Arvindji, if you reject both ruling and Opposition parties as two sides of the same coin, you will eventually form a political party of your own, unless of course you work for a revolution to overthrow the system.”
This was how my meeting with Arvind Kejriwal ended. Kejriwal responded that he would never ever enter politics. That was a couple of days before the famous August 20, 2011 fast of Anna Hazare at Ramlila Madian. We never met before or later. He met me at the instance of a spiritual leader whom I hold in high esteem. He had advised Kejriwal to meet me to know how the movements against corruption in high places -- in which I was involved as part of the Indian Express group in the 1970s and 1980s -- were carried on for long periods.
The meeting took place at the Indian Express guest house at Sarvoday Enclave in New Delhi.
A common friend, Darshak Hathi, had accompanied Kejriwal. Darshak was part of India Against Corruption (IAC) team in its critical work of drafting the Lok Pal Bill, of meeting the Prime Minister and other ministers. He was also instrumental in mobilising the Art of Living volunteers who were initially IAC’s backbone. Darshak belongs to a respected political family, that of Jaishuklal Hathi, a former Union minister. Darshak is now the international director of Art of Living in Bangalore. He was witness to our dialogue which went on for almost two hours.
I told Kejriwal that all anti-corruption movements were political. They were invariably against the ruling party’s corruption, co-opting the Opposition parties in the fight. I cited the examples of the Bihar movement, the Nav Nirman movement and the movement against Rajiv Gandhi over the Bofors pay-off -- which led to the defeat of corrupt regimes. I told him that the only way corruption could be fought was to punish the corrupt politicians by defeating them in elections.
A movement to establish honesty in politics is impractical. The movement for the Lok Pal Bill aimed at a better law to punish the corrupt, but overlooked the issue of the unprecedented and ongoing corruption of the ruling party. I also told him that for an anti-corruption movement to succeed, the first requirement was a leadership which could bring all anti-establishment forces to fight the ruling party’s corruption.
Kejriwal’s short reply was that such movements proved futile as corruption had continued even thereafter. He insisted that a movement to clean the political system was needed. I asked him whether he was seeding a revolution. Responding theoretically, he said that he was mobilising people’s power to correct the system. I moved to the next point and said the unflinching support of one media outlet willing to risk its interests was needed -- like the Indian Express which actually led the anti-corruption battles. Kejriwal responded that he had the support of the entire media. I told him that the media as a whole could not be trusted to support an agitation for long and they would soon get divided. So relying on the disparate media might prove dangerous.
He then named a media group which had promised total support to him.(Later I checked up with them. They confirmed they were sympathetic to IAC but wouldn’t back them like Ramnath Goenka who would put his last penny in a fight.)
I went on and told Kejriwal that there could not be an effective anti-corruption movement without openly targeting the corrupt person. The IAC, instead of naming and fighting the blatantly corrupt rulers, was actually helping them by giving them opportunity to escape the blame by supporting the Bill and thus claiming to be clean! In the process, they had also gained the time they needed. Worse still, IAC was blaming all politicians - clubbing and equating those who had looted the country of lakhs of crores with, to say, pickpockets. In effect IAC was bailing out the Congress which was virtually shameless about corruption.
At that point Arvind said the movement had gone too far into the apolitical line. I said that, having taken up a political issue, to say that IAC would handle it apolitically, was a contradiction. Anna’s apolitical stature could bring together the various shades of Opposition, like JP did.
Kejriwal then asked me pointedly, given where he stood, what should be done. I suggested to him that IAC should course-correct itself. When Anna would sit on a fast on August 20, the leaders of the Opposition parties might come and garland him and he may ask them to sit with him on the stage for the day. That would signal to the public who the buccaneers were.
Kejriwal responded that they could come and garland Anna but they should sit in the audience. I said that was too much, as they had also spent decades in public life and some of them had maintained standards through their life which today’s younger generation might find difficult to do. I noticed two things throughout.
Kejriwal always took Anna’s name and said Anna would not agree for this or that. Next, he said that he could never cross Anna’s apolitical line. When I told him finally that he might himself have to form a political party to fight the issue politically, he asserted that he had no political ambition at all. I wished him well and the meeting ended. To be sure that I recollected the conversation correctly I had sent the gist of the dialogue to Darshak Hathi. He responded by his mail dated January 29, 2014: “This is perfect”.
I never reveal private conversations. I can vividly recall the personal meeting a Bofors pay-off accused had with Ramnath Goenka and me at the Express Towers in Mumbai in July 1989. He was accompanied by Mahesh Jethmalani. He clearly told us that if he opened his mouth the Prime Minister would have to go. Despite the fact that the Indian Express desperately needed proof on Bofors pay-off, we did not even think of publishing that incriminating but confidential statement. But there was nothing confidential about Kejriwal’s meeting or dialogue with me. We discussed only public issues. Yet I refrained from making the dialogue with Kejriwal public because it principally involved what I was telling him and also there was no appropriate context for that till AAP formed the government in Delhi.
Kejriwal’s flip-flop-flip on almost every issue of principle made me feel that he is not what he professes to be. He said he would not contest elections, but he did. He said he wouldn’t ally with the Congress, but he did. He said the AAP wouldn’t form the government, but it did. He said he wouldn’t hold any office, but he does. He said he would act against Sheila Dixit within seven days of assuming power, but did not. These flip-flop-flip made me recall what all he had told me. Several questions arose in my mind over his intent ab initio. Was he honestly pursuing apolitical agenda in IAC? Or was IAC just theatrical to co-opt the media and many respectable persons which gave unprecedented publicity and image to IAC and himself?
Was apolitical IAC just a strategy to lure guileless Anna and throw him out later? Would Kejriwal have deliberately used Anna knowing that a truly apolitical and undoubtedly innocent Anna would be useful but irrelevant if Kejriwal and his ambitious colleagues morphed IAC into the AAP? Where is the IAC agenda now, will he tell the nation? Was the political AAP always incubating in Kejriwal’s mind even as he was espousing apolitical IAC?
Kejriwal needs to tell the nation why and when did he think of snuffing out the IAC and giving birth to AAP. Unless he takes the country into confidence and explains what made him ditch Anna and why he formed the AAP after promising a million times that he would not enter politics, his political morality will barely equal that of any Aam politician.
Unless he comes clean, he cannot and should not be trusted. What is the guarantee that the man who fooled his mentor Anna will not fool the people?
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.