Populism's Comprador - The New Indian Express

Populism's Comprador

Published: 12th January 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 20th January 2014 05:30 PM

There are images in history that are forever embedded in the mythos of a people, defining the symbols of the age—usually chaotic with the churning of public opinion. They represent change. Mahatma Gandhi walking towards the eternal seashore of Dandi is a defining symbol of India’s freedom struggle. He transformed khadi into a symbol of national pride, and the burning of British goods—which may have been superior in quality—was a watershed moment in Indian history. The image of the “half-naked fakir”, as Winston Churchill called him, spinning a charkha is even today a metaphor of Swaraj. The bulldog-faced Churchill, with the defiant cigar in a grim mouth, symbolised implacable chutzpah against Hitler’s war machine. There are more—Lenin’s statues in unforgiving profile, Nehru’s flamboyant red rose, Ho Chi Minh’s conical hat. These form the lithography of change.

India has minted itself a new icon. A bespectacled man wearing a trademark cap and a lumpy pullover, sporting a toothbrush moustache and a muffler wrapped around his neck, standing by an electric pole, pliers in hand, cutting wires. Arvind Kejriwal is India’s new hero. Only, he is breaking the law he is sworn to uphold as Delhi’s chief minister. In a sweeping gesture of lumpen populism, all cases against power theft accused would be withdrawn. Those who haven’t paid their power bills would be forgiven—losses to the exchequer be damned. Case in point: post-privatisation, losses to Delhi government were reduced by 70 per cent, saving `37, 000 crore of public money. Power theft went down from 45 per cent to 5 per cent. However comical the comparison, men like Gandhi defied the law to create freedom while men like Kejri are breaking the law to create anarchy. Citizen cops to carry out sting operations is a populist masterstroke, but only the small fish would fall in the net—the policeman who takes a `100 bribe or the sanitary inspector who pockets `500. The big players who bribe politicians with crores of rupees for public contracts do not do sting operations because they would be the losers.

Kejri is only doing what Rahul Gandhi wishes to do. They are doppelgangers, and perhaps

ideological confederates, supposedly working to sweep anti-people rot from the system. Rahul is for massive subsidies for votebanks. So is Kejri. Waiving farmers’ loans encourages defaulters and is not empowerment. Rahul is for minority reservation, while Kejri woos Muslim votes and wants reservation for Delhi students; just like Marathi manoos Raj Thackeray. Rahul is against big business, so is Kejri who opposes FDI in retail. Kejri could decimate the ageing venal Congress leadership—which is Rahul’s aim. Kejri is India’s new Rahul Gandhi while the Congress party’s Kejri is willing to let his alter ego do the job. Rahul knows Kejri is the only challenger to what Narendra Modi stands for and is allowing the next election to become a contest not between him and Modi, but between Kejri and Modi. Thus, by devaluing the Modi franchise, the Congress plays the puppeteer once more.

The joker in the pack is the BJP. Imitation is the best form of flattery, but it also reveals a bankruptcy of ideas. By sporting saffron caps a la Kejri, the BJP is borrowing AAP’s iconography, thereby becoming its own caricature. The middle class is the new political power, and all three know this. But the BJP is its own nemesis. A cabal is attempting to sabotage the vision to abolish multi-tax chaos—which would be the biggest game changer with the middle classes and traders, the BJP’s main votebank. It is obvious that a section in the BJP is supporting both Kejri and the Congress by default, to hobble Modi’s chances.

Replicating the Delhi model at the Centre could be a feasible post-poll scenario, and other ‘secular’ parties would support Kejri to keep Modi and the BJP out. The Congress perpetuates itself by supporting the enemy outside, while the enemy within could destroy the BJP.  ravi@newindianexpress.com

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