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The Raw-Mango Party

Arvind Kejriwal has fired his latest publicity salvo. He’s termed the Government’s decision to refuse asylum to Edward Snowden as a “cowardly act”, accusing the Government of having “meekly capitulated to US pressure.” Without getting into the issue of whether the decision to refuse, taken by diplomatic experts, is a wise one, what is noteworthy is that asides from Mr. Kejriwal’s anti-establishment ranting, he offers no concrete insights into what granting political asylums entails, what ramifications – political, economic and strategic – would there be of refusing or granting such asylums and provides no guidance to our countrymen on the effects of such asylums on our foreign policy. In keeping with his past record, Mr. Kejriwal appears desperate to garner whatever media he can by speaking on a sensitive topic currently occupying front-page coverage.

But a critique of Mr. Kejriwal and his methods cannot overlook his courage. He recognized that to make a difference a start had to be made and accepted the challenge of transforming his social movement to a political party. However, he appears to have overlooked that politics involves more than just vain words: it requires a political base, to garner that base an ideology is necessary, such ideology can’t just be a voice against establishment and also requires a clear agenda on a host of issues that confront political affairs. In sincerity, the vision document of Mr. Kejriwal’s “Aam Aadmi Party” (AAP) reads more like an idealistic wish-list than shedding any real vision on nation building. Consequently, despite an honesty of purpose, one wonders whether Mr. Kejriwal has got carried away in his own rhetoric?

Also, he has so far been a one-trick pony– focused only on corruption and ancillary issues – as a consequence his detailed views on other equally important matters of national importance are barely known. But that doesn’t stop him from giving regular media-bites on a host of matters. Unfortunately, there’s seldom any depth to his comments and it almost always leads back to his ramblings of ‘saare neta chor hain’ (all politicians are thieves). Mr. Kejriwal is indeed working very hard in his efforts to grow bottom-up and his rallies do gather a large number of his ‘Kejriwal groupies’. But in his journey as an RTI activist to a political wannabe, almost everyone he closely worked with has distanced themselves from him, leaving questions about his leadership abilities. In fact, one of his erstwhile colleagues is reported to have said that “he refutes everything with a belief that only what he says is correct,” which doesn’t bode well for his consensus-building capabilities, a necessity in current day Indian politics.

Corruption will undoubtedly be an important plank on which the next general elections will be fought owing solely to the efforts of Anna Hazare and Mr. Kejriwal. But who better than Mr. Kejriwal to know that eventually the voter cares more about roti, bijlee, paani and mehangayi (food, electricity, water and inflation). Why else is Mr. Kejriwal’s going about illegally restoring electricity connections. The voter may get enthralled by this drama, but asides from alleging collusion between the private distributor and the political class, has Mr. Kejriwal offered any substantive long-term solutions to the genuine shortfall of power that Delhi faces?

Let’s take another of his carefully selected peeves– inflation, which is always an important election issue. We all recognize that inflation needs to be controlled. But so far has Mr. Kejriwal, an IIT graduate and topper of the Indian Civil Services, offered any concrete ways by which India’s fiscal deficit can get checked? Furthermore, ideas like introducing the right to recall or reject are lofty, but will not they get funded from public funds? Are we ready to bear that burden especially when it will take away from spending on other essentials? And how can one forget Mr. Kejriwal’s desire of economic based reservations. But who determines the economic limits and on what parameters?

Say what we want about the Indian voter but, it would be unwise to question their intelligence, decision making powers and ability to differentiate between good and bad. The voter likes stability and wants continuity in governance and today’s voter recognizes that a political majority is necessary to achieve these. AAP’s declaration that its aim is not to come to power, but their political entry is to change the “self-serving system of politics” is noble. But can the sole agenda of a newly formed political party be just to shake-up the system? And if so, is such a party really serving the cause of democracy or is it inadvertently weakening the system of governance and electoral politics?

One acknowledges that India’s political system desperately requires fresh ideas and new solutions to long festering problems. Social movements and anti-government campaigns infuse that freshness. But it’s unwise to confuse patriotism with politics. Just as politicians don’t always make good administrators, similarly activists don’t always make good politicians. However cliché it may be, politics is best left to politicians, not a handful of individuals with a single-point agenda.

Eventually, while time alone will reveal whether Mr. Kejriwal and his colleagues at AAP survive beyond the upcoming elections, in the current mango season they are best described as raw mangoes (kache aam) who will take some time to ripen in Indian politics (jinhe pakne me kuch samay lage ga)!

Satvik Varma is an advocate based in New Delhi & an Aspen India Leadership Fellow. 

First Published in The Economic Times.

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