Friday, October 19, 2012

Red-flagging Kejriwal’s politics

By Swapan Dasgupta

There is little doubt that for the moment Arvind Kejriwal has created panic in the cosy world of politics. His well-publicised and seemingly relentless pursuit of big ticket corruption has unsettled the arrangement whereby electoral politics, while fiercely competitive, are also friendly matches. With all the understandable over-zealousness of a newcomer determined to make his mark, he has tried to transform politics into a gladiatorial face-off where only the winner lives to fight another day.  

That Kejriwal and his very determined band of supporters are punching well above their weight is well known. This is privately conceded by sober members of India Against Corruption. There is no evidence so far that the promoters of ‘new politics’ have penetrated the grassroots and forged a cadre capable of managing elections. As behoves a body that is disproportionately dependant on the media for its publicity and sustenance, the IAC’s influence is, for the present, confined to Delhi.

This is, of course, not to suggest, that its geographical spread will continue to remain confined to India’s version of the Beltway. It is only a matter of time before the new party enters into working relationship with disparate ‘people’s movements’ that have mushroomed all India in opposition to nuclear reactors, steel plants and human rights violations. There are many ideologically-driven activists in the IAC who seek to emulate the experience of the Green Party and the boisterous anti-globalisation movements in Europe and Latin America. If their project to link the anger against corruption, capitalism and globalisation is even partially successful, the real catchment area for Kejriwal’s party will not be the BJP-inclined lower middle classes of urban India but those who, in another age, kept the Red Flag flying in many pockets of India.

There has always been a space for the organised Left in India. However, over the past decade the two main Communist parties have ossified and ceased to be points of inspiration. To some extent the vacated space has been occupied by the Maoists who are waging war on the state. Kejriwal’s new alliance of the fragments has the potential of creating an alternative pole of attraction.

In the long-term, an IAC-inspired cluster poses no real challenge to the Congress, BJP, the caste parties and the regional parties. It, however, constitutes a serious intervention within the domain of what is loosely called Left politics. But this in turn is likely to jeopardise the unity of the movement. Once the novelty of Kejriwal’s interventions wears off and the new force shifts attention to issues other than corruption, it is quite possible that cracks in the IAC will appear. Indeed, if other opposition parties, particularly the BJP, take corrective action and are seen to get real about corruption, it is entirely possible that the middle class support for electoral interventions by Kejriwal’s party will shrink.

It would, however, be extremely short-sighted for the mainstream parties to take comfort from the inherent limitations of the new movement. The burst of activism that began with Anna Hazare’s fasts and included Baba Ramdev’s short-lived intervention has brought anti-corruption to the forefront of the political agenda. Insofar as the instances of corruption by public figures have also involved corporate houses, the movement has also called into question the moral credentials of India Inc. There is visible divide that has emerged between those who see tough economic reforms as inevitable if India is to live up to its potential and the great mass of people who resent having to pay more by way of taxes, fuel and cooking gas prices, electricity charges and housing because of the sheer immorality of decision-making India. Those who charge—and often quite rightly—Kejriwal of injecting public life with a lynch mob mentality overlook the fact that it is a venal dysfunctional state that has enhanced the appeal of direct action using unorthodox means. In particular, the Congress has reason to rue its own short-sightedness that led to the needless political assault on institutions that in more settled times cushioned the country against rampant venality.

There is a common project before all political parties, including those who have either been burnt or singed by Kejriwal’s anti-corruption crusade. First, it is important that a message is sent out that all those who have been tainted by corruption and cronyism should be allowed to fade away from political life. This involves taking awkward decisions and often going against the principle of ‘winnability’ that determines ticket distribution during elections. But the systemic crisis is so deep that half-way, cosmetic measures will no longer suffice. People have detected rotten elements in the system and these must be seen to be discarded.

Secondly, it is clear that corruption is invariably the consequence of the misuse of discretionary powers. It is imperative that decision-making of the government is made rule-based and completely transparent.

Finally, it is important to send a clear message to India Inc that it too is part of the problem and that its commitment to ethical business practices has been uneven. In future, the priority of government must not be special concessions to corporates but the creation of an environment where there is fair competition and a level playing field for all. India needs a leader with the ability to spray the government and the political system with weed killers.

As of now, only one leader fits the bill.

Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle, October 19, 2012 

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