Note: This piece was submitted by IndiaFacts reader Sanjit Misra.
In the land of the blind, the one eyed has to be the king; in the kingdom of immorality, even a pretension of probity is a ticket to sainthood. One does not need to wonder why the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its founder have become the cynosure of public eyes in such a short span despite having little to show in terms of experience, expertise or ability.
Delhi, a microcosm of the country with its varied hues of social, cultural and political overtones, has endeared itself to such a pretender to the throne who without proffering any pragmatic policy to solve the myriad problems has managed to set high sail on a sea of promises. It is interesting to observe the groundswell in favor of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP given how little organizational experience and electioneering tactic they possess. To catch the fancy of a voting public that is fractured at massive fault lines is no small achievement. What seems to be working in their favour is the very same factor that should be working against them: inexperience. No political party with even the thinnest of histories can get away with the kind of faux pas that AAP and Kejriwal are easily allowed to get away with. Media houses, election pundits and critics alike have decided to handle these misdemeanors with kid gloves serving the AAP generous dollops of undeserved benefits of doubt. While all this makes for excellent debutant’s luck, how long this will last is anyone’s guess.
There is no doubt that Kejriwal is a clueless politician. When the Anna Hazare movement was orchestrated, the activism of Kejriwal came to the forefront. It would be a gross injustice if his early success were not acknowledged because it is on the strength of those achievements that he has managed to make an enviable entry into electoral politics. However, finesse in one aspect of public life does not necessarily translate into similar acumen in all other spheres. We need not look any farther than our incumbent Prime Minister to understand this. Dr. Singh is a stalwart economist but less said about his political skills the better. UPA 1 ambled through political minefields not under the leadership of Dr. Singh but because of the able maneuvering by Pranab Mukherjee. The sad story that UPA 2 has turned out to be bears strong testimony to this hypothesis; Mr. Mukherjee’s absence has ensured that the Government has managed to prove itself thoroughly rudderless. In all this, Dr. Singh has been a mute spectator. Not only has his administrative incapability been exposed, the economic theories that are his strongest suit have also come under strong criticism. Kejriwal, sadly enough, is exuding all signs of a similar decline.
For instance, if one were to consider the Tauqeer Raza controversy and judge Kejriwal’s response to criticism thereof, it would be apparent that his political acumen is grossly overrated. The realpolitik of elections mandates every political leader to wine and dine with certain controversial personalities. It is up to the skills of the leader to answer the questions that arise from such associations. Normally, Indian politicians with hides thicker than crocodiles are immune to criticism of such nature. Mostly, such meetings and the deals struck in them are cloaked cleverly to create an impression of nothing amiss.
The first mistake of Kejriwal was the public nature of his meeting with the Koran thumping Maulana. Kejriwal’s political compulsion to seek Muslim votes is well known. In the Delhi scheme of things, Muslims vote en bloc for the Congress. Unless Kejriwal manages to open a breach in this monolithic structure, his electoral prospects in most of the constituencies can take a severe beating. Delhi’s numerically significant middle class Muslim society is the most likely demography to break pattern and gravitate towards the AAP. This is one segment that the BJP can claim no influence on and hence makes for an open field for Kejriwal to offer himself as an alternate to the Congress. His recent utterances and actions on sensitive matters such as the Batla House encounter are clear indications that he has set his crosshairs on this stratum specifically. But the Congress hold on this vote bastion would be difficult to break because of Kejriwal’s previous association during the Hazare fast with Baba Ramdev who is openly viewed as a saffron sympathizer, a fact that the Congress will not be loath to tom-tom should the need arise. To balance such an Achilles’ heel situation, it was but natural that he would seek a similar association with a religious figurehead of the community that he wishes to endear himself to. From a purely political point of view, there is nothing wrong in this strategic move. But Kejriwal need not have chosen the much maligned Maulana Raza Khan for this purpose. There is no dearth of Koran thumpers in the Delhi region and any one of them with a lesser affinity to beheadings and misogyny could have served the purpose. If anything, the middle class and moderate Muslim populace that he wishes to represent, are less likely to take to the hardline thoughts of a fatwa-issuing fundamentalist. Here Kejriwal and the think-tank of AAP, if there is one, bungled terribly. If the meeting was meant for pure demonstrative purposes, a better personality should have been chosen.
It was not the act itself but the subsequent deer-caught-in-the-headlight reaction to the act that exposed the chinks in the armour. The AAP has been a media darling since the day of its inception. Not so much for the values or principles that it stands for but for the fact that it brings to table a certain novelty factor that none else is capable of that the media anchors go gaga over AAP. Basking in such glory has also given them unprecedented media time, almost all of it positive. Till the Maulana controversy, all the AAP had to do was send a representative, cluelessness and lack of debating abilities notwithstanding, to be there in the TV studio while the anchor does all the arguing for it. The Maulana issue posed the first challenge for them where they were for a change facing an unfriendly media. The idiocy of this apart, these media anchors who could be so condescending while speaking in favor, can turn into tearaway bullies when they wish to. And the AAP developed cold feet at the very prospect of this berating. So much so that they decided to completely boycott the TV studios that they would throng to with such natural ease otherwise, on the night the controversy erupted. One would be at a loss to explain such absolute lack of fight from a party that aspires to beat thoroughbred political parties at their own game. If Kejriwal wants to pose as the pretender to the throne, he should at the very least have shown a stomach for fight and faced the questions that were anyway results of his own actions. But this crusader chose to walk away from a battle. By doing so, he not only proved his total lack of personal courage but also inadvertently exposed the phony politics that he accuses his foes to be playing as his own game and no less. This was his second mistake.
The third mistake was juxtaposed a few days later. AAP and Kejriwal claimed that they were not aware of the antecedents of the Maulana. By just one single utterance, Kejriwal managed to serve two body blows on his own credibility. One: What responsible political party does not check the credentials of the ideologues that it publicly holds dalliances with? Why should such a party be trusted with a mandate? Two: Assuming their excuse of ignorance to be true, if the Maulana’s past deeds were known to the AAP functionaries, would they have not gone ahead with the meeting? Now that they are aware of his views, should not they criticize him and risk Muslim-vote alienation? Such Quixotic behavior ought to raise existential questions on a party’s viability. Had it not been for the forgiving attitude shown by the print and electronic media, AAP would have become a stale joke by now.
The pretense of saintliness of AAP has been on the rise ever since. Their rhetoric against the establishment and all its shortcomings matches religious fervor. Now, this is a dangerous path to tread for such rage of righteousness also demands equal probity on part of the righteous. But when you find anchors of an MTV show, who would be revered as Shakespeares, if only profanity were a language in the midst of this holier-than-thou lot, you should know that this has been a charade all along. How is this act of using a couple of TV rednecks for campaigning any different from the mainstream political parties parading one washed up actor after the other to endorse their brand of politics? Does this not smack of the same ideological debauchery that the AAP is so fond of alleging its rivals to be guilty of? The fact is Kejriwal has lost the plot before the drama has even begun. He may very well win a few seats in Delhi but he has already lost the ideological ground that he has propped himself on. This flight of Icarus is fast approaching the sun. We shall see how long the glue of deceit holds the wings of the false angel.
Sandeep Balakrishna is a columnist and author of Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore. He has translated S.L. Bhyrappa’s “Aavarana: the Veil” from Kannada to English.