When Arvind Kejriwal, drove his blue WagonR at top speed up a sharp cliff and got to the top, with a little help from non-friends in the Congress, who are as eager to see him fall to the bottom of the rock face as is the BJP, he surprised if not stunned everyone except himself and some of his closest supporters. As India’s pre-eminent street campaigner, Kejriwal has had one of the shortest, fastest and most dizzying climbs in the country’s political history.
After the initial flush of victory, Kejriwal appears to have been on, well, not quite a roll but on some kind of perpetual overdrive. For one thing, his Cabinet, appears to be more familiar with the language, verbal and body, of street fighting than governance. The incidents with the African women played out on prime time TV with law minister Somnath Bharti clashing with the much-maligned police. This was an overture to the confrontation with the Centre over AAP’s demand for the suspension of the policemen. The drama was aimed at retaining a popular base and perhaps forcing fresh elections in Delhi, when AAP hopes to do better, which would coincide with the Lok Sabha polls this summer.
Whether Kejriwal won or lost this bout, whether he climbed up or down, there are four issues which need consideration:
The first is that Delhi is not just any other place in India; it is the national Capital, home to Parliament. It is an international hub for travellers and business. Statesmen come calling; it lives on the cusp of India and Bharat. The National Capital Region is arguably the biggest cultural and media centre of South Asia and has some of its best educational institutions. No one in power should lose sight of this: it is also home to our nation — Partition’s refugees have made their home here, while Gandhiji, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel all left their mark as have migrants from all parts of India seeking better lives. With all its drawbacks it is slowly becoming that rare commodity: an Indian urban space. A government that runs Delhi must seek to represent this larger space, not any one group.
The second is that during the drama outside Rail Bhavan, it was not one man but the entire Cabinet which was out there along with AAP MLAs. Kejriwal was seen signing a few files on television; we are sure he is a conscientious man, determined to do public good, but one doubts if he or Delhi got any work done those days. But public good is not achieved by squandering public money — MLAs, ministers, officers have a job to do. Governments have processes and procedures; officials have specific assignments. It is not possible to run a Capital or a government with pompous declarations.
The third is the issue of the impact of such actions on the police. There cannot be but resentment among Delhi’s law enforcement authorities for being made a scapegoat. Whether, as AAP wants, they come under local administrative control or remain under the Centre, to humiliate them will not spur them to do a better job nor win their support and loyalty.
The fourth is, to paraphrase one of our English news channel’s top broadcasters, ‘what does the country demand’ of Kejriwal? There may be many things — but one is that as the Capital’s top elected official he needs to be physically well. Little can be achieved by falling sick after staying outdoors on wet and bone-chilling nights. That’s inviting illness and represents an abdication of responsibility. Kejriwal needs to be less cavalier about his health. If he wants to be a marathon man — and not just a sprinter — he would do well to cultivate better health, more patience, rein in his impetuous colleagues and deliver on a few more promises.
Sanjoy Hazarika is director, Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia
The views expressed by the author are personal