Deconstructing Kejriwal Part 1

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When a media organization like Quartz throws all pretense of objectivity to the side, and publishes something like this, you know you are standing at the doorstep of revolution. (We want revolution, Jaipaan revolution…to those of you old enough to remember this) [Link]

Arvind Kejriwal is the Harry Potter of Indian politics. Perched on a magic broom—the election symbol of his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—he has catapulted himself as a boy wizard fighting against all odds in a shadowy world inhabited by demons and beasts. He has even conjured a supreme malevolent villain on the lines of Voldemort as a fountainhead of the Dark Arts reincarnated as corrupt politics. Donning the Potter mantle, Kejriwal  has publicly denounced Mukesh Ambani, India’s biggest business magnate, who was so far the one Who-Must-Not-Be-Named despite persistent gossip about his growing clout in the corridors of power. Kejriwal’s assertion that the country’s two main political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are mere puppets of the evil lord (that would be Ambani) seeks to turn the upcoming contest in the national polls this summer into a battle between good and evil.

It’s tempting for us Potterheads to keep playing the game of associating  AAP members with denizens of  the Harry Potter world (Yogendra Yadav=Hagrid, Manish Sisodia’s white moustache=Hedwig, Ashutosh=Dobby). But we must move onto the task at hand. Namely a deconstruction of Kejriwal, whose personal cult is now passing through the phase that Himesh Reshammiya’s went through in 2007.

In order to understand Kejriwal, we must first do two things.

No. I am not talking about giving your email address to Somnath Bharti. That he already has.

The first thing one has to do is understand the “aam aadmi” of Indian urbania. It is a rather diverse group, encompassing as it does those who take sat Isabgol at night and watch reruns of BR Chopra’s Mahabhrata to those that take Gatorade in the morning and watch Kunwar Awar’s man nipples do modern contemporary dance. What unites its members is a healthy dissatisfaction with the current state of India, what with rising prices, steep capitation fees, cost of petrol, loss of jobs, skyrocketing real estate prices and increasing pressure on urban infrastructure. Human nature makes us want to make us blame someone for this, and human nature also makes us want to make this target as easily identifiable as possible. So while people will blame, depending on which city you are and what religion you belong to, “Gujjars”, “Biharis”, “Marwaris”, “Muslims,” “Illegal Muslims from Bangladesh”, “IT workers” “Africans” for their sorry plight, most of them will settle on the most politically-correct answer.

Politicians.

It’s very easy to hate politicians. And boy, can we agree that they do deserve it? While ordinary urban Indians sweat in traffic, their motorcades zoom by flashing red lights. While ordinary urban Indians wait in lines at the airport, they swoop by into first class, their tickets being paid by those waiting in line. While ordinary urban Indians get robbed and raped, the politician has his own personal security detail, whose cost for upkeep also comes from those being robbed and raped. They make insane amounts of money, are all corrupt to the core, are insanely fat or have hair growing from the ears or are uneducated or are criminals or all of them together. They lack humility, strutting arrogantly by like kings of yore, make their own sky-kissing statues and then they procreate and their sons or daughters occupy their places, and so on it goes.

Sickening.

So easy is to hate politicians, that people forget that politicians are not alien creatures flown in from Xexis III, but people just like themselves, who do exactly what they would do if they were in their place. But they can’t be in their place, due to accident of birth or of opportunity, and so they hate them. Which is why they don’t vote because “Sab chor hai.” Now one could argue that while it is true and, in many cases, inevitable that  all sides will be dishonest in a democratic system, and that electoral choices are to be made based on “who is less worse”, many people arbitrarily reject this principle. They do this because deciding “who is less worse” is an intellectually draining exercise that requires analyzing manifestos and past records and also a morally draining one, because one has to make some very uneasy choices.

Instead what they do is create an idealization in their head, of a non-political politician,  a Savita-Bhabhi of governance with unreal attributes, a political fantasy figure, sans the corruption, sans the bigotry,  sans the vote-bank-massaging, sans the history of violence, and since this ideal is never found to exist in reality, the justification for not participating in the political process has a solid basis. It bugs urbania though, this not voting, especially when Aamir with the choreographed Satyameva Jayate tears and Farhan Akthar with that delicious lisp tell us to rock the vote, and so they wait, wait for Godot, while watching reruns of “Rang De Basanti”, looking longingly down the road for the messiah that must come, but never does.

Now let us consider the other side of the picture. Say you are one of the urbania that wants to become a politician. Not just any politician. But the Prime Minister of the country. What are you going to do? You can’t join Congress because you were ruled out of leadership of the party the second you were born, and the best you can do is become a lackey, not that lackeys do not have their creature comforts. You can’t join the BJP unless you are fine with coming through the RSS ranks, washing clothes of RSS pracharaks, and talking all day in Sanskritized Hindi (also known as Amitabh Bachchan Mohabbatein tongue) about Hindutva. Your only option is to stay at the level of state politics, find a part of a bigger state that wants to separate or toil for decades like Mamata Banerjee fighting entrenched foes, and then the best you can hope for is an alignment of stars that puts you into the throne of Delhi as a third party candidate. Now that’s a long shot, as even Jyoti Basu could not pull it off, and he was one smart chap though somehow Deve Gowda did, perhaps because he was not.

And then Anna Hazare came along, bypassing the traditional career paths to power. It was he who did the Steve Jobs turn, delivering to the customer, that is Indian urbania, what exactly they wanted (but did not realize they wanted). The non-political politician, whose commitment to them would not be sullied by electoral slush, who would remain pavaan like Mandakini in “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” despite the best attempts of the Raja Murads. Anna Hazare wanted to be that messiah that the people wanted, and he recognized how the apolitical-ness was vital to the realization of the messiah-fantasy. That is why he and his associates, including one Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, swore that they would not join politics and kept repeating that.

But a messiah needs a cause. And that was identified to be the quintessential urbania bogeyman, the one word that would come up in any word-association game with the word politician.

Corruption.

The eradication of corruption, Anna sought to do through a rigidly extra-constitutional process, namely moral pressure exerted through the act of fasting, which at the domestic scale is called emotional blackmail but at the national scale becomes Gandhian agitation. This he would continue to do either till he died (this of course being the assumption) or the political class passed the Jan LokPal Bill. The Jan Lokpal Bill, as has been earlier discussed in this blog, was based on the curious principle that corruption, a problem that is a monotonic function of big government, labyrinthine governance structures and a huge body of regulations , could be solved by bigger government, one more governance structure and a few more regulations. But that has been discussed threadbare, and I shall not go into it here, and frankly its not relevant for the topic at hand.

The problem with Anna was that he could not resolve the conundrum of being against politics and yet being inside politics. Soon the wheels started coming off. Anna became so convinced of the infallibility of his own personal cult, (I remember a cringe-worthy episode of Saregama for kids when little children sang songs in his praise while he looked benignly on with a pleased smile) that he thought the nation would rally behind his every call for fasting. One thing about Indian urbania is that if you want to make things trend in their mindspace, you can’t pull the same trick over and over again. And face it, Anna did not have the moral force of a Mahatma Gandhi to consistently make the political system tremble. He could have saved his own ambitions by pivoting at the right moment, but there too he let the moment pass, unable to reconcile the contradiction between constitutionality and extra-constitutionality, imploding into petty bitterness directed against his once-associates, rubber-stamping an “official Lok Pal Bill” which he had once opposed and claiming victory, and then endorsing Mamata Banerjee as Prime Minister, which is the political equivalent of buying Piyush Chawla at the IPL auction.

But from the ashes of the India Against Corruption movement, a new player emerged. Arvind Kejriwal. When Anna was at the height of his power,  the possibility of Kejriwal upstaging him in his own game and running away with the prize sounded impossible, like lifting the jacket at the end of Ashiqui and finding Anu Agarwal not with Rahul Roy, but with Deepak Tijori.

So how did Kejriwal do this? How did Kejriwal make a successful pivot from being “anti politics” to “active politics” without breaking the trust of his considerable fan-base? How did Kejriwal become at least a conceptual choice (the word conceptual is crucial here) as a third prime ministerial alternative within such a short time, without going through the normal rites of passage?

By redefining for Indian urbania what they wanted. Not the non-political politician, for that was a contradiction in terms and could never happen, but the reluctant politician, the husband who has come shopping to maintain marital concord,  the mystic baul man who lives amidst the filth but does not get dirty, who goes to bathe in the stream but does not get wet, a messiah who is made greater by the fact that he does that which he does not want to purely to make the world a better place, the mythical rajarshi who would be a raja but still live the life of a rishi, renouncing the worldly trappings of the king.

In the next post, we will look a little closely at this, the groovy “I am better than other politicians” moral high-ground of Kejriwal, the source of his biggest strength.

And paradoxically also his biggest weakness.

{Image courtesy: Outlook}

[Next part: Part 2]

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45 thoughts on “Deconstructing Kejriwal Part 1

    • INC surely trying to make good from the situation because they have already realised the results of election. They will try Delhi drama to somehow keep themselves in power. It is but natural as he adage goes- if you have to jump forward, you have to go back a little.

  1. It is amazing that the very people who are indifferent to huge flaws in the two big parties are fast to grab the throat where AAP is concerned. Wonder why they do not understand that if we do not accept change now, there never will be another chance.

  2. in the article it says ” You can’t join the BJP unless you are fine with coming through the RSS ranks, washing clothes of RSS pracharaks, and talking all day in Sanskritized Hindi (also known as Amitabh Bachchan Mohabbatein tongue) about Hindutva ” is it true? did Naqui, Shahnawaz also go through these?

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  4. A solid piece of analysis. The human need to call upon a Messiah is sadly very pronounced among core AAP believers, and arguably among large swathes of urban Indians. They don’t much care for nuances of economic policy or national/international diplomacy. Neither do they seem to care much for constitutional protocol and due process. For them, the disenchantment with the current body-politic is so total and absolute, that nothing short of a fundamental change will do. In that sense, I will say that AAP & Kejriwal are potentially more insidious through their false hope and cult-of-personality than all other parties.

    • what does any of the other PM hopeful know about many aspects. They hv only qualification-they are politicians by family or experience n without any formal education.in the subject. They learn within five years term. Even those former PMs were also falling in the same category! except few! politicians need formal management training to manage huge resources of the country.

  5. Good analysis. Kejriwal is one of my pet peeves; I feel that his ideas, the ones he discusses in “Swaraj” and in his manifesto are downright dangerous. This, in conjunction with the drama in the Delhi government really cheeses me off. Yet, it seems that people will just flock to him like sheep, and opposing Kejriwal somehow means that one favours corruption. I just don’t see the logic. AK used public funds for private gain. He promised free water, funded by public money, to win an election. He rewarded those who broke the law at his urging with the electricity bill discount. Is this not corruption?

    I don’t know about the Harry Potter analogies, I’m fascinated more with “Animal Farm.” In this narrative, Anna is Old Major, AK is Napoleon, Kiran Bedi is Snowball, Yogendra Yadav is Squealer, and the people are the animals, the fanboys the sheep.

    In a bit of shameless self-promotion, and to save myself the trouble of re-writing my views: http://skandhurkat.blogspot.com/2014/01/an-appeal-dont-vote-for-aam-aadmi-party.html, http://skandhurkat.blogspot.com/2014/03/dangerous-democracy-with-arvind-kejriwal.html

  6. as usual a classic analysis…looking forward to tthe rest of series (hopefully soon). just out of curiosity are you a voting citizen of india ? if yes it would be interesting to know your choice

  7. After seeing Anna Hazare endorsing Mamta Banerjee saying, “Kaha sabhi ne, kiya Mamta ne”, I feel embarrassed to say that I was also there with the cap “main Anna Hun” during the peak of Lokpal agitation at Ramlila ground. Today, I would rather vote for Congress than AAP.

    Brilliant piece as usual,

    Hilarious stuff :
    >>>In order to understand Kejriwal, we must first do two things.
    >>>No. I am not talking about giving your email address to Somnath Bharti. That he >>>already has.

  8. How can Kejriwal not be a Congress agent? He contested against Sheila Dikshit from her constituency, and then went on to form a government with the support of the very party he railed against?

    GB made a pertinent point on how Modi’s popularity has been fuelled more by the anti-Congress wave than anything else, and this largely was the case for Kejriwal too. So, wasn’t it corruption on his part to accept the support of the Congress?

    This is not the first time the Congress has resorted to the ‘safety-valve’ ploy. In Andhra Pradesh, when the tide was in favour of the TDP, the Congress in a masterstroke launched the Praja Rajyam party, which managed to split the vote.

    Similar is the case with the Aam Aadmi Party. It has shown until now absolutely no signs of being anything else but.

    Kejriwal is in himself a contradiction. He would launch tirades against the media, calling it all sorts of things, but he’s perfectly fine with taking a chartered flight paid by India Today, on the lame excuse that all passenger flights were full. So much for being an Aam Aadmi(!). And that other episode with the Aaj Tak anchor. Hypocrisy much, innit?

    I watched on YouTube a fascinating episode of ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ where Rajat Sharma posed some very grilling questions to AK on how some tainted candidates were given tickets for the Delhi polls. AK predictably hemmed and hawed his way through the interview.

    His ‘anarchy’ is not a substitute for governance, as rightly pointed out by the Prez. He was given a mandate to govern, not to sit on dharnas and resign within two months so he could devote his full time to prepare for the bigger and more important Parliamentary polls. So what if Delhi has to have fresh elections again. What a waste of public money.

    All his talk of being inexperienced in politics and asking for some leeway is all hogwash. Whatever tricks he’s pulling, be it the Metro ride on his first day of office or the local train ride in Mumbai are all elaborate PR stunts that are the hallmarks of an experienced political machinery.

    He’s also making too big a deal of all those non-issues. Would it make any difference if the Delhi CM lived in an official bungalow or a three-bedroom apartment? Shouldn’t a man who is so much in the public eye, seeking to bring about change, accept the fact that he’s a potential target and not refuse the police cover that’s being offered to him? What if the terror threat turns out to be genuine and he’s kidnapped by the IM? Who takes the blame?

    AK is fast moulding into the Congress stereotype where you give a rat’s ass for public criticism and show the least amount of contrition for a goofup.

  9. I am hoping that you have seen his recent interviews with Rajdeep, Facebook, NDTV etc. You should, just so that the picture is complete.

  10. Great analysis – you should start a blogger’s party! But shame on GB – for now I cannot get the image of ” those who take sat Isabgol at night and watch reruns of BR Chopra’s Mahabhrata ” out of my head!
    Jokes apart – while it is pick holes (and arent there big ones) in the current situation – what is the solution? I doubt AAP is the solution but at least it tells us there is something possible beyond the INC/BJP/ Regionals who are all chors -in-common

  11. Well AAP is imploding like a house rigged with TNT. The ideological contradiction and the plethora of special interest elements, some with significant foreign money and instructions, that form the core of the party, will slowly make it a morass of useless ‘politicians’.

  12. Have you spoken to any Aam Aadmi from Delhi to understand the effect on day-to-day corruption while Kejriwal was CM? That will help you understand why people flock to his party and ideals. Ivory-tower intellectual deconstructions are not worth the (virtual) paper they are written on.

  13. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed sheep. We need more liberty in India. The main issue is lot of laws, rules and regulations in India. Lot of red tape. If you cut the red tape that is liberalise more, then corruption would automatically reduce from current levels.

  14. He is a product of our times. We are more politically aware. Thats why he got a chance. I remember that there was was Loksatta in Andhra pradesh long time ago with not much to show.
    I would love to read your take on his reclusiveness being his biggest weakness.
    I think he would adapt and become a politican. {which might not be a bad thing).
    Would he then promise more reforms like limit on number of terms etc is what I am hoping for. :)

    • Loksatta? Long time ago?
      It is 8 year old party and still very much in the reckoning. Is fighting from 3 states in south.

  15. Of late, he seems to have changed track from Corruption to Communalism. He is on record now to say that the latter is a more pressing issue for the nation than the former. His “Hagrid” Yogendra Yadav is on record saying that electing Modi would bring back the specter of partition and “Aag Lag Jayegi”.
    Someone needs a history lesson on which party and its leader played a key role behind partition. Result of decades of sanitized, left-endorsed, Romila Thapar version of teaching of History in schools and colleges I suspect !!

    This about turn is quite surprising, given that his USP has been the crusade against corruption. We already have got way too many “succular” leaders and we do not need another one (and that too in a Gandhi topi) . That space is overcrowded, and that issue is a non issue in this election. He would do well to realise that and get back to his roots. There are “stalwarts” like Maulana Mulayam in that space, for whom he will never be a match.
    His total and inexplicable silence on the major corrupt people within the congress and the ruling family is baffling. Not a word till date about Robert Wadera, for instance.
    We do not know what they bring to the table, apart from roadside dharnas, midnight raids and total disdain for rules and procedures. We now know that they stand for “succularism”, and would like to give it a pass.
    As the campaign begins to heat up, we can see that AAP is targetting Modi and BJP more than anything else or anyone else. No campaign against the Congress or the dynasty. Kejriwal even skipped Amethi in his recent tour of UP, as he was peeved with Kumar Bakwas who had self-declared himself to be the candidate from there against Rahul…. how dare he does that without the consent of the big boss?
    Everything that we are seeing now seems to indicate that the sheep is de-cloaking and the wolf skin is increasingly visible. Here is one more power hungry politician, who thinks nothing of using and throwing away people and issues on his way to the ivory tower. He is not different from the ones he is supposedly fighting against.

    It sounded like a far fetched conspiracy theory back in December when people called AAP the B team of the Congress. It sounds increasingly convincing now.

  16. केजरीवाल वो कलम है जिससे जनता राजनितिक पार्टियों को सन्देश दे रही है की अब सुधर जाओ। business as usual नही चलेगा। Funding should be transparent, no tickets to criminals…th established parties are under the miscoonception that Delhi was an aberration and they can continue with their set formulae in the rest of the nation. जोर का झटका लगेगा इस बार।

    • The Delhi aberration was more or less accurately predicted by the psephologists in the opinion polls preceding the elections (The one by Yogendra Yadav predicted 50 seats for AAP, but let us spare Yadav ji for a moment). Opinion polls by the same psephologists is not giving AAP more than 10-15 seats across the country this time. So, there is no real risk of “zor ka jhatka”.

  17. Pingback: Deconstructing Kejriwal Part 2 | Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind

  18. If you start with the premise “Say you are one of the urbania that wants to become a politician.”, that is an immediate contradiction. If you are just putting up a prop for Kejri, it just proves he is not “one of the urbania”. Oh, and there are plenty people that are smart enough to understand that democracy is a compromise and nuanced enough to analyze candidates on realistic grounds and yet do not vote. The day democracy makes voting compulsory it ceases to be democracy. Did your favorite teacher have compulsory attendance? Teachers are not ideal either, you know.

  19. Nice analysis! The article is elaborate enough and will need days to debate on what’s right and what’s wrong. Of course I – or anyone for that matter – will be lying if they claim that any person or party made no mistakes. But there is one problem with this article. While it actually had the potential to deconstruct Kejriwal and provide a balanced view, it ends up being a one side bashing. From my experience, when judging a piece of writing or feedback about a person or thing or whatever, there’s one rule that I know works most times: if it’s almost totally one sided, it’s probably just biased and not true in it’s overall conclusions.

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