His cap comes and goes. His cough, they say, has come for keeps. He seems inscrutable, even mysterious. He looks self-denying one moment, self-absorbed the next, democratic now, self-willed next. Is he a master tactician or a ‘don’t care master’, platform-sharer or platform-monopolist, a new planet or a shooting star?
A few months ago, I would not have thought I would be asking these questions.
So, why am I doing so now?
For this reason: We — political half-wits like me excepted — ‘ain’t stupid’. And if, overarching a powerful party in office, and another powerful party challenging the party in office, we have decided to heap our trust on a rank newcomer, one who has fought the election with a message and not with money, bundles upon bundles of it, that newcomer compels attention.
A David who fells not one but two Goliaths compels attention. The street-kid who kick-throws not one but two local toughs, compels attention. The bicycle which outpaces both a Merc and a Sumo, compels attention.
Call him any or none of those or, if you prefer, something else. The fact is that if any one name is stirring the political imagination of India today, it is that of Arvind Kejriwal.
Leaving metaphors aside, let us look at the hard political reality. Others — activists, intellectuals, writers, men and women of courage and conviction — have for years been talking about, striving for, what Kejriwal has. Living with thanklessness has become normal with them, as has living with disappointment. They continue, regardless. It is not they but Kejriwal who has ‘dunned it’.
For the future of idealism, AAP should have given government formation in Delhi the pass. Its tutelage in electoral politics should have been allowed to ripen on the tree of mass awakening, before being plucked and pickled in the vats of office. It would have gone ‘fresh and clean’ into the parliamentary battle. However, all that is now academic.
At the risk of sounding like another time-taking ‘carbuncular Unc’, let me offer Kejriwal and AAP the following unsolicited advice:
Your biggest strength, Kejriwal, is not your integrity — which I take as axiomatic — but your independence. Please retrieve your natural role by offering yourself as a candidate for the Lok Sabha, like Independent candidates do, with an eye to legislation, admonition and correction, not power. Let AAP contest a good number of winnable seats as the defender of people’s rights and not as yet another power-alternator.
Do not seek the mirage of numbers, but the aquifers of achievement. And do not be so vain as to withhold support from good candidates of other parties, and Independents, if they are un-corrupt and as mindful of the aam aadmi as you. The next Lok Sabha will, I think, be more about persons than about parties. Let the aam aadmi elect valuationally khaas MPs.
Do appreciate the value of our institutions, Constitutional institutions. They have been put in place by the best of intellects, BR Ambedkar being the foremost among them. And in ‘institutions’ I include the intangibles of frank debate, the readiness to accommodate contrary views so long as they are intellectually integritous, the abjuring of agitationism as an all-weather political posture.
Both in and outside legislatures, be very different from other large parties and give to your own inner workings the oxygen of inner-party democracy. Encourage unity and loyalty, but discourage uniformity (including uniforms) and sycophancy. Narcissism is half-sister to Nazism. In political iconism lies iconoclasm. In cronyism hides the death of revolution and the birth of revolt.
Have the courage to tell us, the people who vote, where we too need to change. We are an amazingly caring and an appallingly callous people. You should be able to tell us where we are going wrong in terms of sectarian bigotry, environmental insensitivity and worship of money. If politicians manipulate us, we have learnt how to manipulate the political and administrative system. Please tell your support-base how wrong and, in fact, atrocious it is that so many abuse and exploit domestic staff, siphon bijli and paani connections, fudge tax returns. And day in and day out, throw litter around for someone else to clear.
See concealed under its Kremlinesque hood, the Indian Left’s remarkable democratic fight against inequality. Please dialogue with the Left on how, wretched bribe-taking and bribe-giving apart, the behemoth of techno-corporate monopolies over natural resources is to be resisted. And on how, as Prabhat Patnaik has pointed out, universal rights need to be put in place.
See in the crumbling but indestructible mosaic of the Congress a great edifice, in which region, caste, creed and language joined to make a common home for the peoplehood of India. Dialogue with the Congress on how the sectarian challenge to our pluralism is to be resisted.
Redeem the voice of India’s social democratic traditions once so powerfully led by Acharya Narendra Deva, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, SM Joshi, Mrinal Gore and Kishen Pattanayak. And of Indian liberal traditions founded by the one and only-such Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
Acknowledge the immense bank of knowledge and experience that lies with India’s public intellectuals, activists and NGOs of world-renown. Amartya Sen, MS Swaminathan, Andre Beteille, Ela Bhatt, Chandiprasad Bhatt, Aruna Roy, Jean Drèze, Gopal Guru, Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Sunita Narain and P Sainath will not agree with you in all matters, nor with one another either but you — AAP — should see in them natural thought-partners and equivalents of what sishyas in the world of the arts call vidvans and vidushis.
And so am I asking you to be a bit of this and a bit of that and nothing of yourself? Not at all. Be yourself but an ‘Indian oneself’ has to go well beyond oneself. If you do you will not only go high up in our political charts but in what JP called “bhavi itihas” — future history.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal