A sort of Arvind Kejriwal (Illustration: Mayank Chhaya)
The hyperloquacious*, messianic “common man” Arvind Kejriwal has been inevitably coopted into the politics of government formation. His Aam Admi Party (AAP), which made a blockbuster electoral debut in New Delhi’s elections recently, is set to become the Indian capital’s chief minister with the cynical help of a party he until recently loved to loathe.
Fueled by blazing idealism Kejriwal has been promising a sort of moral revolution to overthrow the entrenched corrupt established order for sometime now. With the resounding but somewhat inadequate victory of his party he was not sure whether he should do what is required and expected of all those who take part in electoral politics—namely try and form a government even if it means drawing some sustenance from the very order you had revolted against. Eventually though he has chosen to accept “external” or “outside” support from the Congress Party, which until recently ruled the city-state of New Delhi.
As if to mitigate his very private sense of guilt at having now become chief minister Kejriwal has asserted that it is not him who is the chief minister but the capital’s “aam aadmi” or ordinary citizen. (Aam means common in Hindi/Urdu and Aadmi means Man. The “Man” may be loosely used to include women as well but it often necessarily means the male gender). My unsolicited advice to Kejriwal would be to stop saying that he is not the chief minister but “aam admi” is. Apart from the fact that it means nothing it almost seems as if it is a device to transfer blame to the nebulous, unspecific ordinary citizen in case he fails. Or as my dear friend and fellow journalist Kajal Basu put it, “Glad to see the bloke swatted on the nose. Sometimes, it seems to me that he’s just trying to cover his ass in case he bombs out by making the aam janta party to any decisions he’ll take while in the chair. Time he understood realpolitik – that the Congress-BJP duopoly is just waiting for him to come a cropper and wipe out the AAP (and future nonideological forays into the political space).”
Although so far it may not seem like it, I am happy that in Kejriwal an outsider has risen to disrupt the established order. To the extent that he would do what he says he really wants to do I think it might introduce a new force to India’s polity. However, the established order anywhere is a monster that can eat such movements for breakfast. It is a danger Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP will have to learn to ward off. They will also have to learn that electoral politics eventually is about getting elected and forming government. It is way less complicated than they have pretended so far. It would be nearly impossible for Kejriwal to toggle between the messiah and the politician, not least because while the former cares nothing about who follows him, the latter is by its very definition about who and how many follow him.
The Congress Party’s decision to extend outside support is a classic lesson in realpolitik in how to retain grip on power after losing it all. When it comes to staying powerful or within precariously close distance to power, I do not think the Congress Party has any peer in world history. It is not an accident that even when not in power Congress leaders have the body language of the powerful. With just eight seats the party has managed to retain its relevance under the dispensation of someone who reviled and insulted them as part his political strategy. If this is not realpolitik, what is?
At some level I feel that the AAP’s is a case of premature election. However, now that it is well and truly planted into the thick of electoral politics and governance, it will have to give up pamphleteering and get down to the business of fulfilling at least some of its mandate. I say some because no political party can and should fulfill all its promise in the interest of longevity.
As for Arvind Kejriwal, I think he should give up his expedient renunciation and accept that he is a power player now. I, of course, wish him very well.
* Hyperloquacious is not a word. It is a compound I have coined.