Is One Going to See a More Mature and Pragmatic Kejriwal?

Published: 14th February 2015 04:52 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th February 2015 04:52 PM   |  A+A-


The first fallout of the Aam Admi Party's (AAP) spectacular victory in Delhi will be a renewed focus on sleaze in public life, as has been borne out by Arvind Kejriwal's commitment to make Delhi India's first corruption-free state in his inaugural address after being sworn in as chief minister for a second time.

This was the issue which was the mainstay of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement of which the present-day AAP was a part and which built up Kejriwal's reputation as a crusader against bribery and underhand deals.

Since this image is behind his political success, he is bound to buttress it by carrying on the campaign. Kejriwal must be aware that his successes in the winter of 2013-14 and again this year have been the result of the belief among the 'aam admi' (common people) that only he in the political establishment has the courage of conviction to nail the guilty.

Moreover, this belief is based on the real-life experience of ordinary people of the decline in petty acts of corruption like the police collecting 'haftas' (bribes) from street vendors, traders and others in Delhi when Kejriwal was the the chief minister for 49 days. His castigation of the corporate bigwigs with a touch of insolence also impressed the people as it showed that the AAP is not dependent on covert funding by businessmen.

That he is not willing to let sleeping dogs lie is evident again from his raising the demand for full statehood for Delhi. It is also obvious that he is going to return to his earlier theme of providing free water up to 20,000 litres and lowering the power tariff, the main planks of his party's campaign.

There is little doubt that all of this will earn him plaudits from what has come to be known as the underclass. But whether such populism is economically viable is something which the AAP has to figure out.

It may be necessary to recall the fate of the Congress in the wake of its indulgence in reckless populism - subsidized food, virtual doles for rural labourers who built nothing substantial, no examinations for students till Class 8 which has led to a precipitous drop in learning standards.

What that experiment showed was that the people were not interested in freebies so much as in a thriving economy which provided jobs. Considering that capitalism has won the battle against socialism with the buoyant private sector becoming the engine of growth at the expense of the moribund public sector, Kejriwal will be making a mistake if he targets the business community in matters of, say, electricity charges.

In fact, in his inaugural address, he reached out to traders and told them to honestly pay their taxes, as the government needs revenue to run, and assured them of a harassment-free tax and regulation regime.

To avoid such pitfalls, the new ruling party's first objective will have to be to ascertain what can be achieved without overturning the apple cart. It need not be afraid that its decision to hasten slowly will be interpreted as temporizing. The average voter is perceptive enough to understand the AAP's circumspection.

It is also possible that once the AAP demonstrates that it intends to reform the system and; not uproot it, other parties will join it in its efforts, even if reluctantly. The business class may also respond by being more transparent and less profit-minded. It will be aided in this exercise by the fact that the corporate houses will not have to make under-the-table payments to politicians - at least not as much as before.

From this aspect of cooperation with others in the political field, the AAP has a great opportunity to translate into reality the dream of reformers of transforming the system. The party's asset of huge popularity cannot but compel the other parties and the corporate sector to accede to its game plan. One can only hope that the AAP will not throw it all away by its intemperance and self-righteousness.

However, the possibility that Delhi, and the country, will see a new Kejriwal has been raised by his message to his party men to eschew arrogance, which he said had caused the downfall of both the Congress and the BJP, and his transcending party rivalries to reach out, if necessary, to the BJP and the Congress for consultations. This is a far cry from his earlier 'sab chor hai' (everyone is a thief) attitude which placed the AAP in an exalted category. Evidently, the chief minister has taken to heart the lessons of his earlier short-lived stint in office.

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