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30 December 2015

Arvind 'Tughlaq' Kejriwal

His strategy of playing the underdog and targeting high-profile rivals was sticking with the people until he turned out to be a serial liar

This man has gone mad. While “mad” is not a standard term in the lexicon of political commentators, I couldn’t find a more apt description for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal based on his behaviour over the past month or two. First, the rabble-rouser who cleverly avoided even mild criticism of Narendra Modi at the formative stage of the Aam Aadmi Party, fearing it would alienate the masses, called the Prime Minister a “coward” and “psychopath”. Thereafter, the self-styled crusader against corruption trained his guns at Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, following a CBI raid on the office of Rajendra Kumar, the Chief Minister’s principal secretary facing a hell lot of charges of corruption. Recall that a previous attack on Jaitley, where the AAP had accused him of horse trading, did not stick.
Then, Kejriwal does not have the humility to accept his mistake when it turns out that the file on DDCA probe that he had alleged was taken away by the investigating agency had not a word against Jaitley. And the Chief Minister quips a raid on his own premises can at best extract four unaccounted for mufflers. If it was a joke, who is laughing?
Whereas the act of hurling accusations at his political rivals is Kejriwal’s strategy, the fact that he is going wild in the act is a result of his frustration. Remember that this man has made his career by always aiming at big targets — rather, the biggest. Nobody was finding the BJP credible in 2011; so he targeted the Congress and then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, till then believed to be invincible. Without naming the newspaper for which I worked during the second term of Dikshit, I can tell Swarajya readers that even the BJP MP who edited that paper did not allow a word against the then Delhi CM, so much was her clout. Kejriwal targeted the lady nobody dared touch and turned into an instant celebrity activist, (in)famously waving a stack of papers at a rally organised by Baba Ramdev to tell the audience he had 370-page long evidence against Dikshit. When he got a chance to fix her, however, all he could come up with was an FIR on the contract for street lamps worth Rs 90 odd crore in the alleged scam of Commonwealth Games where a whopping Rs 70,000 crore was misappropriated. Kejriwal’s cherry-picking was surprising considering that a much-maligned Suresh Kalmadi had access to only Rs 14,000 crore of the whole amount and the rest was under the control of the then Delhi government and the Union Urban Development Ministry under Jaipal Reddy [source: Boria Majumdar’s Sellotape Legacy].
The other thing Kejriwal did to impress upon the voters that only his challenge to Dikshit was credible was use Vijay Goel’s name, much as the BJP had not declared Goel as its CM nominee, to ask the voters whether Goel or he would be their choice. And, of course, Kejriwal declared Dikshit as “corrupt” and facilitator or rapes; no proof required!
A poster of the AAP during its 2013 campaign
Then, Kejriwal itched for debates — stage by stage. As the wannabe CM, he challenged the sitting CM. After he could snatch away her seat in December 2013, he wanted a debate with the PM in 2014. However, that year as well as in this one that is going to end, he ignored the challenge of debate thrown at him by all rebels, dissenters and defectors—beginning with Ashwini Upadhyay and ending in Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. The strategy is clear: Always target someone higher than you; do not bother to respond to those below your rank.
Now I take the readers back to my experience as a media insider. If Dikshit was one character you could not question pre-2013, Jaitley was another. Either out of awe or for fear of reprisal, editors I have known feel a shiver running down their spines when it comes to accepting an anti-Jaitley report from a reporter. One can get away with murder when it comes to uttering any nonsense about the No.1 in the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who is paradoxically said to be running a one-man show. But you can’t question No. 2! Name a newspaper, television channel or views portal that has done that. You can’t. They at best say the Finance Minister’s reform measures are snail-paced; none dares question his integrity.
In politics, the underdog enjoys public sympathy and it gives vicarious pleasure to the people to see a big man fall. A born politician, Kejriwal knows that well. His choice of Jaitley as the next target is, therefore, clever strategy. Cursing Modi, whom every opposition leader takes the liberty to abuse, was neither innovative nor a crowd-pulling proposition.
I now come to Kejriwal’s frustration. First, despite all the hype over the AAP as a pan-India alternative to both the BJP and Congress in its first two years, he soon realised its severe limitations. His cheerleaders made him believe in early 2014 that he stood a fighting chance in the Lok Sabha elections, as no psephologist was predicting 282 seats for the BJP and anything around 160-180 for the saffron party would have meant any party with even 50 seats had a chance of making its supreme leader emerge as the prime ministerial candidate of the so-called Third Front. So, Kejriwal went around telling people the AAP was winning 100 seats. We all know he fell flat on his face.
Second, while looking like the Congress made it garner almost all the Congress votes in Delhi, the people of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, etc are too smart to consider his socialism a substitute for Samajwadi Party’s, JD(U)’s or Trinamool Congress’s socialism. With the Akali Dal’s reputation sullied by the allegation of drug peddling against Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s brother Bikram Singh Majithia, the AAP stood some chance in Punjab. But there too, half his strength of four MPs got reduced when Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa were suspended for their “anti-party activities”. Now the Congress has almost settled the dispute between Captain Amarinder Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa and is looking to regain the state. So, for the AAP, Punjab looks like a lost case.
Third, bureaucrats’ posting rarely becomes a political issue. Kejriwal did try to make it one by constantly complaining that the Centre was not sanctioning officers of his choice and accusing L-G Najeeb Jung of playing to the tune of the Union government. The issue subsided further when reports revealed that the officers who had been deputed all the way from Goa and Pondicherry were cooling their heels in Delhi without the chief minister assigning them any work. The babus also complained that the AAP government had been harassing them. People got the idea that Kejriwal was merely fishing for trouble; he actually had no inclination for performance.
Fourth, if Kejriwal’s brand of anti-corruption crusader has run its course, his brand revision as an environmentalist is also failing to take off. The firman that cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and the even numbered ones would be permitted on even dates makes him nothing short of mediaeval era’s Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi has added to the woes by declaring illegal Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai’s proposal that his party’s volunteers would pitch in as traffic regulators. Dikshit has resurfaced on the scene by questioning how the police can man six-to-eight lanes on busy roads. Media has reported that fake registration plate makers will make a killing in the days for which the Tughlaquesque edict will be in force. This means that the leader once hailed as a crusader against corruption is now pushing his city towards corruption.
Fifth, no sooner did the AAP claim that Jaitley was complicit in the DDCA scam, one report after another, including the SFIO report that the party’s press conference relied heavily upon and the High Court’s observation, informed us that the head of Delhi’s cricket management body for 13 years had no hand in its irregularities. To begin with, DDCA, which is a registered company and not a government agency, falls under the jurisdiction of the Registrar of Companies and the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs and not the Delhi government. The city government cannot even institute a probe into the cricket body's functioning as per the Commission of Inquiries Act.
Finally, unlike the scenario in the AAP’s press briefings during its first two years, the latest press conference was greeted by counter-questions from the reporters. For one, they did not believe Jaitley, for all other questions about his way of functioning, had ever been in the game of amassing ill-gotten wealth. It was Kejriwal, his party men and votaries’ challenged intellect that couldn’t appreciate the higher levels of Maslow’s Pyramid.
So, what did the dumb do? They cursed the media for not getting them right. And then no less than Kejriwal himself questioned Times Now chief editor Arnab Goswami’s salary!
Unlike the Delhi MLAs whose salaries have been hiked by 400 per cent, does Goswami draw his salary from taxpayers’ money? No. Does he not pay the taxes due on whatever he earns? Then what is the Delhi Chief Minister’s case against him?
With his movement restricted to the capital city-state and no accusation against rivals impressing the experts, Arvind Kejriwal is today a embittered politician. Now if the BJP or the Congress begins picking up issues against the AAP that I have written about in the period December 2013 – December 2014, imagine how he will react.
– Anybody landing from a foreign country ending up with an AAP ticket to fight Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections, provided he/she is a Ford Foundation beneficiary;
– Allegation of manipulation of internal elections in the party to ensure the positions of its decision makers are not challenged, …
Do not be surprised if the mad man’s Twitter handle then starts posting expletives.

An edited version of this article was published yesterday on Swarajya.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.