Arvind Kejriwal's potentate instincts are showing up early

  • Chanakya, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 08, 2015 08:04 IST

The supremo is now an institution in most political parties. The trend towards an all-powerful leader whose word brooks no opposition was perhaps started by Indira Gandhi. Famously said to have been addressed as sir by her cabinet colleagues, the imperious Indira did not take to criticism kindly and that perhaps led to her downfall. Then we have the new age Congress led by Sonia Gandhi, again a leader who has no opposition within, at least not overtly. And the BJP, the party with a difference, has shown that it too is not averse to a personality-driven system. And here the man is Narendra Modi, who floats above the fray. Other parties like the BSP, SP, RJD, TMC and Shiv Sena, to name a few, all have an omnipotent leader.

Then along came another party with a difference, a word which should have instantly aroused our suspicions but did not. Indeed, the manner in which the party seemed to run back to the people for every decision seemed to me a little odd. But the Aam Aadmi Party was determined to change the rules. So we thought. The over-reliance on people’s participation killed its first stint. In its second stint, we thought all the kinks would have been ironed out.

But, therein, dear reader, lies the rub. No one, unless you are made of superhuman stuff, is quite immune to the power of power. And our Arvind Kejriwal is no exception, it would seem. Yes, there is much to admire in the manner in which AAP came roaring back into the fray. Its promises may have been too populist for my taste but then its democratic functioning seemed a far cry from our supremo culture. So far, so good.

But, it seems to have taken very little time for Kejriwal’s ‘my way or the highway’ tendencies to emerge. First, it was swept under the carpet, now it is right out in the open. Those like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav who have stuck by the party from inception, unlike the overtly vociferous Shazia Ilmi, not to mention a host of others who fled the coop, don’t seem quite welcome anymore in the House of Kejriwal. At least this is how things seem from the fact that they were booted out of the political affairs committee, the highest decision-making body in the party.

For a start, the CM has decided quite unilaterally that the party would not contest state polls. Did he ask any advice on this? It would seem not, given how perplexed Yadav was about this. Then there is the issue of one man, one post. Kejriwal seemed quite unwilling to step down as convener of the national executive until he was literally forced to even though as CM, he will not have enough time to attend to the party’s expansion plans. Of course, as in other parties, his resignation was rejected. A party like AAP was meant to be inclusive in the true sense and encourage all manner of debate and dissent. But at the first hint of dissent, the Pavlovian response of someone like Kejriwal is to shunt out the dissenters to the margins. Indeed, there are allegations that those close to Yadav and Bhushan were kept at bay at the party meeting.

Yadav is perhaps the best spokesman the party could possibly ask for. Cool as a cucumber he rarely appears on TV or any other medium unprepared. He is rational, never raises his voice and argues with logic and reason. Yet he is out of favour for the cardinal sin of not seeing eye to eye with Kejriwal. Must we assume then that Kejriwal favours some sort of ideological closure, now that his party has come to power?

I would far prefer Kejriwal to be open to dissent and course correction than make a virtue of staying in a small house or doing away with Z-class security. It is his very approachability, his candour and his refusal to be the supremo that endeared him to many people. He is a professional, not a dynast, and we had hoped intellectually democratic. Which is why it seems such a pity that he is averse to listening to those who say things he does not want to hear. Reminds you a bit of Orwell’s iconic Animal Farm, doesn’t it? It all starts out with the animals seizing control of the farm and running it as equals. Then it transpires that as the pigs take more control, some animals are indeed more equal than others. I am not trying to run down Kejriwal here. I am just disappointed that he is no different from the run-of-the-mill ruler.

The party is off to a spectacular start, but such are the expectations that things can sour very quickly. We need look no further than the NDA to see that. Modi was meant to come along on white charger and transform all our lives in what now amounts to a Panglossian hope that many bought into. It did not happen and disillusionment has set in, the budget perhaps being a silver lining in the cloud. I wonder why Kejriwal seems so reluctant to act against a Somnath Bharti, who, by all accounts, embarrassed Kejriwal in his first avatar with his highhandedness against foreign women. Yet, he is kept close to the leader. And Yadav and Bhushan, both intellectually streaks ahead of Bharti, are being pushed to the fringes.

The party should have a strong ideological base, it needs inputs from its core team. Yadav is right in saying that many mistakes were made earlier, he is right in voicing his dissensions now. He should be allowed to do so in party forums, but clearly instead of that the whole thing is being played out in the media.

If Kejriwal develops potentate-like ambitions now, the party is heading for turbulence within. And with this, many promises will be put off for another day. Public indulgence is on a very short leash these days. Who would have thought that the mighty Modi-Shah duo would get so much flak barely nine months down the line? Kejriwal has already blotted his copybook once when he mistook the chief ministerial chair to be licence to conduct unseemly dharnas and drama. This time, he has come with the promise that he has changed. Last time around, he was not the imperious individual we see today, but a person like you and me prone to making mistakes. To err is human, to forgive divine. Yes, this dictum holds but only once. If Kejriwal and company, through their refusal to listen to their own people, cause the party to splinter and not work to capacity, I fear that round two could also end in disaster at worst and a whimper at best. The people put their faith in AAP, giving it a huge mandate. But the vicious infighting must be leading many to wonder if their unquestioning faith will be belied.

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