We were mired in the depths of despair, there was corruption all around, almost all the political formations seemed to have lost the plot, the economy was in a tailspin and we were losing faith in our very democracy. When along came Arvind Kejriwal, broom in hand, promising to sweep away all our problems if we would elect his AAP to power. The people of Delhi did so, only to be staggered by what followed. He quickly gave up office on the grounds that he could not pass the lokpal Bill and set his sights on the Lok Sabha elections. I suspect that was the gameplan all along, but then you could accuse me of being a cynical hack.
But I am astonished at the transformation in our capped crusader, our own version of Captain Marvel. He argued loud and long in favour of his minister for law Somnath Bharti, who thought it fit to conduct midnight raids on foreigners. Out came Mr Morality, who felt that those who did not conform to our societal norms were very much likely to have Bharti whipping around for a midnight tête-à-tête. Oh, and Kejriwal also thought that khap panchayats were part of our tradition, never mind that they always weigh in against women.
But the media were quite happy to give him a long rope. He will come up with the words we are waiting for, he will bring in a breath of fresh air into our moribund politics. We forgot that having ridden on the back of Anna Hazare, himself a somewhat dodgy reformer, Kejriwal did not spare him a backward glance as he climbed the political ladder. But did we ever think that the Kejriwal that the media so lovingly built up, yes, he is largely a media creation, would unsheath his claws quite so soon?
We saw hints of intolerance here and there. We saw more than a hint of sanctimoniousness. And we certainly saw a penchant to hurl unsubstantiated allegations at the powerful. He ranted and raved with no evidence of some grand conspiracy by Mukesh Ambani to subvert the system. He saw in BJP prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi a stooge of corporate houses — again with nothing to back him up. Even then, the media continued extending the rope. He was the new kid on the block and we so wanted to believe that he would change our politics for the better.
We did not see the warning signs obviously. First our pure as the driven snow Kejriwal asked a television journalist to play up some parts of an interview with him. If Modi or Rahul Gandhi had done this, we would have been quick off the block to accuse them of interfering with the freedom of the media, of trying to manipulate the media. But Kejriwal got off fairly lightly on that one, with just a little tut-tutting from some quarters. Clearly emboldened by what he thought was a pliant media, Kejriwal seems to have then decided to reveal his true colours. And I for one am glad of that. He declared in no uncertain terms that when he came to power — please note when, not if — he would throw mediapersons behind bars. As all hell broke loose, he clarified. He meant some sections of the media, presumably those in the pay of Modi or some other political or corporate entity. Well, that makes us feel a whole lot better.
So, Dubya’s ‘if you are not with me, you are against me’ theory is alive and well on our shores and Kejriwal is its foremost proponent. Gone is the humble, shawl and muffler clad persona who showed great respect for all institutions of democracy. Let us remind dear Kejriwal that the media is a crucial pillar of democracy. And not even those whom Kejriwal accuses of having anti-democratic credentials have threatened to lock up the media. Do I detect a note of frustration in Kejriwal’s newfound zeal to teach the media a lesson? Could it be that the media has faithfully done its job in reporting the kind of mayhem AAP supporters created at the BJP office in Delhi and in Mumbai? Did he want that bit of inconvenient news to be blacked out? I suspect so.
And as for money power and corruption, it is much better to be upfront about sources of money than pretend it all comes from some amorphous ‘people’. Other parties do take corporate donations and they don’t pretend otherwise. And before I forget, what happened to the great cleansing of public life project? It does not seem to feature very much now as Kejriwal and Co charge about the countryside hurling charges against opponents. Has Kejriwal thought for a minute that if he flings the media into jail, there will be no one to document his words of wisdom and the engaging antics of his party members and workers.
Kejriwal is no different from many politicians, notable among them being our gentle home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who would like to ‘crush’ an inconvenient electronic media — his words, not mine. And he has made that clear now. Of course, it will take more than Kejriwal and his doughty capped followers to cow the media into submission. But forewarned is forearmed. If Kejriwal comes to power, the media knows what to expect. And like the Boy Scouts, they will ‘be prepared’.