Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fallen From Grace

This year’s general election in India is going to be a landmark one.

One that will change the course of Indian politics forever. It’s also going to be one of the most hotly-followed, eagerly-anticipated and keenly-analyzed (microscopically dissected, I dare say) elections for some time to come.

First, the disclaimer! I am not an ‘expert’ on political affairs, I may not even be counted amongst the amateurs! But yes, I do have an opinion and that’s just what this is.

The reasons for all of this hype in these elections …are just two. Well, it was just one reason, till a few months back – for quite a while, the talk was only all about BJP’s Narendra Modi and the Gujarat success model (or failure model, depending on which side of the fence you were). Then in late 2013 along came Arvind Kejriwal who decided to dump (or vice versa) Anna Hazare’s style of activism and throw his own Gandhi topi into the fray.

I have deliberately left out Rahul Gandhi from this because I believe that he is a non-starter and secondly the anti-incumbency mood is likely to give him, and the degenerated Congress party, a sound thrashing at the polls.

Rightly so!

They have been ruling for the last 2 decades and whatever little progress we have made is definitely DESPITE the government. To add to it, he has been around as an MP for the past 10 years and to the best of my knowledge has done nothing noteworthy, considering the fact that he could have done so much more being so close to the seat of power..

Hey, his mother practically runs the country single-handedly and during this period, if he really wanted, he could have done much more. (Sure, he could have also abused his position like how Sanjay Gandhi did during Indira Gandhi’s reign. But for what its worth, Sanjay Gandhi at least stood for something, even though he was wrong on many counts!).

But let’s not digress.

This election is about Modi and Kejriwal and the aspirations of the common man (noticed how I consciously avoided the phrase ‘aam aadmi’ ??) Nowadays if you use the phrase ‘aam aadmi’ you get instantly branded with people having preconceived notions about your ‘type’. It’s ironical, because till now people used to do that only to those who were with the RSS or the Shiv Sena!!

But let me not take away credit where it is due. Kejriwal has done this country a great service – he has shown how the common man can rise up and shake the establishment. His victory in the Delhi elections is a modern-day version of the classic David and Goliath story – though both he and Sheila Dikshit are equally diminutive! His victory raised the hopes of the country. “Yes, things CAN change!” was/is the general feeling running through everyone’s veins.

Then he did two things which, in my perspective, were the worst he could have done. I’ll name them first and later elaborate each.

First, he formed the Government with the support of the Congress.
Second, he stepped down as Chief Minister.

Let me tell you why I believe that these two actions are the most damaging things he could have done.

Mistake No. 1 – forming the government with the support of the Congress.
When Kejriwal campaigned in Delhi, his pitch was consistent – Delhi was being governed badly. Three terms of Congress at the helm had ruined the City-State region. From mismanagement of funds to sycophancy to corruption, every act of omission and commission was blamed on the sitting Congress government.

The people of Delhi saw a ray of hope in him, booted out the Congress and voted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with fervour. Unfortunately, AAP couldn’t get enough of a majority to form the government all on their own. They were staring at the possibility of either sitting it out or forming the government with the support of either the Congress, whom they had bashed so terrifyingly, or the BJP whom they weren’t really cosy with.

Kejriwal, in true ‘aam aadmi’ style, again looked to ‘his people’ and asked them what to do? India saw it’s first-ever SMS Text Message Referendum! Apparently, the people of Delhi asked him to form the government even if it meant doing it with the support of one of the other two parties. In this case, Congress or BJP.

Kejriwal says his party sent the same letters, of seeking support on predetermined lines, to the Congress and the BJP. He says that while the BJP didn’t respond favourably, the Congress, it appears, was okay with supporting him as the CM.

This strikes me as being extremely odd! The one party, who was bashed so viciously by AAP during the campaign, was actually willing to help it to form the government! I’ve heard of political scenarios making for strange bedfellows, but this one takes the cake!

At this point, I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories about how the AAP is a surreptitious ‘front’ for the Congress… neither do I want to get into the alleged funding of the AAP by foreign nationals with vested-interests. I’ll just leave all that to the politicians and they can continue to sling mud at each other.

Coming back to why I think this move was not just a mistake – but a BIG mistake – damaging his credibility.

I believe that Kejriwal has let down the people of Delhi. Badly. They believed in the dream he showed them. They reposed their faith and confidence in him and gave him a good number of seats. They looked to him to improve their lives.

I don’t think any voter of the AAP ever dreamt that Kejriwal would ‘sleep with the enemy’. What was he thinking when he ‘agreed’ to accept the Congress party’s ‘support’? Those were the guys he had wanted to boot out, right? Congress was the ‘bad guy’ and he was the ‘good guy’!

In my opinion, once he realized that he did not have the majority to form the government on his own, he should have done one of the two things:
a) Humbly folded his hands and sat it out in the opposition, or
b) Sought support of the BJP – not because they were/are better, but since his entire poll campaign and mandate was on the basis of booting OUT the corrupt Congress.

But joining hands with the Congress was a complete ‘no-no’ and in my opinion this was the first big mistake he made.

If Kejriwal and his team were so damn sure that Sheila Dikshit and the Congress were so corrupt, didn’t he stop and think what message he would be sending out to the people who elected him? Didn’t his advisers and seniors (where are they?) tell him that this was NOT to be done?

It’s also surprising that someone like Kejriwal had gone to the extent of swearing on his children that he would not take the support of the Congress – and that’s not enough.. having done that, he went back on it!

I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing when he finally accepted the responsibility and formed the Government. And then we witnessed high drama for 48 days before Kejriwal committed, in my opinion, the next big blunder.

Mistake No. 2 – stepping down as Chief Minister.
Having (reluctantly?) accepted the responsibility, he took a few key steps in following up on his promises to the people of Delhi. But that didn’t last long. A lot of noise was being made about the Delhi police not being in the control of the State Government and therefore his government was really ineffective and toothless to do anything substantial.

What I find hard to believe is that having been in the government for 7 years and based in Delhi for all of that time, didn’t Kejriwal know the administrative set up? Didn’t he know that Delhi, being the national capital would have overlapping security by the sheer presence of the Ministry of Defence establishments and Central ministries?

Did he mention this during his campaign? That the City-State police is not really under the control of the State government and therefore his government would really not be so effective.

The refusal of the passing of the Lokpal bill is being stated as the critical turning point that made him quit – unless I have got it wrong! While I agree on the importance of the Lokpal bill – it seemed like Kejriwal was ‘daring’ the Congress to pull the rug from beneath his feet.

Ok – granted that the Police was not really under the CM’s control. And that the Congress was looking for an excuse to pull the plug … but there was so much more that he could have done! What about education, schooling, water, sanitation, transport, health, sports… If he was smart (hey, this is my opinion), he could have maintained a low-profile and gone about quietly making a change.

He could have fixed so many small, small things that really would have really benefited the common man in Delhi – and I understand that they were even beginning to see a change in the attitude of the government officials. All he needed to do was stick around in power – probably, his mere presence would have made all the difference!

And the people would have really appreciated it. They were really, really hoping that their vote will be put to good use and that their decision of electing Kejriwal and then ‘supporting’ him to be the CM, even if it was with the help of the Congress, would be the right decision. During the campaign he did come off as being ‘genuinely’ concerned about the well being of the people.

It’s really sad that they may have to wait a few months and hope that he comes to power again – this time with a better majority. But what is the assurance that that will happen? Assuming that DOES happen, given his maverick track-record… what is the assurance that he will not pull another ‘stunt’ and sit outside his own office on a dharna – instead of going about making the much-needed changes in the lives of the people?

Personally, I believe that he has betrayed the trust of the people of Delhi – though some may still continue to swear by him. His rise gave every principled individual a ray of hope that they could also enter the deep, dark world of politics and clean it up (the ‘broom’ as the party symbol was pretty clever!)

Frankly, I’m disappointed too! Disappointed that he had a golden chance to make a difference – and chose NOT to! Maybe he has larger political ambitions and aspirations – or maybe he just doesn’t know how to govern – or maybe he has poor advisers (lame excuse!).

In any case, he has fallen from grace.

Well … and that’s how I feel …

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