Soft targets are venting machines for anyone with a five-seconds-of-fame grudge. One such object of public aggression, social media contempt, nasty jokes and media distaste is Arvind Kejriwal. Last week, a disgruntled AAP member slapped him during a road show in Delhi. His reason: AK was not respectful enough of the Indian Army. At last count, the Delhi chief minister has been attacked 11 times with chilli powder, shoes, sandals, rotten eggs and iron rods. Yet his public meetings pull big crowds and he is invited for road shows and dharnas by his compatriots in non-BJP ruled states. How did a soft target like AK become a serious national player?
The truth is that he is not a soft target. AK has cracked the VIP code, which signals the transformation of an elected politician into a top banana in legislature or government. In every election, these high muckamucks sweat it out by mingling with voters sans deo and aftershave, shaking their work-worn hands with promises and panaceas. Once the show is over, they are no longer homies in the hood, but exalted representatives who speed by in luxury cars and SUVs followed by convoys bristling with radio antennae and menacing security men with guns who wave other vehicles aside for the VIP to pass.
They travel Business and First Class free on Air India, further adding to the decrepit airline’s losses and public expenditure. Not all MPs or MLAs visit their constituencies; when they do, they are not easily accessible to their voters who wait outside their palatial mansions seeking help from the government. Only those recommended by panchayat heads or pradhans with enough vote power get a brief audience with the political nabob.
Many of these big cheese don’t spend their development funds—roads in many constituencies are broken worse than the dreams of their voters. Hospitals are underfunded, children and teachers do not attend school and drinking water is a pipe dream. But not in Delhi now. Kejriwal’s cachet is his image of accessibility. He drives a down-market car, wears oversize shirts and off-the-shelf trousers, eschews Christian Louboutin shoes and Cartier sunglasses. He does not have the threatening look of a puissant neta. In the feudal Indian psyche, a leader is someone who has the power to hurt. And looks like it. Adoration and fear are sides of the same coin.
The other soft target is called India’s pappu who seems to have inexplicably acquired sudden clarity of aggression. Taunted for years by his foes and mocked in private by his partymen, Rahul Gandhi is on a roll this poll. But AK and he are poles apart: Rahul’s pedigree protects him while AK’s lack of a famous surname is his armour. Between them, win or lose, these two soft targets are giving both opponents and allies a hard time.