By Swapan Dasgupta
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal is an effective and even inspirational communicator. However, there is something a bit jarring in his over-sanctimoniousness, particularly his underlying message that those who are not with him are somehow implicitly in favour of a corrupt system. This exaggerated polarisation may have won him adherents but his contrived saintliness has also made many people deeply uncomfortable. Such people may actually delight in some recent revelations that seem to suggest that those living in glass houses should be wary of hurling stones.
To be fair, the Media Sarkar sting operation directed at a handful AAP candidates for the Delhi Assembly doesn’t conclusively establish that the so-called ‘alternative politics’ is a sham. To say that many of those contesting on the AAP symbol are in no different from the archetypal venal politician is an exaggeration. The AAP hasn’t been around for long enough and hasn’t ever tasted political power to become tainted. However, the sting operation—which also happens to be dodgy journalism—does end up conveying a disturbing message.
It is important to note that people aren’t born corrupt. They don’t even necessarily become corruption by dipping their toes in political waters. The real test of integrity is when an individual has the opportunity to be corrupt and refuses to succumb to it. Those who have no real opportunity and occasion to engage in corrupt practices can stay pure. But that is not to say that they are inherently pure. The person who is charged with rape in a hotel lift in Goa wasn’t always a person who lacked all scruples and cynically crafted a career path using lofty idealism as commerce. No, his downfall began when he was overwhelmed by the opportunities available to him. He was intoxicated by his power. And, inevitably, the arrogance of power produced a disagreeable form of moral corruption.
In his pious rebuttal of the charges levelled against AAP candidates, its political guru Yogendra Yadav said that there was nothing to warrant disciplinary action against those who were ‘stung’. In a sense he was right. No money changed hands and nothing improper was actually done. Yet, the Media Sarkar sting did establish something that is potentially very damaging to the AAP: it suggested that given the right incentives, even the workers of a holier-than-outfit were willing to join the ranks of a disagreeable political class.
What the (albeit edited) sting tapes clearly indicated were two things. First, that like most outfits facing a resource crunch to fight elections, the AAP candidates weren’t too particular about the motives behind funding, the source of the funds and, in some cases, over-the-top cash donations. Secondly, and this is the most disturbing aspect of the revelations, the AAP activists appear to have turned a blind eye to the fact that the proposed donations had a definite quid pro quo to them. That AAP candidates were willing to lend a sympathetic ear and even promise possible action to intervene in private disputes involving either companies or landlords and tenants is revealing. Shazia Ilmi, the ever-smiling candidate for RK Puram, did clearly state that she needed documentary evidence to be convinced about the rights and wrongs of the case. Yet, she was not averse to any intervention in a civil dispute that has no bearing on the larger public interest.
The conclusions are distressing. They suggest that there are people in the AAP who, far from practising ‘alternative’ and wholesome politics, are mentally willing to walk down the same treacherous path as many other political parties.
I would be extremely hesitant to suggest that the likes of Messrs Kejriwal, Yadav and others are cynical practitioners of realpolitik and are devoid of scruples. But their unwillingness to admit the party’s shortcomings and instead fall back on attacking the cussedness of Media Sarkar in not supplying the original tapes is revealing. It indicates that, in anticipation of a good performance in the election, the AAP is not willing to practice the lofty idealism it preaches.
Actually, this embracement of pragmatism began earlier. Beginning with Kejriwal’s courtship of sundry clerics who claimed to control Muslim vote banks and including his overtures to disappointed ticket aspirants from the big parties, the AAP has given indications that it is ready to embrace many aspects of electoral politics as it now exists. Changing the political culture is a lofty goal and can’t be achieved through one electoral intervention. But the AAP doesn’t appear to have tried too hard.
Perhaps I am being unduly harsh on the AAP. However, when a party makes saintliness is uniqueness and sets lofty standards for others to follow, there will be an inclination to judge it by its own standards.
There are major lessons to be learnt from the jam the AAP finds itself in. For a start, it must realise that finding pristine pure individuals who will resist all temptations is an impossible mission. Secondly, the AAP must realise that just as it is unfair to judge it by the lapses of a few individuals in its ranks, it is equally unfair to judge other parties solely on account of a few rotten eggs. The point to note that politics has become such a disagreeable business that deviants are naturally attracted to it. Changing the tone and tenor of politics and statecraft involves a national awakening that can’t happen by getting a few AAP candidates elected in Delhi.