Home Cover Story Kejriwal: A political revolutionary or Machiavelli?
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Kejriwal: A political revolutionary or Machiavelli?

The Aam Aadmi Party chief, Arvind Kejriwal, emerged on India’s political landscape with a promise and hope of delivering an alternative politics that would occupy the high moral ground. But in the past five years the party’s transformation from being an alternative force to yet another outfit that has taken recourse to cynical politics left many disappointed and feeling short-changed. Instead, AAP now resembles the B-Team of the BJP, writes Vivek Mukherji

THE incandescent halo of Anna Hazare has dimmed like the smouldering ashes of a fire that has long gone cold. The heady feeling of his agitation among supporters seems like a bad hangover on a smog-choked Delhi morning. The draft of the draconian Jan Lokpal Bill is gathering dust in the corridors of power. And, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that was born out of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement stands reduced to a sad caricature of its promise of delivering an alternative politics that made it such a tour de force in India’s clamorous democracy.

With the Delhi Assembly elections scheduled to be held early next year, skirmishes between AAP and the BJP-led central government are expected to escalate. The Congress, which once ruled Delhi for 15 years under Shelia Dikshit, receding both on the ground and in the mindspace of the voters, seems already out of contention of the political jousting for the country’s most hyped state elections.

History of Indian politics bears enough testimony to the rise and fall of parties that were born out political expediency. The spectacular implosion of the Janata Party within three years of winning the 1977 General Elections, the disintegration of Ramakrishna Hegde’s Lok Shakti Party, George Fernandes’ Samta Party, the formation and the dissolution of Tamil Maanila Congress and the disappearance of Janta Dal (S) to name a few, are examples of parties that failed to deliver for the Indian voters in the long run. To that extent, AAP is no different.

The party of the “common people” swept to power in 2015 with brute majority, winning 67 out 70 seats in the 2015 Delhi State elections, on the promise of delivering an alternative politics that would put good governance, accountability and development ahead of power grab. For the first time in the history of Delhi elections, the Congress failed to win even a single seat. Equally stunning was the fact that AAP delivered such a massive mandate just months after Modi led the BJP juggernaut to an absolute majority in the 2014 General Elections.

AAP represented hope; it was a moral project. Today, it is not. Once a political party becomes like any other party and is subject to diseases other parties have, these developments will happen. The larger question is not what is happening to people like Ashutosh (the journalist) and me, but to crores of people who had invested hope and to what extent the hope has been fragmented.
Yogendra Yadav

Instead, as five years of Arvind Kejriwal’s reign comes to a close, it’s fair to conclude that his politics is not much different from the other entrenched parties that thrive on cynicism and power grab. The Kejriwal government managed to avoid harsher scrutiny for his penchant of cleverly mixing social-welfarism that caters to his core voter base with a sense of victimisation, both at the institutional and individual levels, for being an outsider wwho is taking on trenchant power structures.  By projecting himself as a victim, who is left with no option other than confrontation, Kejriwal and his party have successfully deployed diversionary tactics along with deft media management, at times bordering on manipulation, and savvy use of social media to create mega twitter trends, kept the eyeballs of his critics focused elsewhere.

The two-pronged strategy served him and his party well in occupying the political space vacated by a directionless Congress and also suits Modi’s agenda of Congress mukt Bharat (an India free of the Congress party). It’s not for want of reasons that the AAP is often seen as the B-team of the BJP.

Today, the party is a pale shadow of its avatar when it emerged on India’s jaundiced political horizon by occupying the high moral ground. It held the hope of delivering principled politics. Its moral posturing attracted some of the sharpest minds in the country with a proven track record of impeccable integrity. People such as eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan; his father and former law minister, Shanti Bhushan; one of India’s most astute political thinkers, Yogendra Yadav; high-decorated Navy veteran Admiral Ramdass; respected academic Prof. Anand Kumar; aviation pioneer Capt. CR Gopinath, businessman-turned-activist Mayank Gnadhi, journalists Ashutosh and Ashish  Khetan, anti-corruption crusader Anjali Damania to name a few. All of them, and more, were either removed from the party on the flimsiest of grounds or quit after getting disenchanted with the autocratic ways of functioning of Kejriwal.

The agitator

To understand Kejriwal the politician, and AAP, one must remove the layers of his shenanigans going back to the days of the Anna agitations under the banner of IAC that was shaped by the invisible hand of a Delhi-based think-tank led by a former chief of an intelligence agency. Enormous amount of ink and newsprint, and hundreds of hours airtime, have been expended in analysing the rise of the AAP and its most recognisable face. But little has been talked about the insidious roles played by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP and assorted godmen like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar, who are known BJP sympathisers, in fanning the purported anti-corruption movement in 2011 that ultimately led to the formation of AAP.

IN October 2011, while addressing a Vijaydashami rally in Nagpur, RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, openly admitted that the organisation was actively involved with the Anna agitation at the Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. “We actively participate in such agitations which are in the interest of the nation and the people in particular. It was credible people who led the movement and the frustrating conditions exploded into massive support for the recent success of this agitation,” he said.

With Anna Hazare during the heady days of the agitation, which was used by Kejriwal as a springboard to prominence

What Bhagwat left unsaid was the extent RSS foot soldiers, masquerading as volunteers of IAC, were involved in mobilising the gullible masses from other walks of life to join the agitation. The only difference was that these volunteers shed their traditional khaki shorts and black caps and traded for white kurta-pajama and the ubiquitous “I am Anna” caps, bearing uncanny resemblance to the Gandhi topi, in a clever appropriation of two of the most identifiable motifs of India’s freedom movement. This, along with using the image of Bharat Mata, slogan like Bharat Mata Ki Jai and chanting Vande Mataram, which are the most potent emblems of the Sangh, left indelible fingerprints of the RSS’ not-so-hidden role in the IAC agitation. Yet, the mainstream media chose to ignore it.

“As the movement started expanding, lakhs of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and RSS members began to support IAC, some of whom believed in the anti-corruption principles and some of whom wanted to take advantage of the fast-growing discontent in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA),” writes Gandhi in his book AAp & Down. Further elaborating how deeply the BJP was involved with the agitation he says, “Kiren Bedi resisted strongly when any resolution against the BJP had to be passed; the representative of the Art of Living was equally protective of the BJP. (sic)”.

The AAP was a collective national dream of volunteers and ordinary citizens across India. Arvind Kejriwal was only its face. But he hijacked the dream because he could not let it become bigger than his own persona.
Prashant Bhushan

The IAC’s Jan Lokpal agitation took place against the backdrop of the alleged 2G Spectrum Scam and the Coalgate Scams that were fuelled by CAG’s reports, which were penned by the controversial Vinod Rai. (Read our cover story Corruption: Second Crusade in the September, 2019 issue of Gfiles, which details why Rai’s reports can’t be taken on face value).

The Kejriwal government managed to avoid harsher scrutiny for his penchant of cleverly mixing social-welfarism that caters to his core voter base with a sense of victimisation, both at the institutional and individual levels, for being an outsider who is taking on trenchant power structures. By projecting himself as a victim, who is left with no option other than confrontation, Kejriwal and his party have successfully deployed diversionary tactics along with deft media management

Kejriwal earned his initial political spurs while running his NGO in East Delhi’s Sunder Nagar slums and was part of the Right to Information movement that was led by Aruna Roy. Over a period of time he manoeuvred himself to be the face of the Delhi chapter of the movement that led to the enactment of the Delhi Right to Information Act before the pan-India RTI came into force. Soon enough, his activism earned him the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. But he had bigger political ambitions.

TO project himself as an uncompromising crusader against corruption, Kejriwal used low cunning to manipulate the media, especially prime-time television in the days leading up to the Anna’s Jan Lokpal agitation. “He made allegations against the most powerful leaders in the nation, sometimes flashing the flimsiest of documents as evidence. The media would cover this, having secured headlines for the day; the public, willing to believe the worst about politicians, accepted the news as fact. Anger skyrocketed,” writes Gandhi. He was associated with IAC and Kejriwal right from the conception stage of the agitation and led the Mumbai chapter of the people’s collective before becoming one of the co-founders of the Aam Aadami Party. Using the media to manipulate public opinion, just like any other cynical career politician, still remains one of the key elements in Kejriwal’s political strategy.

Today, the party is a pale shadow of its avatar when it emerged on India’s jaundiced political horizon by occupying the high moral ground. It held the hope of delivering principled politics. Its moral posturing attracted some of the sharpest minds in the country with a proven track record of impeccable integrity

Kejriwal’s emergence on India’s political firmament from the remnants of the IAC in 2012 is more than a mere coincidence. As the taint of alleged corruption grew darker on the Congress once the Supreme Court cancelled the 2G licences and allocation of coal blocks, the narrative against the UPA-2 government turned into a chorus. Every night, on prime time television, the UPA’s credibility continued to take body blows due to Kerjiwal’s shoot and scoot tactics. As the Congress kept conceding the battle of narratives; the BJP started claiming the political mindspace. It was only a matter of time before the former Indian Revenue Service officer joined the political bandwagon.

The hypocrisy of the IAC movement stood exposed in plain sight when members of the Bhrastachar Virodhi Jan Andolan  (BVJA) approached Vilasrao Deshmukh, a minister in the union cabinet, to mediate between the IAC and the government to break the deadlock so that Anna could end the fast. After the Manmohan Singh-led government accepted the demands of the IAC, he was present on the stage at the Ramlila Maidan, next to Anna and Kejriwal as the national anthem played marking the end of the agitation. “Vilasrao Deshmukh—one of the fifteen ministers listed by the IAC as corrupt—stood next to him and sang the national anthem,” writes Gandhi.

The politician

After the success of the agitation, Kejriwal’s ambitions soared. In August 2012, he declared that he will be forming a political party. AAP was formally launched in October. “This party will not be a party but a movement. A movement outside the Parliament as well as inside. There will be no high command and candidates will not be selected by the leadership but by the people themselves,” he declared on the occasion. His decision to enter electoral politics split the IAC wide open. Anna and other BJP sympathisers like Kiran Bedi, Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar felt that he had backstabbed the saffron party, which supported the agitation. It was a matter of time before they fell out with the most recognisable face of the anti-corruption movement.

AAP made its political debut in the 2013 Delhi State elections. Much to the surprise of many pollsters, it won 28 seats though the BJP emerged as the single largest party, while the Congress was reduced to a mere eight seats. Kejriwal formed the government with outside support of the Congress. Despite forming the government and taking over as the Delhi CM, Kejriwal continued to remain in the activist mode. In January 2014, he went on a dharna on the lawns of India Gate demanding full statehood for Delhi among other things. It was a foregone conclusion that changing Delhi’s administrative characteristics, could be done only through the Parliament. Yet, the dharna provided good optics for Kejriwal, accentuating the perception of victimhood that he so desperately wanted to project.

Celebrating the unprecedented success in Delhi assembly elections

However, the inner coterie of AAP, and more notably Kejriwal and his trusted number two, Manish Sisodia among other people, had their eyes set on the upcoming General Elections. It was obvious that for the fledgling party it would be difficult to focus on both running a minority government in Delhi and campaign for the 2014 elections. Kejriwal, therefore, needed an exit route that would make him look like a “martyr”. He fell back on the Jan Lokpal Bill for an exit strategy.

I quit…I have not come into AAP for this nonsense. I believed him…I backed Arvind for principles not horse-trading.
Annjali Damania
(She tweeted this after a TV channel aired a tape for allegedly indulging in horse trading of Congress MLAs)

In the winter of 2014, the incumbent Chief Minister sought to introduce the draconian version of the bill in the Delhi Assembly. He knew quite well that as per the provisions of the Constitution, draft of any bill has to be first cleared by the Lt. Governor, who is the administrative head of the city-state, before it can be passed in the assembly. Bypassing the Lt. Governor is an unconstitutional move. He also knew that both the BJP and the Congress would oppose the bill. To give his cynical exit strategy a stamp of authenticity, a few days earlier his government filed an FIR against Reliance Industries over gas pricing.

A government of one and a half people

ON February 15, 2014, exactly 49 days after he was sworn in as the CM, Kejriwal resigned after he failed to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed in the assembly. It was expected. Upon resigning and recommending the dissolution of the assembly, he did what he does best: play the media. “The real face of BJP and Congress has been exposed. They did not allow the Bill (Jan Lokpal) to be introduced in the House. They defeated the Bill because three days back we lodged an FIR against Mukesh Ambani,” he ranted at the press conference. He further alleged that the Congress and the BJP connived to pull down his government at the behest of the Chairman of Reliance Industries. Nobody seemed to question his public posturing as AAP got ready for the 2014 General Elections.

Despite delivering on the promise of reducing power and water tariffs in Delhi, his 49-day rule was marked by anarchy. The dharna at the India Gate lawns and the late-night raid by his law minister, Somnath Bharti, on the residence some Nigerian students living in Malviya Nagar, whom he alleged were involved in running prostitution and drug peddling rackets, were symptomatic of his governance model. It was based on confrontation and anarchy. He tried to create a perception that an honest politician is not being allowed to work for the people at the behest of powerful lobbies and subsequently project himself as a victim. It became his master template.

In 23 years of my journalism, no one asked my caste surname. Was known by my name. But as I was introduced to party workers as Lok Sabha candidate in
2014 my surname was promptly mentioned despite my protest. Later I was told: Sir how will you win, there are
many people of your caste here.
(He tweeted this after he quit AAP)

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, AAP got completely decimated in all the states. They just managed to win four seats from Punjab to the Parliament. The big moment, however, was the next Delhi elections in 2015.  The party swept the capital with the most impressive of wins, pocketing 67 out of 70 seats. But soon after, infighting in the party started coming out in the open. Having tasted unprecedented power, Kejriwal and his coterie brooked no dissent in the National Executive. Instead, he positioned himself as the ultimate strongman in the party. Contrary to public proclamation, he promoted the “high-command culture” in the party to his advantage. In fact, he was, and still, is the high command.

AS Kejriwal became increasingly intolerant to any dissent within the party, and the government, cracks started becoming apparent to the public. In one of the National Executive meetings, Kejriwal’s coterie launched a scathing personal attack on Bhushan and Yadav. Conditions became such that the two leaders, who played an important role in the IAC agitation and subsequently in laying the foundations of the party, were forced to resign. Soon Gandhi, who was the face of AAP in Maharashtra, too resigned. These leaders were followed by other founding members, who quit the party or were forced out. AAP started resembling like any other opportunistic political outfit in India.

“Out of the 70 candidates finally selected, 23 were those who belonged to rival parties and, for many of them buying seats, engaging in criminal or corrupt activities, and winning votes by keeping caste and communal consideration central, was normal,” writes Gandhi regarding the candidate selection process for the 2015 assembly election.

Fake Degree Case

AAP never missed an opportunity to take a dig at other political parties on corruption by taking the high moral ground. But when Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar’s fake degree scandal erupted, Kejriwal’s first reaction was to rubbish the allegations and cry of vendetta politics. It was only after the Delhi Police charged the Law Minister under various sections of the IPC and CrPC for cheating, forgery and abetment of criminal conspiracy that Kejriwal was forced to climb down.

The way the Delhi Chief Minster handled the serious issue was a far departure from the days when the party’s internal Lokpal carried out impartial investigations into such allegation. In this case, however, Kejriwal tried his best to air brush the controversy. “I am not Tomar’s relative or friend. I had sought an explanation from Tomar on the controversy. He gave a satisfactory answer and said he wasn’t at fault as his degree is genuine.” Tomar is currently out on bail. This incident proved to highlight how far the part has moved away from its founding ideals.

Supporters of AAP in Delhi unfailingly point out how Kejriwal and his government in the second term have changed the face of government schools and education and made primary health care more accessible through Moholla Clinics. Also, how his government has brought down the tariffs of water and electricity, introduced free commute for working women in busses and other populist measures like door-delivery of important personal documents. What they fail to point out is that all these measures are indulging in the politics of povertarianism that bring short-term benefits to AAP’s core constituency. The fact that such measures don’t address the structural or systemic flaws that underpin the problems is left unattended.

A couple of years ago the AAP government gave a CAG report a quiet burial which squarely placed the blame for failing to control dengue in the capital at its doorsteps. In this case, the irony couldn’t be darker as the AAP, which was formed out of the IAC, owes its existence to Rai’s infamous CAG reports that destroyed the credibility of the Congress.

Yet another example of systemic failure is the acute shortage of busses in the DTC fleet. According to various reports, Delhi needs approximately 11,000 buses to deal with the problem of public transport. Instead of plugging the shortfall, the total number of busses in DTC’s fleet has fallen to below 4,000—lower than the fleet strength in 2014. Critics also point out that repeated upward revision of Delhi Metro fares in the past few years has not helped to increase the ridership that would have taken more cars off the road.

The AAP government’s failure to deal with Delhi’s chronic pollution problems before the onset of winters is well-chronicled. There is enough evidence to prove that the much-touted odd-even scheme is nothing more than a mere gimmick. This year, Delhi’s air quality became worse than previous years. Like his wont, Kejriwal was quick to divert the attention to stubble burning in neighbouring states as the sole reason for Delhi’s rapidly deteriorating air quality.

Even in his tenure as the second-term Chief Minister, he repeatedly made news for all the wrong reasons. He courted controversy last year for allegedly getting into a scuffle with Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash. It almost brought the bureaucrats in Delhi to striking work. “They (AAP MLAs) threatened to implicate him in false cases if the issue of releasing TV advertisements about the AAP government’s achievements was not resolved,” wrote Prakash in his in a complaint filed with to DCP (North).

If, in Delhi, you form a government on the anti-corruption plank with the promise of freedom from corruption and
fall silent and try to protect your own people when they come under the scanner, you will be questioned by people.
Kumar Vishwas
(He said this in a 13-minute youtube video that he posted)

AAP in turn, hit back by saying, “There was a meeting of MLAs at the chief minister’s residence. The chief secretary refused to answer questions, saying that he was not answerable to MLAs and the chief minister, and that he was answerable only to the lieutenant-governor. He (Prakash) even used bad language against some of the MLAs and left without answering any questions.”

DESPITE fighting in two General Elections, AAP’s political philosophy remains undecipherable. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, Kejriwal blew hot and cold on striking an alliance with the Congress in Delhi, only to pull back at the last moment. The biggest beneficiary of his unpredictability was the BJP, which swept all the seven seats in the capital. The party has repeatedly made forays in places where it barely has any organisational structure like Goa, Haryana, Odisha, UP etc. Except for Delhi, its vote share has never crossed the single digit mark, but has damaged the chances of the opposition candidates by cutting into their votes, especially in close contests. In the recently concluded Haryana Assembly elections it got a miniscule .48 percent of vote share, which was less than even NOTA. Similarly, it lost deposit in all the 24 seats it contested in Maharashtra. It’s for this reason many political observers are convinced that the AAP is the BJP’s’ B-team.

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