This article was first posted in January 2014, but being topical we have chosen to republish it.
Any assessment of Kejriwal must concede the monumental nature of his project. He has dared to dream of an emancipatory politics that is geared to unfold the consequences of a new possibility. Established as well as newly forged opportunistic parties exploiting the various fissures in society, anchored in the minds of their followers by pure greed and rewards of office have been ruling the roost. Kejriwal arrived at this crucial juncture, this moment of crisis when the various debauched versions of politics had ceased to interest people because ordinary citizens felt they had no say in state decision-making. A sense of pervasive despair had overtaken a large number of people; each one of them thought that alone he could not make the difference; he needed to convince countless others like him. He was able to energise this inert mass of people and inspired by his vision the political arena has seen the influx of IIT engineers, management graduates, former civil servants, apart from common people. It has radicalized the political sphere by posing a challenge to the tired old generation of professional politicians or others who owe their rise to prominence exclusively by inheritance or political maneuvering or daring acts of criminality. A greater variety by way of “new people” itself promises to open the possibilities of radical new evolution which had been stopped in its tracks by the inbred nature of our politics. It would be irresponsible to spot him as the man in Taine’s famous triad of the man, the moment and the milieu so soon but he has certainly brought a glimmer of hope, something solid to stand upon and look beyond the imprisoning wall of despair. But above all he has promised to dismantle the political system where every source of power has been conscripted to politics and political connections. Direct democracy would be a reality and referendum the normal mode of consultation. He needs to be cheered, if for nothing else, for the mobilsation of valuable social capital in the interest of better politics.
It will be worth the recall that he was part of the Anna brigade and the main plank of this agitation was fighting corruption. After the parting of ways with Anna on the issue of a more direct political engagement to fight corruption Kejriwal began his campaign for being anointed as the font of moral authority, as the social conscience of the age in a very systematic manner. He painted everyone in the public eye in hues of black. Revelation of financial malfeasance and corrupt practices, a disclosure a day, scandal piled upon scandal. Like Bernard Shaw, he built his reputation by murdering other people’s reputation. But he was also treading a dangerous path by setting himself up, as the Socratic figure, of a detached disinterested dreamer one who could “set against the laws of the state a discourse of superior law, an ideal against an established order of power.” He was stacking the dice every day but I guess he misread the signal. He seemed to have located his utopia quite some distance away in time. But the people of Delhi took him more seriously than he himself. The “detached dreamer” was now called upon to take the role of a man of action. He was found to be lacking in logistics as well as a viable strategy. Surprisingly for a man who had at his command the national brains trust of IIT and IIM fellows he did not seem to have thought deeply enough. Abundant goodwill and a determination to do good are not good enough to compensate for amateurishness, lack of experience, and ignorance about the dimension of the problems. When you proclaim sainthood you are bound to be judged by the high standard of a saint! The jury is out – almost on a daily basis.
He solved the easier questions easily. Henceforth it was for the Aam admi to decide whether its party would accept the support of another party to form a government. Whether the CM will stay in a ten room bungalow or in a three room quarter? In fact it seems the AAP is determined to disprove the wry observation of the maverick thinker, commentator and polemicist Slavoj Zizek “those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.” he wanted to transform the pretense in to the essence. Redeeming his promise of electricity and free water were also rather easy and their consequences, whatever they may be, would be felt only in the long run.It may be a bit of pure theatre but it has reaped a great dividend by way of spurring other parties to emulate him. So we have the slightly incongruous situation where an MP sits on dharna to reduce the price of electricity. Another political party has sought the opinion of the constituents to indicate their choice of candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. More reasons for cheer for Mr. Kejriwal.
Unworkability is one of the main elements of utopian projects; the other being a certain endearing vagueness. Who is an Aam Admi? An Aam Admi is indeed an abstraction. In him he has sought to locate the source of ultimate purity and honesty. Some kind of a noble savage dressed to make a living in modern times. He is the personified victim of a dysfunctional system. The fact of the matter is that he is a Janus faced creature, much like Sartre’s “half victim half, half accomplice like everyone else”in a polity whose wheels are kept in motion by the grease of corruption and extortion. To begin with who is an Aam Admi? The railway porter who will not hesitate to extort the maximum portage from another Aam Admi, on one of the many railway stations? Is it the auto driver who will maximize his advantage by refusing to take a fare on a lonely less frequented route, or late in the night unless he shells out the price he has quoted? Is he the milkman or vegetable vender who considers adulteration his birth right? The international film director whose outing for an evening could mean the domestic budget of any of the three categories of people mentioned previously? Or is he the owner of a private airline? Or is he the law minister who orders about the police to do his bidding whatever the circumstances? Or is he the one who is prepared to let lose anarchy should the central government not accept his advice? Aam admi is the embodiment of all the romantic notions about helpless citizen pitted against the vast impersonal state but he is also Khas in his own sphere of activity. Aam adami subsumes a variety of mutually hostile interests; they do not make a solidarity group and are a source of many contradictions. As indeed Kejariwal learnt to his embarrassment when he fled from them to take shelter on the roof top.
His pronouncements about corruption also showed the same lack of awareness of the scope and reach of corruption nor does he seem to be aware of the slow, inefficient and unreliable process of law to curb it. When the time came to redeem his promise into the CWG scandal and the lady who gave it a visible face -Sheela Dikshit- to set in motion definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation, the 370 page document with which he had threatened to nail the culprits who had siphoned away tens of thousands of crores of public money during the common wealth games turned out to be just a whole baggage of news paper clippings, not enough to nail the culprit. Or was it? The fact that he was sharing power with Congress added more grist to the rumour mill.The ghost of murdered reputations has come to haunt him.
Kejriwal’s, mind is inscrutable. It is also dangerously agile and jumps nimbly from one issue to another even without so much as a semblance of continuity or design. May be he has programmed such a randomness in his mind that even he does know not where the trajectory of his thinking will lead him to.
His focus soon shifted the battle lines to the unrequited sinfulness of the African nationals- from plunder of astronomical sums of public money by a CM to peddling of drugs and sex on the street- which was revealed to him by his law – or lawless – minister. Kejriwal’s ideas about governance imply a kind of basic, constitutive naïveté: or else he would not have taken the legally and pragmatically indefensible position. As I understand a minister, a minster of law at that – wanted his impromptu orders to be implemented by the police. The law minister of Delhi has no authority in law to order about police men He has, just as any citizen, the right to be heard and his grievances attended to with utmost dispatch. As subsequent events have shown the police was quite right in exercising circumspection.No one can deny that the CM of Delhi should have control over the police. But so long as the untenable position remains the police is duty bound to act in accordance with this arrangement.
Unable to counter charges of impropriety on part of his minster, he quickly turned the barrel on to the police. No harm there. Police serves a useful purpose in giving all forms of democratic and undemocratic protests – howsoever senseless, howsoever meaningless- substance and form. A few broken skulls on either side, a demand to punish the guilty policeman is also par for the course. But the revolutionary nature of Kejriwal’s politics consisted in reneging on his solemn oath to the constitution which he swore amidst great fanfare to profess anarchy. His two day old dharna at the Rail Bhawan is reminiscent of the remark of one of the Pussy riot activists “Humor, buffoonery, irreverence can be of use in the quest for the truth.”But the truth did not emerge; here it led to more controversy. How can a CM profess and propagate anarchy? Is he is now trying to locate his support base more in the urban poor even at the risk of alienating a large number of middle class constituents? Police has been a rallying cry for mobilization since the pre independence days. Delhi has a considerable number of urban poor and a fairly large number of youth – traditional foes of police – and they welcomed it with great gusto. They seem to have the least to lose.
Not surprisingly his exhortations to anarchy have been welcomed, even, by members of the middle and upper class ,including civil servants, personalities from the film world, people living in gated communities and others located in various islands of privilege. Radicalism finds a more fertile breeding ground in the minds of the most conservative and reactionary of circles. They can talk about injustice because they get more than their share of justice all the time. But possibly they have not seen anarchy at close quarters .The radicalisation of the urban masses could prove to be a dangerous thing, especially in view of the fact that our democratic infrastructure- time worn and decrepit- are already finding it difficult to manage dissent. More than 350 districts- largely forests and rural areas- are already taken up by the activities of the extremist groups, their criminal activities masked as “revolutionary “struggle. Add to that the communal cauldron which is perpetually on the boil; we are sitting on a tinder box. Anyone with “an adequate sense of causation”, anyone with a sense of history could see that such frontier bravado could easily get out of hand.Tahrir Square is an enticing metaphor but it hides the nightmarish reality of the unworkability of the revolutionary hypothesis.