I am surprised at the extreme emotions Arvind Kejriwal generates for or against him within intellectual circles and journalists from Left to Right. There are wink-wink, I told you so, kind of comments by Congress leaders, as if, politics, especially governance, is the sole preserve of Congress party, and more particularly, a particular clan.
There are relieved Leftists who feel happy that Arvind Kejriwal has been able to save his soul from communal bodies like RSS and other ‘rightist’ formations and individuals. There are well-meaning activists and thinkers who are dismayed that the Anna-Arvind Kejriwal have split and that Arvind Kejriwal has joined the political system that he was decrying vociferously so far, thus weakening a social movement for eradication of corruption and also being at risk of being steam rolled by the political system.
There are alarmists who feel that he has betrayed the ‘cause’. Columns and columns of web and paper are being exhausted daily by different news portals and newspapers. Granted that we Indians are emotional people, but is the act of Arvind Kejriwal is of so earth shaking that it should invite such extreme emotions? I beg to differ. Let us take a detached view of this entire affair:
Is he the first person to start a movement against corruption? No.
Is he the first person to launch a political party that is rooted in ideology? No.
Is he the first person who began as a well-meaning social activist but ended up on the other side of the fence as a political leader? No.
Did he do enough homework at organization level before he launched the party? No.
Does he have a clear agenda to cleanse the system and establish a new order in spite of releasing his vision document? No, not yet.
Let us also for a moment, look at his track record so far. Without any risk of contradiction we can say that he is a highly qualified engineer, with 10 years of a reasonably successful dedicated service to the society, a person who successfully raised a grumbling cacophony against corruption to a high decibel reasonably sized mass movement. From his views and responses, it is again, reasonable to conclude that he has leftist leanings, which is not a crime.
If this is the check list of his actions, then why is a ‘doomsday’ or ‘sunrise’ type of scenario being painted by critics and fans?
To elaborate the above points a little, we all know that the first mass movement against corruption erupted in 1970s in Gujarat (Navnirman Andolan) that grew on to become a ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ movement headed by legendary Jaiprakash Narain, who had forsaken politics in favour of social work but was persuaded by many activists to lead a movement that had huge political backing. He succeeded in throwing off the corrupt regime of Late Indira Gandhi. Subsequent developments only underline the age old truth that it is easier to be incorruptible when there are not enough chances to be corrupt, but very difficult to stay honest when you are offered goodies on a platter.
Many political parties have been launched with high ideological commitment. A few of them were spawned by erstwhile Congress members immediately after independence, including Socialist Party that splintered into unrecognizable multiple socialist parties. Swatantra Party, the first truly rightist party in India based on capitalist ideology.
Communists never believed in parliamentary democracy as their revolt in Andhra Pradesh immediately after independence showed. They too joined the democratic system by forming Communist Party, though the revolt left behind seeds for today’s Naxalite movement. Shri M S Golwalkar, Chief of RSS in 1948 when it was banned, was of the firm belief that politics alone cannot bring in positive change for the society; but was persuaded by circumstances and colleagues to support formation of a nationalist party, Jan Sangh. The only mainstream political party that was not formed by ex- Congress people, hence a virtual outcaste even today. It was a purely ideology driven party. Thus, to fear that ideology based parties have no future in Indian politics is ill founded. What one needs is a dedicated cadre, patience and hard work to succeed to create an impact.
My third point is an extension of the second point. Loksatta Party is a recent example of a social movement converting itself into a political party. Loksatta Andolan began as a movement against corruption with clear ideas about changing or reforming the system. It worked in social field for nearly 10 years and, in fact, succeeded in getting many of its ideas implemented like disclosure of political candidates’ assets, RTI etc. They have a very clearly defined agenda for change available on their website. Their decision to go political was not driven by ego or pique but with much deliberation within its members. The founder of the party, incidentally, another Jaiprakash Narayan is an ex-IAS officer with great track record as an IAS officer and later as a social activist. So, Arvind Kejriwal is not the first to breach this wall.
Critical issues start with the fourth point. Has he done enough homework? He has not. He and his group received spontaneous support from masses. (I don’t believe that his support base is only middle class city folks). He and his group became a phenomenon courtesy media. He mistook this media created hype as his real mass base. No organization can survive on the basis of media support alone, which can be fickle as he has seen now. One needs organization to catch the momentary enthusiasm and generate longer lasting energy. This is the big challenge he faces and this is where he will really suffer if he becomes too ambitious without organizational plans and hopes to take on political class at all India level.
Does he have clear idea about how to go about cleaning the system? His vision document shows he doesn’t have clearly crafted ideas. They are anarchist, village republic kind of ideas. If he were to pick up Loksatta Party’s manifesto, or join hands with them, he would have come up with a much better document and much clearer plans. A serious shortcoming of a self professed principled person is his inability to take people along and be flexible. In his failure to cash on the hype generated by Janlokpal agitation by accepting the Lokpal bill presented in Parliament, he lost a golden opportunity to make people believe that they can get results with unity of purpose. This could have generated great energy for all future movements.
Why do Indian political parties split like amoeba and multiply like rabbits? They are too individualistic, too driven by ego. Otherwise, why couldn’t two movements like Loksatta and Arvind Kejriwal’s movement work together when all the aims and objectives are nearly same? Arvind Kejriwal’s party is supposedly 1061st political party since independence! If such well meaning citizen groups work together, there are some chances of bringing in changes even if they don’t become ruling parties, a rare possibility anyways. Such naïve and egotist attitude is the reason why veteran political party like Congress can slowly nudge people like Arvind Kejriwal into a position where they fall into their trap. In this case, Arvind Kejriwal seems to have been cornered into a situation that left him no choice but to join politics or abandon his ideals, which he couldn’t.
Problem is not his joining politics, but joining an unequal fight on a battle ground chosen by an adversary political system. A field where chances of success are low, fight too drawn out to make a difference in people’s life in immediate future.
Another problem that he faces is that of political bias. His leftist leanings that don’t allow him to reach out to people who have a different perspective rooted in Indian ethos. It is again a mind game played successfully by his adversaries, separating him from like minded people fighting for cleansing the system and wishing to see a prosperous and strong Bharat i.e. India. Lack of inclusive temperament can hurt him in the long run in this political war. I dearly hope that he shows a little flexibility in getting people together in his quest for change in political system.
But, let us not pre-judge him, let us not ‘coach’ him, let us not write him off; and nor hope to see him on the top in near future. It is a long drawn battle, so let us hope he creates his own political space in future, learning on way.
(Ratan Sharda is a citizen journalist. He has authored books like 'Secrets of RSS'. A marketing consultant by profession, Mr. Sharda is a keen observer of the country's political scenario.)