Arvind Kejriwal vs the next best idea

  • Manu Joseph, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 09, 2015 14:03 IST

In an office, the boss usually has two kinds of deputies — the faithful wife, who is often a man, and the ambitious schemer. Narendra Modi’s Amit Shah, and Arvind Kejriwal’s Yogendra Yadav. Work is many honourable things, but it is also lips and daggers pursuing the rear of the chief.

The loyal deputy is hurt when taken for granted, which is often, or when the schemer is rewarded by the boss, but he does derive exceptional power from the chief. The schemer, always a suspect, cannot hide his true nature for long and has to deliver his fatal blow fast before there is incriminating evidence against him or before he has outlived his use to the organisation. A clever boss would see value in both the deputies, and in circumstances try to convert the schemer into satellite wife. The schemer, after all, exists in the system because he is of some value.

The latest embarrassment, mistakenly described as a crisis, that has befallen the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in essence the revelation that its chief has beaten the schemers. Because of its pious foundations, everything that AAP does is required to have exalted reasons. So there is much talk about principles and ‘inner-party democracy’. But nobody who has worked in a large office for even a week needs to be too baffled. The matter is not complex.

Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, who were vital to the party, have been transforming their disenchantment with their chief, Arvind Kejriwal, into news plants. Last year, a story in The Hindu had this passage. “Says a despondent leader (of AAP): ‘The party is beset with factionalism and blatant one-upmanship. We do not have a dynamic face to lead the team in Punjab and the collective leadership is also flawed.’” It has now been revealed that Yadav was a source of the story that was very critical of Kejriwal at a time when he was at his weakest. And Kejriwal, like most of us, does not wish to work with men whom he despises even though he would be intellectually impoverished if Bhushan and Yadav are sidelined.

It is absurd to conclude that AAP, because of its power struggle, has downgraded itself to the level of just any other political party. AAP has to debase itself by recruiting murderers, fixers and rapists to achieve that. A party of squabbling middle-aged men can still be more principled than any other political party in India.

There is the question of Kejriwal’s ‘autocratic nature’ that has been in the air for the past several months. As a man who has paid rich tributes to ‘democratic consensus’, he naturally cannot reveal the fact that he has only contempt for the majority view of the highest committee of his party when it comes in conflict with his own political instincts. He cannot say this because he is up against the formidable branding of democratic process as the best idea in any given situation. But the fact is that democratic consensus derives its power from being the second best idea of everyone. The best idea is usually one’s own.

In the years when the United States funded Afghanistan’s war against Russia, Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, had backed one of the major Afghan tribal chiefs. In 2011, the journalist Lawrence Wright wrote in the New Yorker, “I asked Gul why, during the Afghan jihad, he had favored Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the seven warlords who had been designated to receive American assistance in the fight against the Soviets. Hekmatyar was the most brutal member of the group, but, crucially, he was a Pashtun, like Gul…Gul offered a more principled rationale for his choice: ‘I went to each of the seven, you see, and I asked them, “I know you are the strongest, but who is No. 2?”’ He formed a tight, smug smile. ‘They all said Hekmatyar.’”

Even if Gul were lying he was only revealing an unremarkable way of the world. In a system of equals, where every thinker feels his idea is the best, the second-best idea would triumph. And that second best idea is usually, “let’s take a vote”.

AAP has no choice but to pretend to be such a system but it is not in reality because all its thinkers do not have equal vote. Kejriwal, as a founder, superstar, and a man who has been proved right, wields more power than the others. What is demanded of him is that he abandon what he feels is the best idea and back what he thinks is a mediocre idea because it is the beloved of a majority in the inner circle of his party. It is an unnatural demand. The unspoken paradox of AAP is that even though it is a political party in a democracy, as an organisation it is best run without the weight of consensus.

In December, former British prime minister Tony Blair, in an essay in the New York Times titled, ‘Is Democracy Dead?’, wrote that democracy’s “…values are right, but it is too often failing to deliver…Democracy seems slow, bureaucratic and weak.” A second-best idea usually has such consequences but it is a flaw nations must endure. However, an organisation, while paying tribute to the notion of democracy, may circumvent the inconvenience of consensus if its chief is very powerful. And Kejriwal is at this moment in time.

The smart are usually autocratic. A part of the reason lies in the rest. As this column has argued before, while trying to understand Kejriwal, “People with great instincts begin their lives wading through the cesspool of opinions, most of them hostile to their own inner voices, and as they begin to succeed against all odds they find it hard to respect the collective wisdom of the world. Because they have seen from so close how wrong the world can be.”

(Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People. The views expressed by the author are personal. Twitter: @manujosephsan)

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