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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 7, February 8, 2014

Neo-liberalism and Kejriwal

Monday 10 February 2014

by ARUN SRIVASTAVA

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the self-proclaimed liberal socialist, is the new symbol of the petit bourgeoisie, in the back-ground of John Keynes’ economic theory, for the progressive and democratic forces to bring about a fundamental change in the democratic and political institutions of the country. These forces have been carried away to such an extent by the actions and utterances of Kejriwal that they are reluctant to find fault with his dharna at Rail Bhawan and his aggressive retort that he was an anarchist. They felt consoled that there was somebody who was raising the voice of the aam aadmi (common man) and questioning the prerogatives of the rulers. Unfortunately in their eagerness to project him as the modern face of the implications of Keynes’ economic theory, they tend to ignore the fact that Kejriwal is also not the true representative of the aam aadmi, least to speak of the petite bourgeoisie. In fact his politics does not reflect the concerns and plights of the peasantry, a major component of the petite bourgeoisie or intermediate class.

Kejriwal has been indulging in gimmickry. Look at the composition of his supporters and rank and file. They cannot claim to represent the interests of even the urban middle class, forget about the rural poor. Kejriwal is not tired of claiming that whatever he is doing is for the safety and security of the common people. Even his dharna near Rail Bhawan and resorting to the anarchist style of protest was for accompli-shing this mission. But his agenda is crystal-clear and leaves no doubt about his class affiliation. Obviously on the pronounced mission to demolish the structure of the polity and democratic system the suggestions of the President, Pranab Mukherjee, do not carry any significance unless it is put to referendum, seeking the peoples’ mandate.

Kejriwal is a typical neo-liberal middle class phenomenon which does not adhere to the political ethics or tends to find a solution within its ideological paradigm and structural framework. Middle class asserts only when its class interest is attacked. Though the Aam Admi Party maintains the façade of being the voice of the poor, basically it is the party of the neo- liberals. But the erratic actions of Kejriwal have the potential to alienate the middle class and force it to sever its ties with the AAP. The neo- liberal forces would like to pursue a politics which appears to be confrontationist but in actuality it would be conformist. Kejriwal would be ignoring the sign of strong revulsion of this class to his remarks of being anarchist at his own peril. The use of the word anarchism against Kejriwal’s movement has not come as a surprise. It has been the most effective weapon used by the ruling elite and establishment against any non-conformist movement. Never-theless, it does not mean that he is even aware of the consequences when he walks into the trap laid by the vested interests.

As if the retort of the Law Minister Somnath Bharti, who was at the centre of the public criticism for his controversial raid targeting African nationals, against Mukherjee’s comments was not enough, Kejriwal on January 26 demanded an all-encompassing debate in public and among political parties on Mukherjee’s remark that “populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for governance”. Bharti had earlier raised the 1984 anti-Sikh and 2002 Gujarat riots and said: “If AAP’s actions were Anarchy, what would the Honourable President consider 1984 and 2002 riots as? Agitation?” This is nothing but a ridiculous comparison. Bharti or for that matter Kejriwal are trying to send the message across that Pranab Mukherjee’s Congress was responsible. Only a person pretending to be politically naïve with an ulterior motive could co-relate Mukherjee’s observation with the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The AAP ought to recollect that even BJP leader and former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee had condemned and pulled up Narendra Modi for not adhering to Raj Dharma. Moreover one wrong does not justify the other wrong and does not permit to commit another wrong.

After the Republic Day parade, Kejriwal, attending the President’s annual “At-Home” party in the evening, said that his ‘dharna’ was to demand accountability of the police, not to weaken democratic institutions but to strengthen them and make them transparent and accoun-table to the people. It sounds nice. But certainly a late realisation! Mukherjee had said “the government is not a charity shop” and “elections do not give any person the licence to flirt with illusions. Those who seek the trust of voters must promise only what is possible.” Any person having a resolute faith and conviction in the democratic set-up of the country would welcome this observation and an open discussion and debate on it. But one thing is sure, there could be no other view than what has been expressed by Mukherjee. Kejriwal probably nurses the opinion that he has got the licence to flirt with the sentiments of the people and get away. Since he claims himself to be the representative of the aam aadmi, he must put his ears to the ground and listen to what people think of him. He must not nurse the impression and possess an inflated ego of being the change-agent. A person aspiring to bring about revolution must follow in the footsteps of the poor, the proletariat for a socialist.

Defending his two-day dharna in the heart of the Capital, Kejriwal asserted that he had done nothing unconstitutional, rebutted the charges levelled against him for staging the dharna and said the Constitution does not prevent the Chief Minister from participating in a protest for the people’s cause. But at the same time he must listen to the observations of the President, Pranab Mukherjee, that the rise of hypocrisy in public life is dangerous. His word of caution was quite distinct: “Government is not a charity shop. Populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for governance. False promises lead to disillusionment, which gives birth to rage, and that rage has one legitimate target: those in power.”

KEJRIWAL and his comrades are out to demolish the existing democratic institutions. The AAP people often talk of Tahrir and Tianaman Squares. Kejriwal and his comrades must take lessons from Tahrir Square and the Tianaman Square. There is a huge difference between what had happened at the Tianaman or Tahrir Squares and at Rail Bhawan. At the Tianaman Square, people had gathered to demand democracy. Tahrir Square has been the traditional site for numerous major protests and demonstrations over the years, including the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots, and the March 2003 protest against the War in Iraq. Tahrir Square was the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak. But at Rail Bhawan Kejriwal, the self-proclaimed anarchist, was agitating to protect his comrade who has been consistently telling lies. It was not the Brotherhood of Egypt but a protest of another kind and nature.

The AAP and Kejriwal could come to power only for the reason that the party in power did not eliminate the trust deficit between them and the people. They did not realise the potential of the anger and frustration of the young Indian. Kejriwal had come to power with the promise to eradicate the social and political discrepancies. He ought to realise that people are not naïve and they would penalise him the moment they get the opportunity. He should have also lent his ears to the chorus of his being an anarchist. The word was floated by the BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, and later it was picked up by the media. The implication is clear: their intentions were to alienate the middle class from the AAP and Kejriwal. And the BJP to a great extent succeeded in this mission.

The Supreme Court issuing notice on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking action against Kejriwal for violating the law while holding a constitutional position should have been taken as the warning-bell. Unfortunately the arro-gance, to some extent ignorance, of Kejriwal prevented him from taking the sign seriously. An anti-establishment movement always faces the threat of being labelled as anarchist. But it is the prudence of the leadership that thwarts such designs. Undeniably he fell victim to his own maverick approach. By accepting the accusation of being anarchist Kejriwal probably thought he would be turning the tables on his adversaries. For him, it must have been a well-thought-out response. Else, there was no reason to voluntarily acknowledge this attribution. His latest assertion that he has read the Constitution but couldn’t find anywhere that a Chief Minister cannot hold a dharna ought to be perceived in this backdrop. This is nothing but a pure manifestation of his arrogance. He must not prefer to hide behind pretentions.

The action of an individual reflects his character. An evaluation of his actions makes it abundantly clear that Kejriwal is a person of weak conviction, a person suffering from a sense of insecurity. Kejriwal promised to carry out changes. So far he has refrained from spelling out the roadmap of the changes and also under-taking the exercise in right earnest. He must know change is creativity and it requires a lot of positive energy. In contrast, anarchism is destruction. His eulogy may have a soothing effect on the psyche of his followers and a section of the electorate of Delhi or in the rest of India, but undoubtedly it places a question-mark on the intentions of the AAP and Kejriwal. Are they working to destroy the rule of law, or the democratic set-up and the cultural ethos of the country? Kejriwal wants to reform the police but at the same time his Minister comrade directs the police carry out search and arrest innocent persons on false and frivolous charges without any valid warrant of arrest.

KEJRIWAL came to power on the promise of bringing about a change in the rotten system, to inject a fresh air in the society and polity. Though a month’s time is quite negligible to judge a government, the actions and utterances of Kejriwal in fact are making the people suspicious of their intentions. Change is creation, which requires a creative mind-frame. An anarchist cannot create. His assertion of being an anarchist negates the basic approach to his mission of bringing about change. Only a naïve would be carried away emotionally by such remarks. Kejriwal claims himself to be a socialist; certainly not a Maoist. Marxist-Leninists and Maoists question the democratic norms, but they also over the years have amended and modified their actions. They have learnt to accept and operate within the system. Certainly Kejriwal would not like to question their wisdom. Kejriwal might have slept for one night on the roads of Delhi in the chilly cold. But these people have spent their entire life sleeping underneath the open sky.

The basic fact remains: that behind the façade of being a socialist and champion of the cause of the common man, he has been doing disservice to the people’s movement. The people of India have been witness to some of the glorious pro-people movements and have actively partici-pated in these movements. But now they stand disillusioned. They will be completely broken and disenchanted once they feel cheated by Kejriwal and his comrades. These people are playing with the sentiments and emotions of the common man. As an individual, Kejriwal has every right to protest. But his comment— “the Republic Day parade cannot be celebrated by taking out tableaux”—is ridiculous. The Republic Day is when we celebrate our Consti-tution. The annual event symbolises that spirit of the free nation. Kejriwal’s threat to disrupt it was purely a show of disrespect to the people’s aspirations. It is not without reason that lakhs of people assemble to watch the tableaux. The Republic Day parade neither symbolises the Nehru-Gandhi family’s rule nor the dominance of any imperial or capitalist power. The Republic Day commands the respect of every Indian. On this day, sixtyfour years ago, in a remarkable display of idealism and courage, we the people of India gave to ourselves a sovereign democratic republic to secure all its citizens justice, liberty and equality.

Kejriwal must refrain from indulging in gimmickry. This nature of politics would not help him. It would not portray him as the modern Che or Mao or even Lohia. Moreover, Kejriwal cannot aspire to bring about a revolution by sitting on the lap of the middle class. He must learn to live with this class. His disregard for dignity and propriety not only demeans the chief ministership but also questions his intentions and behaviour. The Oxford English dictionary defines anarchism as ‘the doctrine that all government should be abolished’. Whatever the level of his disgust, he ought to have avoided using this word. However, an insight into his action makes clear that it was a well-thought-out response. But the frivolous steps of Kejriwal have turned the AAP vulnerable. The parties opposed to the AAP and Kejriwal have been using these to erode its middle class base. And for this situation none else but Kejriwal is to be held responsible.

It would be a futile exercise to find a similarity in Kejriwal’s actions with Gandhian principles. It would be wrong to believe that Kejriwal has given up too easily and quickly. It would also be wrong to construe that Kejriwal used the space available between the right to protest and express dissent against prevailing procedures and laws. Dissent in democracies is always welcome.

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, can be contacted at sriv@gmail.com