“Why, if I had a brain I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers, consultin’ with the rain. And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’. If I only had a brain.”—Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz
In the last years of the UPA government’s moribund decade, corruption-weary India discovered a champion. Arvind Kejriwal reaped the savage harvest of popular anger by promising to burnish the sunrise of a new era in which the ordinary man is a stakeholder of a clean, resurgent India.
The scent of change was in the air, of a fruitage waiting to be gathered, and the seeds of a new order to be sown. But scarecrows can only scare birds away, not sow or till the fields. We also forget that scarecrows, like Kejriwal, are men of straw.
The most appealing character in Frank Baum’s classic novel, The Wizard of Oz, is the scarecrow. The main protagonist of the book is Dorothy Gale, who is swept away in a cyclone and falls into a field in Munchkin country where she meets him. The scarecrow’s great regret is that he doesn’t have a brain. “Brains are the only thing worth having in this world, no matter whether one is a crow or a man,” he tells Dorothy. In the beginning, he scared away the crows. But one wise old crow discovered that the tatterdemalion figure was made of straw and all crows started to eat up the corn. Baum’s scarecrow is a metaphor of self-realisation in deceitful times, while Dorothy could be the ordinary Indian helplessly lost in a false world. Kejriwal’s appeal, then, was the promise to revive the flailing Indian spirit.
He is, however, the greatest betrayal of India in recent times. He claimed to be the new face of a new politics—clean, accessible and proactive. He encouraged non-political activism, drafting successful people with clean records, selling AAP as the Nirma of Indian politics. Millions of ordinary people swelled its ranks, working to spread its message of participation and empowerment of the common man in politics. Retired schoolteachers, recovering journalists, ex-servicemen, middle-level bank managers, small-time businessmen and students joined the movement, contributing hard-earned money to the party coffers. Dollar donations flowed into AAP pockets from abroad, from NRIs who were ashamed and alarmed at the corruption and economic decay in India—which had become briefly the toast of the West. Many of them quit their jobs or took sabbaticals and moved to work with Kejriwal in the heat and dust of Bharat.
But, like the scarecrow of Oz, the self-obsessed Kejriwal didn’t have the brains to understand the subtleties of politics or governance. He became the comic relief of this bitterly fought election, a hubris that played out its role, not in some great dark theatre of a Greek tragedy but in Varanasi burlesque. Kejriwal was not chosen by the people to contest against Modi, but his self-image as a giant killer was chasing its own distorted destiny. AAP is now trying to heal the schisms within, bring disillusioned leaders back and be reborn as a party of the people. But as long as the scarecrow remains the guardian, the crows will have a field day. The Congress is decimated and there is no political opposition in the country. AAP could have filled the vacuum as an idea that goes beyond Kejriwal. If it has to survive, it has to realise that the founder has outlived his purpose. There are enough young committed Indians who do not chase the cameras like rats after the Pied Piper to take his place or form a secretariat of brains. In the book, when Dorothy asks the scarecrow, “How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?” He replies, “I don’t know... but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?” Dump the rhetoric, don’t miss the moment, and get a new boss. AAP may still have a chance.