Around that time he got in touch with other activists, including Sandeep Pandey, who recommended him for a Magsaysay Award. His associates say that “Kejriwal did not work as much for the nationwide RTI Act as people believe. There was more hype than anything of substance. There were huge differences, with good people distancing themselves”. After Magsaysay, he was least interested in works of the NGO and rarely came to office. He then started hobnobbing for his friends and associates to get them plum postings in the newly set up Central Information Commission (CIC) in Delhi. He proposed Manish Sisodia's name for the post of independent commissioner in the CIC through backdoor channels but this did not materialise, as Sisodia lacked the experience. He also pitched for Shailesh Gandhi, who was later appointed. However, Kejriwal developed differences with Gandhi on many issues. With the Magsaysay money, he started a trust, Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF). It was this trust which organised RTI awards in five star hotels with corporate funding, involving media groups like NDTV and Dainik Jagran, with active support of film stars like Aamir Khan. This was shocking for many veterans, including the late editor of Jansatta, Prabhash Joshi, who said that if one starts taking money from corporates, it would defeat the whole purpose of RTI. Meanwhile, Kejriwal refused to part with information on an application by a Delhi based RTI activist, seeking details of funding and expenditure on RTI awards. It was, if not legal, a moral question, for all those who talk of RTI petitions. Kabir and PCRF gave ambiguous details. By now, as is the pattern, his interest in RTI diminished. As per his old associates, his group started saying that there's nothing left in RTI and this is why, when CBI was taken out of the ambit of RTI, Kejriwal did not protest. This dogmatic, obsessive, media-savvy campaigner has a history of taking up one issue after another and dumping them as easily. The irony is, he never takes them to a logical conclusion. He opportunistically uses forces which can be fascist or corporate, but he does not care. Kejriwal has no principles, no ideological scaffolding, no clear moral vision. He can align with anybody and he cares two hoots. He attracts good people, but when they don't fit in his scheme of things, they are dumped. He constantly wants media attention and is impatient, authoritarian, obstinate and tolerates no dissent. He wants things done only his myopic way – he basically hates democratic opinion, dissent and norms of democracy. At Ramlila Ground it was a common refrain that one can't meet Anna Hazare without Kejriwal's  yes. The other joke was, Anna can't break his fast without Kejriwal's yes.


By now, after  a decade of activism had made Arvind Kejriwal more ambitious for larger issues and bigger glory. The Year 2010-11 was the year of scam in India – the CWG scam, the 2G scam and the Adarsh Housing scam etc. came into public domain. The common people of the country, who were already reeling under price rise, rampant corruption and a downward curve of economy reducing opportunity for livelihood – were showing signs of pent-up anger towards the system. This was the Rang De Basanti  moment Kejriwal was waiting for. He, however, recognised that to launch a large scale agitation against corruption he would need many things - symbols, glue, amplifiers. Arvind went to people he knew could mobilise huge masses. This is when he approached Anna Hazare - aware of the fact that, he would resonate for middle-class Indians as a sort of modern day Gandhi.   Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev, founder of Art of Living Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Ex Police Commissioner Kiran Bedi, Justice Santosh Hegre, Medha Patkar,  RTI activist S C Agrawal and many such personalities with clean track record of fighting against some form of injustice and with some followers – all came together on a single platform, what has then become famous as India Against Corruption (IAC) to  persuade/pressurise the government to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill.


From day one, Arvind Kejriwal was a man in a hurry and the IAC movement was ratcheted up in promises, expectation and assault. Social movements can’t be run like that - they take time and unfold slowly. If someone has to overturn old, set systems, he must have patience and the moral muscle to fight a long battle. But as Kejriwal had built his movement on short-term goals and expectations, it was almost inevitable that it would falter soon. Many, like Medha Patkar, had also pointed out that the success of social movements cannot be measured through short-term goals like the ones IAC set for itself - “give us the Lokpal Bill of our choice in the next 10 days or else…”. But Kejriwal’s failure and success are inextricably bound. Having tuned himself so loud, he was unable to back down. He couldn’t seem to accept that no Bill would get passed without building either some degree of political consensus or much larger people’s participation to put pressure on the political class. He couldn’t seem to see that in August last year and an opportunity  to leverage what he had already won, had been lost.  Kejriwal was able to garner public support and hope on his movement like never before in recent history.  He was also able to corner the Govt, Political class and bureaucracy in acknowledging the people’s power and wish for a change in political and governance culture. Yet, he seemed to be incapable of doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. By insisting on his too ideologist and selfish positions and promises, he decimated the entire movement. It’s a loss for all nationalistic Indians who believed in this movement to rid this nation of corruption, mis governance and a mediaeval political system.


Kejriwal’s sudden decision to float a political party resulted in the decimation of the social movement that Anna Hazare started under India Against Corruption (IAC) umbrella.  According to Kejriwal, that movement out lived its utility and achieved the dual purpose of exposing the government’s injustice in the eyes of the public and also prepared the public for the next stage of the battle. But was this next stage pre decided by him when he joined the movement and that his ultimate aim was to jump into active politics and take a shot at power? But he denies that and claims that the decision to turn the movement into a political party was spurred by popular demand. But a number of IAC core committee members say that the idea of going political was seriously discussed at a meeting on 22 April’2013, a good three months before Kejriwal’s announcement and that several of them opposed it.  Justice Santosh Hegde, another key Team Anna member, also admitted that he was against starting a party and was not consulted about the decision. He said “I cannot tell you how much I regret the disbanding of this movement. The Lokpal Bill that was under consideration in Parliament was not everything we wanted, but it was 70 percent there. We could have accepted it and slowly built pressure to amend it bit by bit. But I think some psephologist told Kejriwal that there is an Anna wave in the air, so you can win if you float a political party”.


After the Delhi assembly election which resulted in a fractured mandate with no party getting a simple majority to form the Govt., an impression was created by a section of the media and pseudo secular intellectuals that the Aam Aadmi Party enjoyed the support of 2.2 crore Delhiites. But It got only 29 per cent of the votes, which means 71 per cent of voters rejected it. Hence, the formation of an alliance in Delhi between the party, which "professed to cleanse Indian politics” - AAP and “the most corrupt political party atleast in India" - Congress, was apparently based on the age old principle that “Enemy of your enemy is your Friend”.  But Power is the ultimate ambition for most politicians and Arvind Kejriwal  has proved it once again. What an irony – he, who spoke of bringing a culture of alternative politics has now partnered with the same adulterous politics. AAP’s birth was by ditching Anna Hazare & his movement half way and then AAP’s coming to power, was by ditching the very voters, who voted it for an alternative. Kejriwal wanted to take full benefit of the mandate he got and all this SMS, E-mail drama were only to fool the public. How can a man of principle, who had declared unequivocally, that he would not give or take support of Congress could suddenly change by this fake SMS and E-mail referendum?   Kejriwal  has demonstrated in this initial stage of his entry into politics, that he is a politician without any value and ideology. By accepting the support of the corrupt Congress, his promise to the voters of providing corruption free governance was defeated. Is there any difference between the political ambitions of Mulayam, Mayabati and Kejriwal - none at all. All of them shout & scream against Congress infront of their supporters and public in general. But when it comes to forming/saving a Govt., they stand together with Congress, giving some excuses like keeping communal forces at bay or as Kejriwal’s new excuse that the Aam Aadmi wanted it to form govt.  Electoral mandate is one of pragmatism rather than idealism, which proved to be a tricky balancing act for Kejriwal,  whose carefully nurtured public image has always been the other way round. He promised so many things in manifesto – but promising is easy and implementation is difficult. Given the manner in which he and his party had attacked all political parties, accusing them of betraying the trust of the people, he was expected to deliver on his promises double quick once he took over the govt. However, if Kejriwal had bitten the bullet, it was not without his own assessment of a cost-benefit analysis. He had about 75 days to make his moves before the Lok Sabha election code kicks in around end beginning March.  Therefore, it was clear from the beginning that AAP would aim to implement its promises in a hurry so that it could go back to the electorate in a couple of months and say – look we did it – and seek a better majority. So it enacted the drama  of 50% cut on electricity tariff, 700 litres per day water to families with water meter, started regularising the illegal colonies and above all tried to legislate an anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill in an unconstitutional manner. But in doing so, AAP promised to implement exactly the kind of mind-numbing populist schemes that the Congress is famous for – never mind what fiscal prudence dictates. If Congress is run like a feudal family business, AAP is like a populist khap with no direction beyond populism. So on the 14th of February’2014, the nation witnessed for the first time in the history of India, the irresponsible, shameless and brazen act by an Indian Chief Minister of himself making his own Govt. collapse.  Knowing very well that he was not capable of keeping his commitments and taking the wild allegations he made against all and sundry to their logical conclusions, Arvind Kejriwal was in the lookout for an escape route to run away from responsibilities. If he would have wanted to change the system, he needed guts to fight. He had a chance as Chief Minister to usher in a new era of a truly “Aam Aadmi Govt.” and improve the life of millions of Aam Aadmi of Delhi. However he was more interested in “Lok Sabha” than in “Lok Pal”. Finding that Governance is an altogether different cup of tea, Kejriwal had brilliantly orchestrated his own downfall, crying wolf and playing the role of a victim, hoping to win sympathy that will propel him to the upcoming Lok Sabha and positions of power. But he has left a feeling in the common people that only stability brings growth & riches. Activists come with personal ambition & agenda, to establish themselves at the cost of common men’s interest. They waste precious taxpayer's money, stop critical growth and leave common men in the lurch. What Kejriwal and AAP are doing is manipulating the emotions of common man to gain political mileage and has no progressive plan for the nation.  Therefore, he has to invent a new fight or a new crisis or a new controversy every day to stay relevant in the minds of Indian voters.  His ultimate aim was and is to win 40 odd seats in the next Lok Sabha election and then either become a king maker or the king himself. Thus he was never interested in providing long term good governance in Delhi with hard work, sincerity and perseverance by fighting the system and brings about systemic change logically, legally and gradually.  Hence, he used Delhi for his martyrdom, so that he can take birth again as a national leader and the only messiah for the common man of this country by showing dreams to the gullible “Aam Aadmi”. 


Kejriwal has morphed from “Crusader against Corruption” to a “Political Compromiser”. His opportunistic streak now stands stretched to national political ambitions in a misplaced reading of the initial euphoria created by his promises of a corruption free, just and equitable governing system under an all-encompassing Jan Lokpal. But his and his kitchen cabinet’s arrogance has reached such sky high that they are unable to realize that AAP is a sinking ship now and one by one all independent & right thinking people including founding members are deserting it. He is arrogant enough to call everyone corrupt, likes to make slanderous charges against rival politicians, is always eager for a street fight and a mild provocation away from another dharna. But the line between a revolutionary and an anarchist is thin. Kejriwal’s overdoes act of this activist politics of mobocracy and anarchism has reduced him to an irritant and he is no longer a symbol of hope and aspiration of  Aam Aadmi of this nation. Building a people’s movements is a difficult job. But building a truly people oriented, democratic, honest and transparent political party is even more difficult job. It’s high time,  he realizes that when one is shaping the future of a nation and it’s 120 cr people, honesty, patience and a selfless vision is what, required of a people’s revolutionary.  In that sense, Kejriwal is not really different from the run-of-the-mill politicians. He too, does not practice what he preaches. Or is there one vital difference?  That  while other politicians are merely hypocritical and cynical, Kejriwal, in addition to these traits, also has immense disdain for the Aam Aadmi?