*Minhaz Merchant 


28 October 2012

Those who call Arvind Kejriwal an anarchist miss the point. Anarchists aim to destroy democracy . They break the law. They subvert institutions . Kejriwal does none of these. We may disagree with some of his methods i do but not with his intent. And it is important to separate method from intent.

The intent is clearly right: expose the corrupt , improve governance, unmask collusive politics, and undermine the nexus between businessmen and politicians. All these objectives are noble and necessary. India has for too long been a democracy of, by, and for the few rather than the many. This culture of privilege has corroded governance and created two nations: those who have it all and those who have very little.

In the middle of these two extremes is the small but growing aspirational middle class which forms the core support group of Kejriwal's constituency. It is not large enough to give him many seats in Parliament or even the Delhi assembly once he launches his political party on November 26. But it will give him enough clout to be a disruptive influence.

Disruption can be constructive or destructive. Kejriwal's modus operandi has two principal flaws. One, he exposes alleged corruption scams but does not follow them through to their logical conclusion. He says others (media, public interest litigants, opposition parties) should complete the job. That's not good enough. If you start something, finish it. If you can't , don't start it. No one else, for example, is going to nail the allegations against Robert Vadra, Salman Khurshid and Nitin Gadkari. Public memory is short, public attention shorter. These issues will eventually wither away in India's collusive ecosystem.

Two, Kejriwal often gets carried away by his own rhetoric. Calling Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit names does not enhance his credibility. Bitter medicine is necessary to cure a diseased political system but the dose must be delivered in the right measure or it could prove counter-productive. The system, for all its rottenness, has a huge capability to fight back and discredit its detractors. It is easy for it to play victim.

Anna Hazare, Kejriwal's mentor, says little but in a few words conveys a great deal. His advice to Kejriwal: don't be in a hurry. Anna has successfully fought political corruption in Maharashtra for over 30 years. He forced the resignations of six state cabinet ministers across party lines Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena . It was Anna's decade-long stir from the early 1990s that led to the Maharashtra RTI Act being legislated in 2003. The Congress and other parties fought the Act tooth and nail till they were finally forced to adopt it.

The central RTI Act, 2005, which Congress president Sonia Gandhi never tires of taking credit for, was initially also fiercely opposed by the Congress. Civil society activists, emboldened by Anna's success in getting the Maharashtra RTI Act legislated, eventually succeeded in pressuring the UPA-1 government to pass the central RTI Act in2005,modeled largely on the Maharashtra Act.

But "not being in a hurry", as Anna advised, does not imply inertia . India is a young country, an impatient country. Kejriwal recognizes this. He is right in saying that the government has tried to undermine many institutions of governance: the Election Commission (EC), the Central Vigilance Commission and the Public Accounts Committee. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) remains under government control despite a 2006 Supreme Court order on police autonomy which should apply to the CBI as well. As a result, the CBI is far too often used as a political weapon rather than a professional investigative agency.

To take his political movement forward, Kejriwal needs to infuse clarity into specific issues. He started his activist career campaigning for the RTI Act and deservedly won the Magsaysay award for it in 2006. He then transferred his attention to the Jan Lokpal Bill but has now largely abandoned it in the face of collusive political opposition.

As a politician, Kejriwal needs to articulate a clearer vision than he and his team have done so far. Their manifesto must contain incisive ideas on economic reforms, counter-terrorism , foreign policy, the environment, defence, energy and agriculture. It must also state the team's agenda on reforming our institutions, including giving the CBI autonomy and the EC statutory powers to conduct a monthly public audit of political party funding and expenditure.


If Kejriwal wants to play a serious, long-term role in India's evolving democracy, he must shift from the politics of agitation to the politics of reform.


*Author, editor, publisher and columnist, Minhaz Merchant is known for his astute commentary on current issues and events. The two articles reproduced above were posted on his blog "Head on" and published in The Times of India on July 30, 2012 and October 28, 2012, respectively. We are grateful to Minhaz Merchant and The Times of India for the kind permission to reproduce them.

July-September, 2012