Since I landed here in June last year, everything in India has been in ‘calm before the storm’ mode. All the ideas in the social, economic, educational or any other sphere of life have been put on hold due to the impending Central Government elections. Everyone wants to see which way India is headed after the elections before they make their next move.
That calm before the storm was disturbed one December evening when the results of the Delhi state assembly started pouring in. Nobody had given the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal a chance. But the party came in a close second in the 70-member assembly. Kejriwal, who had gone from being a formidable force in the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign in 2011/12 to being a daily mud-slinger, had managed to resurrect himself. All of a sudden, media were highlighting the vibrancy of the Indian democracy by gloating over the fact that a one-year-old political ‘start-up’ had managed to virtually wipe out Congress, the oldest political party of India, from the Delhi state assembly.
Everyday Indians, who are by equal measures politically shrewd and jaded, suddenly found a messiah in Kejriwal. Even cynics like me started hoping against hope that this experiment might succeed. After all, in a loud, boisterous and hopelessly fragmented electorate of India that runs on corruption, money and deeply entrenched interests, how often does an upstart like AAP even get a chance to demonstrate its governance skills? I would have liked it if they had gone straight back to the Delhi voters and asked for a clear majority. However, in spite of their late decision to shake hands with the Devil they had vanquished, I was willing to be the optimistic bystander and see how far they go.
And then, all hell broke loose. Other than a handful of populist measures and giving power back in the hands of people through ‘Mohalla Sabhas,’ AAP hadn’t articulated any consistent philosophy of governance. Lofty idealism and wishful thinking. It was a bit of both. There is the American constitution, which puts almost all of its trust in its presumably rational citizenry. And then there is AAP, which tried to combine that with extremely intrusive social and economic measures without realizing the irony inherent in the approach. Even before they could trumpet the benefits of their water and power policies to the thousands of Delhi residents, Somnath Bharti and Rakhi Birla, two of AAPs ministers, tried to take the law in their own hands by barging into the homes of alleged lawbreakers. Mr. Bharti is a lawyer and Ms. Birla has a Masters in Mass Communication, but apparently nobody had told them the difference between a lawmaker and a law enforcement agent.
The fact that one of the raids was based on neighbors’ complaints against an alleged sex-and-drugs racket run by Ugandans (and other Africans) was already proving to be a foreign relations headache for the Central Government. As if that was not enough, Kejriwal went on a reputed news show and claimed (paraphrasing him) ‘These people (meaning Africans) consume drugs and rape others’ and ‘The women who were forced to go to the hospital (without a warrant) only underwent urine tests, but they didn’t undergo a blood test.’ Shouldn’t the well-educated supporters of AAP be shocked by the fact that the Chief Minister was spreading lies and implicitly condoning the act of forcing the women to take urine tests without a warrant? Somnath Bharti went a step further. In his vigilante zeal, he released a handful of videos to ‘prove’ that Africans indulge in drug trading. I am no expert on illegal drug trading in India, but did anyone in the AAP government tell him that such acts smack of racism? What was he trying to suggest? That Africans are the only people in India indulging in drug trafficking? Or that all the Africans living in India are drug dealers? Either way, it was appaling, to say the least.
Kejriwal was lucky that he got a face-saver from Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung in the ensuing street protests. But he didn’t learn his lesson. Instead of reading the rulebook and trying to fight the system from within by following the rules, he decided to go for broke in trying to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. I am no constitutional expert. However, a quick reading of opinions of legal luminaries would have told Kejriwal that Delhi was established as a different kind of state for several reasons. Nobody was arguing that it was the best possible way to establish that state and several of the provisions can be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. In a way, the status of the state of Delhi is akin to Washington D.C., the capital region of the United States of America, where D.C. residents openly lament ‘taxation without representation.’ But that doesn’t mean that D.C. residents disrupt daily life on a regular basis or that the D.C. administration resigns over every single issue. They are still fighting the cause of D.C. residents by being well within the boundaries of the constitution.
On the other hand, without even trying the constitutional channels to challenge the unique status of Delhi, Kejriwal started blaming all and sundry for the possibility that he may not get what he wants. He might have gotten addicted to power already and might have started dreaming about a bigger role on the national stage. And hence, it was probably a convenient way for him to get himself out of the daily grind of running a government to focus exclusively on the national election campaign. Whatever his motives, it makes me ask him ‘How old are you?’
As a democracy, India is perplexing as well as awe-inspiring. Through the tremendous hard work of some visionaries and a few strokes of sheer luck, India has come a long way in making sure that the most critical democratic institutions are fairly deep rooted in this mind bogglingly diverse country. No matter what your views are about Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Ambedkar and a few others, these people would go toe-to-toe with the Founding Fathers of the United States in terms of their vision for India. Arvind Kejriwal probably had a shot at being named alongside these luminaries. After seeing his antics for 49 days, I am not so sure anymore.
If state elections in Delhi are held tomorrow, AAP might win with a clear majority. But I hope Arvind Kejriwal doesn’t become the next Prime Minister of India. Not with his current frame of mind and understanding of the Indian constitution. Greece was the first country to experiment with direct democracy. If Kejriwal doesn’t learn to respect Indian democratic institutions and the constitution, his demise will probably be the greatest Greek tragedy in the world’s largest democracy.