The (Ir)resistible Rise of Arvind Kejriwal – Enter The ‘Outsider’
The tide is clearly turning. You know this when former critics and lampooners start talking of him as a ‘game changer’; you know this when weather-cocks turn away from the corridors of power where once they had been ensconced. You know this when rats start deserting the sinking ship.
Suddenly, everybody is talking favourably about the man from the ‘outside’ who is refusing to respect any of the established protocols of protest and politcs. More startling perhaps, is the fact that in the past tw0 days we have had senior journalists and political analysts suddenly telling us that they had known all along that there was a ‘post 1980 contract’, a secret code of silence, that never would the dynasty be attacked – indeed never would any apsiring dynasty be attacked. Everybody knew, says Dipankar Gupta in the Times of India, that the issue came up one and a half years ago – and we all do know that. Robert Vadra’s doings had already been known. A senior BJP leader is even reported to have told a senior journalist that his party had indeed been in possession of the very same documents that Arvind Kejriwal brandished at his press conference. But, this leader went to say, “after an intense discussion, the leadership decided not to rake up the issue in Parliament even after submitting a motion in each House asking for a discussion.” Everybody knew – the parties, their leaders, the media persons, political analysts. And yet, nobody spoke out. All of them colluded, in other words, in suppressing the issue. Politicians kept silent for an understandable reason – aspiring dynasties that they are, after all. But the others? Mediapersons? Any guesses?
As someone who has been trying to understand Indian politics over the decades, I have often wondered at what I have referred to as the ‘implosion of the political’ – that is to say, the destruction of politics in the formal political domain. What is called a noora kushti in Hindustani, had come to mark our parliamentary-political grammar. Farcical walk-outs after equally farcical fire-spouting rhetorical speeches in parliament, and a happy bonhomie away from the glare of the media – that was what our politics had been reduced to.
It was in this context that we saw the emergence of the anti-corruption movement – once known as the Anna Hazare movement – from late 2010 onwards. Rank outsiders suddenly barged their way into the political field and caused consternation all around. People who neither understood nor cared for the grammar that grammarians had so carefully put in place, were now all over, asking often ‘rude’ questions. The Congress propaganda machinery (the well-known dirty-tricks department) swung into action, ably assisted, one is sad to say, by the intelligentsia. Democracy was reduced to representation-by-election. The right of ordinary citizens to aks questions of their rulers was drowned in a flood of grammar lectures. As someone who came to his political senses in the early 1970s, I remember that the critique of electoral representation was not mounted only by the ‘Naxalites’ who rejected the parliament as a pig-sty. Among the slogans that used to adorn the walls in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was Zinda kaumen paanch saal intezaar nahin kiya karteen. The slogan was Ram Manohar Lohia’s – one of whose followers, Kishan Patnaik actually made the rarest of the rare moves – from parliamentary politics (from being an MP) towards non-parliamentary politics. Clearly these people understood even then, that there was something seriously amiss about the way parliamentary electoral politics functioned.
But here was the political class and the intelligentsia from Left to Right taking the protestors to task – asking them to tame their dissent and channel it through ‘proper channels’. Contest elections and let us see how much support you have, they challenged. Anna Hazare stuck to his guns, refusing the bait. Kejriwal however, seems to have decided to call their bluff. And much before the last hunger strike failed, his political mobilization started moving away from the single point agenda of the Lokpal Bill. Apparently taking up the challenge and moving towards the constitution of a political party, Kejriwal has entered the field in a manner that might even begin to pose an electoral challenge to ruling as well as opposition parties. How much of a challenge it will be we cannot say. However, one thing is quite clear: It will probably introduce an element of serious uncertainty in the coming elections, whenever they are held. Old formulas will cease to work. Equations are bound to change with new imponderables entering the scene.
I want to underline, however, that even though Kejriwal’s outfit may decide to call itself a party, it is likely to remain resolutely an Anti-Party. For one thing, it (and he) seems to be resolutely opposed to the party-electoral logic of seeking coalitions and alliances in the bid for power. The party-form is nothing if not an embodiment of the will-to-power, a mechanism whereby the pursuit of power must become it sole raison d’etre. And that is the beginning of ‘tactics’ – of compromises, deals and trade-offs. But with Kejriwal, his alliances if any, are likely to be worked out with social/ people’s movements, and the outfit is likely to remain focused on the central issue of corruption. The presence of one might call a “party-in-deferral” in the political firmament might introduce some interesting dimensions in our politics. It seems to me that this outfit, whatever the name it decides to call itself by, will be a harbinger of what seems to be seeking to make its appearance worldwide – a post-party politics and post-party democracy. The possibility that it might become a party and yet not be one, is interesting and new – though I am aware that there are many among Kejriwal’s confidantes who would like it to become a party right away. If these advisors have their way, we can rest assured that it will be the end of this interesting new experiment.