In the mid seventies, India was rocked by a movement dramatically christened âTotal Revolutionâ. It was a movement chiefly against two evils afflicting the Indian political system at that time â corruption and dictatorial tendencies in the Government headed by Mrs Indira Gandhi. The body and soul of this movement was a Gandhian with an unimpeachable reputation for integrity, Jay Parkash Narayan, popularly known as JP.
Those days, Mrs Gandhiâs image had taken a severe beating because of two developments. The first was the Allahabad Sessions Court verdict holding her guilty of indulging in âelectoral malpracticesâ and de-barring her from holding public office for six years. The second development was the decision of Mrs Gandhi to render the court verdict irrelevant by imposing an internal Emergency in the country. The second development had disaster written all over it.
As soon as the internal Emergency was lifted and elections were held, Mrs Gandhi and her Congress party were swept aside to pave the way for the formation of the first non-Congress government at the Centre. Indira herself lost to a leader who was infamously described by the international media as a âsocialist buffoonâ, Raj Narain.
The chief fall out of all this was pushing the issue of corruption to the centre stage for the first time since Independence. Only once has that âTotal Revolutionâ phenomenon of the seventies been repeated in the country, and this time again it was a movement called âIndia Against Corruptionâ which hit the countryâs cities, towns and villages with an enormity seldom seen in the country before.
This movement climaxed in Anna Hazareâs fast and dharna in Delhi, demanding that credible and fool-proof legislative measures be taken to root out corruption from public life once and for all. At that time, a diminutive and seemingly inconspicuous figure would be seen taking quick paces across the stage carrying messages from this end to that, and back. He was soon to part company with Anna Hazareâs movement and start a political party which he declared was the only way to fight corruption in public life. This was the arrival of Arvind Kejriwal on the countryâs political stage.
Kejriwal soon formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The chief goals before the party as outlined by Kejriwal at that time were â 1) a crusade against corruption, 2) commitment to transparent electoral funding, 3) Commitment to pro-people governance, 4) rejection of VIP culture and 5) strict rules against dynastic politics.
Of these, only the crusade against corruption and the commitment to end VIP culture and introduce simplicity in the lifestyle of peopleâs representatives had the kind of mass appeal needed for winning an election. By the time the AAP went to the polls in Delhi, it had already fine-tuned its agenda to include several vote catching and populist slogans such as cheap electricity to poor domestic consumers, regularization of unauthorized colonies and a fight for restoring the dignity of women and creating an atmosphere in which women felt absolutely safe and secure. The last was added mainly as a political response to the atmosphere created by the Nirbhaya tragedy.
But even before the AAP movement got off the ground, it had already defeated its first purpose of introducing a political culture which was not based on personality cult. No political party has had the kind of personality cult which AAP itself introducedwith Kejriwal becoming the sole beginning, centre and end of the party. To this day, AAP remains only a Kejriwal party. They canât win a single seat minus him. The organization has carefully cultivated this cult weeding out voices of dissent like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, two of the AAPâs Founding Fathers, because they dared to talk about lack of inner party democracy.
In more than five years since its inception, AAP has tracked a journey in which its core principles have already been forgotten. So has been its slogan: âWe are not here to do politics but to change politics.â Today, AAP looks like any other party, full of intra-party intrigues, false promises to the electorate, familiar excuses for failure ( passing the bulk to the Centre for almost every failure in Delhi). Above all, the VIP culture it attacked with unparalleled vehemence is as much a signature of the AAP leaders as it was of leaders from other political parties. Plus, there is this familiar High Command and autocratic culture in AAP. Worse still, it is all about âthe leaderâ â Arvind Kejriwal. It is not without reason nor without significance that Kejriwal is accused by his detractors and rebels of being âautocratic, arrogant and megalomaniac, just like his bĂȘte noire, Narendra Modi.â
And yet, AAP remains a phenomenon which despite all its failings and hasty moral decay and degeneration, still retains its uniqueness, though at a much lower pitch than it had once promised.
While evaluating the performance of the AAP and its chief architect, Arvind Kejriwal, it must be remembered that the yardstick to be used for them will always to be drastically different from the one with which we judge other political parties and leaders. We wonât want to judge the AAP and the AAP governmentâs performance by the number of bridges it has built, the pay scales revised, social welfare schemes implemented, teachers appointed or infrastructure built. It may or may not have outperformed its predecessors on all these counts. In all probability and counts, they have not. But thatâs not the principal dream for which the people, the media and the idealists in this country looked up to Kejriwal and his AAP. The only reason why the AAP had caused a stir and a sensation, winning an incredible and unprecedented 67 seats out of 70 at its second shot at power in Delhi, was a single promise and slogan which this party and its leaders had driven into the hearts and minds of the people. And it was not a slogan for giving a better government but a âdifferentâ government, a different culture, a different class of leaders â leaders who would be just like their electorates in all respects except one: the leaders will be even more simple and even more humble than the man on the street. AAP had promised to âchange politicsâ.
In short, Kejriwal and his highly motivated and committed revolutionary army were not âjust some other politiciansâ nor was their promise centred around only a change of government to give a better, more efficient and more people-friendly administration. These things were taken as a âgivenâ. But the things they really promised belonged to a different zone. Like Jay Parkash Narayan, Kejriwal promised âTotal Revolutionâ. He told the people to expect not a change of faces nor even a change of government but a change of hearts and mindset in the rulers.
Instead of changing the government, said Kejriwal in many of his election rallies, people should look forward to âchanging the system.â
The pivot around which this âTotal Revolutionâ was itself to revolve was the twin-dream of total transparency and a government minus VIP culture. âThere will be no VIPs in our leaders and ministersâ and âthere will be nothing secret about any part of the AAP governmentâs functioning,â Kejriwal had said. âWhy should a government at all want to keep anything confidential? Everything should be up there for anyone to see. Total transparency is the minimum that the people should expect from a government. Secrecy and confidentiality are the cloaks under which corruption flourishes. A government should have nothing to hide,â he had thundered.
The other dream Kejriwal sold was one of a political system completely free from VIP culture. In this, as in most other things, Kejriwal must be credited with one rare gift: his uncanny ability to think exactly as a common man thinks. He clearly knew that the Indian public was sick to the bones with the arrogance and snobbery of those in power. He attacked the VIP culture with a ferocity rarely seen in any leader in India since independence. This culture had really become the nauseating identity badge of every politician and bureaucrat in India. Kejriwalâs diagnosis was spot on.
But almost five years since the diagnosis, he is nowhere near showing us a matching prescription. He has not even tried. One of his first decisions as Chief Minister was to go back on his much touted promise of not using âa big VIP mansion that Sheila ji uses as Chief Minister. Why does a Chief Minister need a big bungalow? I will stay in my ordinary apartment.â That didnât happen. If anything, he did exactly the thing he had attacked his predecessor for doing: living in the huge royal mansion. Not just that, his government was quick to give a four-fold raise in the salaries of the Chief Minister and other ministers from its cash starved treasury. Simultaneously, he kept bewailing the absence of funds to meet the bare needs of the people.
The performance of Kejriwal, his party and his government will be evaluated chiefly on the basis of fulfilment of the promises made and slogans raised by them. In this regard, it would not be harsh to observe that whatever other achievements Kejriwal and his party and government may or may not have made, they have certainly not lived up to their promise of âchanging the way politics is conducted in our country.â This was their biggest promise and their failure here is also the biggest.
They havenât changed a thing as far as ruling culture goes. They had attacked the practice of making false promises and selling alluring but fake and often dangerous dreams by the politicians to the people. Now, as sheen begins to wear off on his carefully crafted iconic image, it is becoming clear that the only thing new about him and his party were the promises they made. Yes, he was smart enough to make promises which were both new and completely in sync with the peopleâs changing psyche in India. But the newness of the promises is the only thing that is new about Kejriwal. As far as fulfilment of promises goes, it is the same old story.
To be fair to him, he made the country and the people aware of what they should expect of their leaders. He taught us to make the right demands. He reminded us that we have a right to expect from our leaders and he re-assured us that in a democracy the only VIPs are and should be the electorate, the common man, the Aam Aadmi. He taught leaders also to dust up their idiom and be in tune with the changing times. He was himself a child of the new age strategies for survival and he not only applied those strategies for his own and his partyâs success but also taught the same skills to the political class in other parties as well as to the electorate. Unfortunately for Kejriwal, people took him seriously â so seriously that they started expecting from him the things that he had told them to expect from their leaders. And when they did so, they found him like any other leader, telling them to make their expectations realistic. He made the people believe that he could change the system. They believed him and put him at the head of the system. But now, when people find that the system still prevails, they feel betrayed. It is Kejriwalâs misfortune that people really believe in his ability to change the system.
Therefore, when they find that the system has not changed, they blame it on his unwillingness, not inability, to do what needs to be done. Thus, he will not easily escape historyâs judgment for letting his people down â almost in an act of betrayal. He used new skills only to achieve the old goal â of power. He stirred up the nation with new dreams but did not show the courage to fulfil these. In short, he created a brave opportunity for the country, bringing it to the brink of a new age. But having created the opportunity, he refused to rise to it. And even worse and more cruel against him is the impression that his failure is not accidental but a well-designed one. He chose to fail as a revolutionary, opting to succeed as a politician, instead. In this, he has proved to be just another one of the politicians who arouse dreams only to en-cash these for personal glory and power. Historyâs biggest verdict against him will be that he betrayed the opportunity which he had himself created. In doing so, he may have put the country back by a good quarter of a century, because that is how long the people will take to forget the betrayal and trust a new revolutionary.
As a consolation, he can legitimately claim that he has at least created a need for other politicians to update the dreams they should sell. Because of him, more politicians will pretend to be more âcommon-man-likeâ and humble. But it will still remain only a pretension. Nothing substantial has changed. That is his biggest sin because he had the opportunity to do something but didnât do it. In the end, he will be known as the author of a revolution that failed only because he wrote that failure into the script itself. But is Kejriwal done? Not by a long stretch. He still retains the capacity to strike, given a little chink at the national scene. He is rightly lying low. But make no mistake, Arvind Kejriwal is not done yet. It is quite another matter that the dream he brought along with him is already dead in a classic case of a revolution killed by its progenitor.