Both the BJP and the Congress must be feeling a bit like Henry II who said of his zealous archbishop Thomas Beckett, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" The king's courtiers took this to heart that despatched Beckett to the great hereafter. Replace Beckett with Arvind Kejriwal, though in very much less bloody circumstances, and you get the picture, don't you? But unlike the King whose word was law, uncomfortable people like Kejriwal will not fade away from the picture.
As both the main political parties fight to establish the superiority of their claim to be the spokesmen of the aam aadmi, it is Kejriwal who has picked up the cause and run with it. In other words, the man on the street is now speaking for himself through self-proclaimed messiahs like Kejriwal, no longer in need of political interlocutors from the BJP or the Congress or any other party. Now, I have some real problems with the way Kejriwal functions. He seems all fire and brimstone and nothing beyond that. His rhetoric against all sorts of politicians while at the same time wanting to join the political system smacks of double standards. But I have to concede that he has effectively hijacked the Opposition space, he has become the voice of the people.
But why stop at only the Congress and the BJP? Mamata Banerjee claims to speak on behalf of the man on the street, the poorest of the poor. Mulayam Singh Yadav has positioned himself as the voice of the minorities, the Left, of course, as the voice of the dispossessed. Yet, it is Kejriwal with his somewhat hysterical and wild allegations of corruption who is ruling the airwaves. So whether we like it or not, the single most important issue today is corruption and none of the political parties has a leg to stand on when it comes to raising this as one of the major evils in our polity. And how can they, considering some of the bizarre statements that many of them have come out with. Some have slyly said that it is fine to siphon off a bit of public money as long as the work gets done, some have said that the sums involved in corruption allegations are small potatoes for the personage under scrutiny.
So, to many, people like Anna Hazare and Kejriwal are the unlikely caped crusaders against corruption. Kejriwal's blatantly illegal acts like reconnecting electricity lines which had been cut due to non-payment of dues to burning electricity bills are going down a treat with people whose expectations of the political class have touched the nadir. Making charges against people and then expecting them to prove th-emselves innocent also goes against the grain of our system of jurisprudence. And if there is not a convincing enough political response, we are heading towards some sort of mobocracy or anarchy. And this is something that India can certainly do without at a time when it is struggling to shake off the economic lethargy of several years.
But if the words of the Kejriwals find resonance, the political class has itself to blame. The principal Opposition has done nothing beyond hurling charges and taking up very expensive Parliament time disrupting proceedings. The government on its part has lurched from scam to scam unable to convincingly explain itself. Nei-ther is doing what it was elected to do. I can well imagine why people have looked to alternatives then, though how effective an alternative Kejriwal's motley crew will be in the long run is hard to say. But, what I see here is really people saying they will go for anything that offers them a break from the endemic corruption which has come to characterise the political system today.
This is a very loud wake-up call for our political parties, particularly the big two. The BJP has to get its act together and come up with cogent, reasoned arguments in Parliament, not engage in futile shouting mat-ches and walk-outs. The government should shake off its stupor and get a move on with pending legislations which could have a far-reaching effect on people's lives.
In the past corruption did not determine the outcomes of elections, today it is becoming THE issue. What Kejriwal has done is hand over a ticking bomb to both political formations. If like Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, they adopt a wait-and-watch policy, it will blow up in their faces. They should defuse the bomb very quickly and then prove to people that they are willing to change, they are willing to listen, they are willing to act, and to clean up their act. It is painful, but it is better to eat a bit of humble pie than be in denial. Or as King Henry found to his chagrin, they too will find that even after getting rid of the turbulent priest, their troubles will not go away. The journey on the road to redemption must begin now.