I was quite impressed by Arvind Kejriwal when he rose to become the crusader-in-chief of the anti-corruption movement in India. In his well publicised press conferences he levelled serious charges of corruption against many politicians and businessmen. I noticed he offered little evidence, did not pursue these cases and moved on to pick up the next target.
Schooled in the BBC’s stringent libel laws I wondered how he could accuse someone without substantial evidence. I knew in India one could get away with such accusations. Standing on the fast diminishing moral high ground he would often say that all politicians were cheats and engaged in looting the country.
The nation hailed the new hero who seemed determined to free India from endemic corruption. His biggest attribute was how to attract people, how to use them and more importantly how long to use them. He used Anna Hazare’s Gandhian appeal to launch a nationwide anti-corruption movement. As the most popular leader of the movement, when Anna began to assert himself, Kejriwal left him. The split was pretty unpleasant.
With the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party, Kejriwal became a full-fledged politician. He raised hope and promised to transform Indian politics: A corruption free India, a decentralised democracy, a transparent government, an accountable leadership and a responsive bureaucracy. Few noticed thatthis popular figure was turning into a dominating leader who followed one rule – Follow me or get out of my way. Some like Justice Hegde left quietly. Others like Kiran Bedi and Shazia Ilmi made some ineffective fuss . Dissent or divergent opinion had no place in his scheme of things.
Meanwhile, in his race to chief-ministership he began to make some unprincipled compromises. The Congress party, once the prime target of his anti-corruption movement, was now apparently acceptable.. He was competing for power against the BJP which became the enemy number one. He launched his first Delhi election with the open support of Muslim and Sikh clergy. His fake secularism was further exposed when he said that Muslims had no other party to vote for. With their votes in bag, there was no need to give Muslims a fair representation in the assembly.
During the second election campaign he promised no government raids against Delhi’s corrupt traders who habitually indulge in activities like food adulteration and tax avoidance.. He assured Delhi’s thuggish auto-drivers that police would never trouble them. He said there would be no action against illegal land encroachments. He also promised half price electricity, free water and free Wi-Fi. Nobody bothered to ask him how Delhi’s debt-ridden government would pay for these free services.
Having won a historic mandate in Delhi, he now decided to take on his chief rivals within the party, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. it was a Stalinist purge, minus the violence. He assembled a squad of young, rootless and raucous followers, who routinely began to abuse and humiliate the senior party leaders. Unlike others, Bhushan and Yadav would not go without a fight. Their strategy was to inflict maximum damage and portray Kejriwal as a power hungry megalomaniac who had no principles and no morals.They released a recorded conversation in which Kejriwal was conspiring to engineer defections within the Congress party in order to form a government in Delhi. At the same time Kejriwal was publicly accusing the BJP that of offering his MLAs Rs 40 million to split the AAP.
As Kejriwal stood at the peak of public goodwill, the only way for him was downhill. The Bhushan and Yadav camp released a recording in which an angry Kejriwal was calling them rascals and threatening to kick them out of the party. His supporters were shocked. His anger and arrogance that I noticed early in his career was now clearly visible to millions of his supporters. Here was a dictatorial and power-hungry politician keen to forge unethical compromises and determined to suppress independent voices.
Must the poor remain poor for ever?
Anna Hazare came to Delhi again. This time to launch a dharana or a sit-in protest against Modi government’s land acquisition bill. He travelled in an airplane, while many of his supporters walked from distant lands such as Bihar and Orissa. They looked miserable, unfed, exhausted and dispirited. Hardly anyone of them had clothes appropriate for Delhi’s cold weather.
Our thinking classes are stuck with a romantic vision of the village life as portrayed in the Bollywood films of the 1960s – groups of jolly men ploughing fields surrounded by giggling and dancing women. Such a village had never existed. Similarly, Gandhi’s ideal village republic was unrealistically utopian and Nehru’s dream of cooperative farming never materialised.
The grim reality of village life has changed very little. The upper caste zamindar has been replaced by the new power wielding intermediate castes like Yadavas and Kurmis who have been ruling Bihar and UP for the last two decades. The equations between powerful and poor have hardly changed. The state protects the powerful and ignores the poor.
Keeping the poor, poor forever is good politics because the poor have votes. 68 percent Indians live in rural India. Therefore, a huge army of self-serving intellectuals, pro-farmer politicians are working overtime to tell these poor villagers that their existence is threatened. That growing cities will swallow the villages. They tell the poor that they will give them free food, 100 days of paid jobs, free education, free homes, virtually free loans, free water and even free electricity. In return they only want their votes. These patronising policies have helped to sustain some of the most corrupt politicians in power.
It is virtually impossible to generate sustainable economic activity in most Indian villages. The arable land is not enough to feed the ever increasing rural population. Land does not increase, the population does.. Therefore, people should be encouraged to move out from the villages to look for new opportunities in the nearby cities.
They must not go to live in the slums of Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata. Even the tier two cities like Ahmedabad, Pune, Indore and Jaipur might be too far away and too costly to survive. So the rural poor should head for tier three cities like Aligarh, Shahjahanpur, Darbhanga, Bhilwara and Junagarh. These cities are crying for investment and growth and they could offer to the rural poor from surrounding villages a vast number of low skilled jobs without social and cultural dislocation.
India must focus on improving the infrastructure of these, so far ignored, small and middle towns where there is a huge potential for growth.