Even if Arvind Kejriwal's charges against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari were not as damaging as those against Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra and union Law Minister Salman Khurshid, the social activist-turned politician has finally distanced himself from the saffron camp.
Since the BJP and its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), were suspected to be behind Anna Hazare's campaign right from the start, the anti-corruption crusaders were wary of this association. Now, Kejriwal has taken the first step to dispel any suspicions on this score although it will take time for him (and Anna) to fully clear their names.
For the present, though, he may have redeemed himself in the eyes of the liberals and minorities. It is, however, yet to be seen how far the decision, which would have been helpful if he had remained a social activist, will be of use to him as a politician. The reason for the doubts is that, by and large, Indian politics has become a bipolar affair with the popular allegiances centred on two parties - the Congress and the BJP - at the national level.
Notwithstanding the presence of influential parties in the states, their hold is generally localised which is why they tend to align themselves with one or the other of the two major national parties. It is this bipolarity which is responsible for the failure of the so-called Third Front to coalesce.
Willy-nilly, therefore, Kejriwal and Co have become a part of the dysfunctional Third Front. As a result, pessimists may already discern a cloud over their political future since it is not easy to believe that the crusader's India Against Corruption (IAC) will surge ahead on its own, especially when charges against him are being levied by a former police officer about a selective approach in choosing targets. It is also unlikely that any of the putative Third Front leaders will hitch their stars to the IAC bandwagon because, first, they will be uneasy about Kejriwal's crusading zeal since their hands may not be all that clean, and, secondly, some of them (like Mulayam Singh Yadav, for instance, harbour prime ministerial ambitions themselves.
It has to be remembered that even a towering personality like Jayaprakash Narayan had no alternative but to tie-up with the Jana Sangh - as the BJP was then known - in 1977 in order to oust the Congress. It will be extremely difficult, therefore, for the IAC to steer clear of the two political behemoths. There is little doubt that a genuine display of Kejriwal's neutrality will enhance his stature in the public eye. But whether this exalted position will be enough to ensure his political success is open to question, especially because it will take a long time for him to set up an organisational network at the ground level to match those of the Congress, the BJP and the other parties.
The difficulty will be all the greater because the IAC is yet to articulate a definite political philosophy. While the pro-Maoist sympathies of one of its stalwarts, Prashant Bhushan, and the saffron background of his father, Shanti Bhushan, are known, no one knows what Kejriwal himself stands for except for the fact that he is against corruption. But, even on that score, his concept of a Jan Lokpal as an overarching presence over the entire administrative machinery is too simplistic to carry conviction. While Kejriwal's anti-Congress outlook can be guessed, it is not known whether he is a closet Maoist or a closet saffronite or someone who is yet to formulate his ideological views.
The last possibility may be the real one considering that he wants the IAC's candidates for elections to be selected not by a "high command" but by the "people". Such utopian ideas can draw applause at public meetings but can hardly be implemented in real life. Similar unrealistic idealism can be seen in the belief that decisions on key national issues will be taken by referendum. But, as Ruchi Gupta of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information points out, referendums are prone to the prejudices of the majority, as is evident from the ban on minarets in Switzerland and the change in the definition of marriage in California to exclude gay couples.
It is evident, therefore, that the IAC has a long way to go before it can establish itself as a credible outfit. Emotionalism has been its guiding star till now, based on the popular anger against the perception of politics being synonymous with corruption, criminality and nepotism. As the largest and oldest political party, it was up to the Congress to dispel this impression.
Unfortunately, not only has it shown little interest in cleansing the system, it has also drawn pointed attention to its ingrained cynicism by the action against a civil servant who noted flaws in the land deals involving Vadra, and by Salman Khurshid's intemperate outburst against Kejriwal. However, in spite of the Congress shooting itself in the foot, Kejriwal will not find it easy to ensure that the IAC is up and running.