Sociologists have a name for it.
It’s called The Alok Nath syndrome.
In it someone creates an image which ends up being so over-the-top in its absoluteness that it becomes impossible for any human being to live up to it in reality. In Alok Nath’s case, that image as we all know is of the living embodiment of Bharatiya Sanskriti. If any minor deviation from the ideal is ever discovered, like lingering hand a bit too much on the shoulder of a “Jagatjanani” not your “Bhagyawan” or missing an aarti for Aarti or wanting to do a Kanya-grahan more than a Kanya-daan, it will not be excused as merely “being human” like it would be for everyone else, but considered a cardinal sin, only because it runs against the grain of the very standards Alok Nath claims he sets for himself, and by extension, expects of the world.
Arvind Kejriwal suffers from the Alok Nath syndrome. He is obligated to maintain the halo of the stubbornly incorruptible and absolutely selfless and supremely reluctant politician. For that is his USP. Without that, he will lose the devoted and the donors and the voices that sing his hymns. Yet the more he stays in the public spotlight, the more he is seen to fall from his own lofty perch, while still remaining entirely unforgiving of infractions done by others. The more that happens, the more he gets criticized by those that have not bought into his cult. And the more his bhakts scream “Why do you attack our krantikaari, you paid agents of [insert industrial house here] and Modi”?
Kejriwal says he will not join politics. He does. Kejriwal says he will not take support from Congress or any other party, even going on to say, that Congress and BJP should form the government because they are all corrupt and do opportunistic “settings”. Then he goes on to do exactly that with the Congress, of course not because he is opportunistic and wants power, but because people in an SMS poll told him to do so and he had to obey the mandate of the aam aadmi (even though, as per the popular mandate as expressed in the elections, he was heading the second most popular party, not the first)
He fulminates against the old style of politics but then does exactly that, promising arbitrary cuts in electricity rates without doing an audit first, effectively buying votes from the middle-class. He talks about ending the culture of entitlement for politicians, which seems like a promise to end privileges, but which ends up becoming “We will not carry red baatis”. He says he does not want a plush bunglow, and when allocated one says he didn’t ask for it before it is revealed he did ask for it. Kejriwal gets Z category security, which he says he gets despite his greatest of protests, like Menaka seducing Vishwamitra. The media is corrupt and paid, repeats the man, but then has no compunctions in drawing its senior leaders from the ranks of the self-same media. The media must be like watchdogs on politicians and should not collude with them is his message, but then when it comes to himself, he goes “Krantikaari, Bahoot ki Krantikaari” telling an extremely eager-to-please media person how his interview should “come off as”, so as to not antagonize his “vote bank”. We all know that the way corrupt politicians keep bureaucrats in line is by transfering them and giving punishment postings (Ashok Khemka having been subject to a ridiculous forty-four times in his career) and I am sure Kejriwal would agree, except that he says that the reason he and his wife were never transferred out of Delhi was because they were, “honest and competent” officers. Again how that squares with what is known to be reality and with AAP’s own absolutist narrative of Delhi’s culture of dishonesty and turpitude is never really made clear.
Then we come to the AAP transparency system which I believe exists so that people know who it is that pays AAP’s bills. Kejriwal talks about keeping his donor list public for all, but when I look at the list, I do not understand how it enforces transparency. One see names that cannot be real names. And while one can argue that AAP is keeping full records of transactions through receipts, how does an independent “aam aadmi” (like me for instance) find out that the same person (say someone called Adnambani) has not donated 5 crores, with Rs 5000 every few hours, under different names or through different dummies? [For those who have seen Breaking Bad, you know exactly what I am talking about] What about AAP internally? Do they allow same bank account to continuously donate? Do they enforce a maximum donation that one bank account can pay? If they do, how do they enforce that? AAP may claim that if the government wants, they can trace the electronic transfers. But I thought their message was “transparency to the common people” and that the government is corrupted, populated as it is by evil men. What if the government does find any herapheri? What would AAP do then? Possibly will call it a conspiracy anyways. Also, given that the AAP itself never tires of repeating how “big industrialists” have subverted the system, why should we suddenly consider that there are no benaami accounts and the trail of electronic transactions is beyond reproach, just because it suits the AAP’s narrative in this case?
Finally, while there may be arguments for the soundness of their system (and I haven’t seen any), what is the argument for the completeness i.e. what is the proof that AAP accepts donations only through those “white” channels and that no cash is being taken anywhere and no cheques are being made to the personal accounts of any of the AAP leaders and that no quid-pro-quo arrangements are entered into with AAP leaders?
This is not to say AAP is corrupt or that a proof for completeness can ever be given, but it just goes to show that their system offers no significant transparency over and above from what other parties provide.
Now here is the thing. It is perfectly fine to want to have a big bunglow or to have a nice sarkari vehicle or to have a posse that clears the hoi polloi from your path or to avoid the aam aadmi in a private jet provided by a sympathetic media house. That’s why people go into politics. They want the power. They want the perks. If we allow managers their perks, and bankers their perks, why not politicians? After all we should not be like Manoj Kumar, to turn our noses up at evil doctors who ask for fees. What one expects from the political class is a certain standard of efficiency and a certain standard of honesty (in that they will not be looting the nation of millions of dollars) and a certain standard of fairness (in that they will not let their supporters run amok on those that are not their supporters), not that politicians should have to embrace poverty and public transport and the general life of the common man . Doesn’t happen in most places of the world, will definitely not happen in India.
It is also perfectly fine once you embrace the game of thrones to wheel and deal and sleep with the devil .In democracies, realpolitik means that are no permanent enemies, alliances are formed opportunistically, backs have to be scrubbed, flip-flops are inevitable , media is manipulated, stunts designed for television have to be cynically synthesized for some “may I hebb your attention pliss” and money is needed, often from people who don’t want their names known. Among AAP’s many pivots, none perhaps been as egregious as its attempt to get close to the Congress, because realistically it’s only chance of getting to the Center is an alliance with the Congress. Hence, despite the bluster against Vadra, the Chief Minister’s candidate of AAP for Haryana was announced to be an ex-advisor to Rahul Gandhi (now with him being a Lok Sabha candidate from the area, I don’t know what’s the status of that) and despite the genesis of the party from a movement against corruption (it was called Indians Against Corruption, if I recall) Kejriwal now says that communalism is a bigger target than corruption, which is to be parsed very simply as “Our primary enemy is BJP”, while Congress is now officially a frenemy.
This kind of bait-and-switch and opportunism is all part and parcel of the political game and every party engages in it, and mature people should be able to accept that.
These things become problems only when you try to enforce the Alok Nath image for yourself. It’s then that you have painted yourself into a corner. On one hand, the ideal must be maintained to keep up the pretense of “revolution” and “super-honesty” and yet, for the sake of being in the game, sleazy realpolitik has to be continuously engaged in,that runs counter to this very ideal.
This deliberate dissonance between what they say and what they do then has become the fundamental dishonesty behind Kejriwal’s politics. For those uninitiated into the cult of Kejri, I believes this dishonesty forms one of the biggest barriers in accepting his whole idea of honesty-based politics without a derisive smirk.
And it needn’t be. If AAP could just accept it is another party and a not a movement or revolution , with none of the shows of Hangalian honesty and Manoj Kumarish patriotism and the “tucchya naganya” self-deprecation, and just promise good governance, decent policy and equal treatment of all citizens while pragmatically playing the game that everyone else plays without the “I am better than you” song-and-dance, that honesty itself would make it a more compelling political choice, at least for me.
But alas they don’t. Because then they would lose the base of dittoheads.
One can say, and many do, that “yeh to sab theek hai” but the reason we love Kejriwal, is that unlike the other parties, he and his gang have not stolen crores of rupees or been responsible for communal riots or have pulled down religious structures. Given the nature of our politics, the bar is set pretty low for acceptance and even though Kejriwal has not exactly covered himself with glory, his band of urbane and educated fellow travelers, are at least not the criminals and the history-sheeters and the shamelessly corrupt that the others field for years on end.
This seems like a fair point to make. In the next post, I shall take a closer look at it.
[Next: Deconstructing Kejriwal Part 3]