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Why Kejriwal is no longer an odd number in politics

[By Narendra Kaushik]

New Delhi: Let me begin with a PS (post script)

Many of the politicians in the country particularly the ones belonging to the old guard, be it Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan, Prakash Singh Badal, M Karunanidhi, Mayawati and others, rose proclaiming lofty ideals pertaining to socialism, secularism and social justice. Their baptism into political life exuded hope that they would work to achieve their stated goals and not turn into run-of-the-mill politicians who make promises to break and indulge in corruption, cronyism and nepotism.

But to be fair to Mulayam Singh Yadav, Paswan, Mayawati and others, none of them promised to pursue a narrative of alternate politics. At least not as vehemently as Aam Aadmi Party apparatchik Arvind Kejriwal did after the formation of his party in November 2012 and in the run up to the 2013 Delhi assembly elections.

Moreover, unlike Kejriwal, their makeover into leaders who promote their kith and kin or use birthdays to splurge public resources or for collection of cash and jewellery, cannot be termed a 360-degree turnaround because they never claimed they would establish India’s first corruption-free city and change the way the politics is practiced in the country.

They never aspired to be part of the hoi polloi and said no to power and pelf.

Poles Apart

The current Delhi state Chief Minister not only shouted from rooftops that he was an aam aadmi but also contemptuously declined power and perks that an elected legislator is entitled to. He also looked down on dynasty and politics of patronage.

Before elections in 2013, Kejriwal picked his assembly candidates on the basis of feedback of his party volunteers, a first in Indian politics. He pledged to check antecedents of each and every donor who signed doles for his outfit.

After elections, he said no to government accommodation, security cover and moved around in a bequeathed blue wagonR with his trademark grey muffler wrapped around his neck.Television news channels debated in their prime time whether the AAP was the new game changer for Indian politics after all the significant political players in Delhi desisted from cobbling together a majority through unfair means.

On top of it, Kejriwal slept in the middle of the road called Rajpath (the stretch connecting India Gate to the President House) on the issue of security of women in the national capital and tried to steamroll Janlokpal through Delhi legislature without the mandatory approval of the draft from Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung.

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CM Kejriwal takes to sleeping on the road during a protest in Delhi

He even cocked a snook at the Congress-led central government proclaiming during his sit-in at India Gate before Republic Day in 2014 that he was an ‘anarchist’ and never got tired of saying ‘Sab mile huye hain’ (all of them are hand-in-glove) on corruption.

Joins the Bandwagon

The transformation of Arvind Kejriwal from a harbinger of alternate politics to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill politician began even before Election Commission announced the schedule for assembly elections in Delhi in January this year.

He first junked the idea of taking volunteers’ feedback and decided to para drop candidates of his choice. There were wholesale defections with at least 10 politicians from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress and the BJP having been allowed to switch into the AAP.

Prashant Bhushan, the lawyer-cum-AAP member wrote to party Lokpal against 12 candidates. But only two of them got dropped after the inquiry. The rest – property mafias, land grabbers and criminals – were retained in the fray.

Kejriwal swore by innocence of Sahi Ram Pehalwan (Tughlakabad) who had criminal cases pending, Sharad Chauhan (Narela) who contested from the BSP in the past and Naresh Balyan (Uttam Nagar), a real estate dealer whom Delhi police accused of bootlegging.

No wonder, 23 of the party MLAs declared criminal cases in affidavits filed before the elections.  Five have already been to jail – former Law Minister Jitendra Singh Tomar (fake degree), former minister Somnath Bharati (atrocities on wife), Delhi Cantonment MLA Surinder Singh (assault on a municipal corporation employee), Kondli MLA Manoj Kumar (land grabbing) and Model Town MLA Akhilesh Tripathi (rioting). A host of other party MLAs are under the police scanner.

Besides, a large number of eminent personalities including Justice Santosh Hegde, Anjali Damania, Mayank Gandhi have deserted the party. There is trouble even in the parliament with the party having suspended two of its four MPs Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa for anti-party activities in August this year.

Exactly a year later on February 14 this year when Kejriwal returned to rule Delhi with a landslide, more tell-tale signs of his remaking were there for all to see.

Be it his demand for a five-bedroom bungalow (he, subsequently, settled for four-bedroom house), his ministers’ queue for Toyota Innovas as official perk, his defence of Law Minister Jitendra Singh Tomar after Delhi Bar Council accused the former of faking his degree, his reaction to revolt by Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav on the issue of deviation of the AAP from its founding principles and his decision to appoint over a dozen MLAs into commissions and other Delhi government bodies – everything was a milestone in the trajectory of his personal and party’s transformation.

Kejriwal told everybody in the hearing distance through 2012, 13 and 14 that his party would practice untouchability against corrupt politicians. So much so that when Lalu was sentenced in the multi-crore fodder scam, he posted on Twitter,

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AAP spokesman Ashish Khaitan says the party will continue to treat corrupt as untouchables.

Hug Discredit

But after Kejriwal’s bear hug of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad in Patna in November this year, there may not be many takers of the claim.

A 'crusader against corruption' Arvind Kejriwal hugging Lalu Yadav post Bihar election results this year

The irony – A ‘crusader against corruption’ Arvind Kejriwal hugging Lalu Yadav post Bihar election results this year

Kejriwal’s claim that Lalu pulled him in a hug and that he only supported Nitish Kumar’s bid for chief ministership in Bihar, will also have no takers. The assertion flies in the face of all logic. Was Kumar not part of the grand alliance? Has Lalu’s RJD not won more seats than Nitish’s Janata Dal (United)? How can Kejriwal back Nitish and oppose Lalu, the former’s alliance and now ruling partner?

Since his entry into Delhi’s electoral politics the AAP National Convenor has done so many about turns that people may find it difficult to take him on face value. He ran his 49-day dispensation with outside support of Congress and himself accepted, extended government perks to his party functionaries and promoted criminals, real estate agents into politics and brought about 400 percent increase in salaries of the MLAs and Delhi ministers after swearing against these day in and day out. There is no doubt that that the handshake and embrace with Lalu has seriously dented Arvind Kejriwal’s image of a crusader against corruption in the country.

The stupendous hike in the salaries of Delhi lawmakers is also aimed at putting political executive above the government servants. But in effect, Kejriwal Government has placed them above the Prime Minister and all other members of the political administration at the centre and in the states.

Jokepal (?)

Former AAP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s charges that his government has altered the Janlokpal bill to keep the anti-corruption ombudsman under the thumb of his regime has turned out to be true and this is precisely the reason why even social activist and Kejriwal’s mentor Anna Hazare has rejected the bill passed by the Delhi assembly.

If you ask me whether Kejriwal had any options, my answer would be an emphatic no. How can you keep the political executive out of appointment and removal of the anti-corruption ombudsman? What is the guarantee that the independent Lokpal with an investigative agency under its arm would not turn into a Frankenstein monster?

More odds

Kejriwal’s decision on allowing even and odd numbered private vehicles in Delhi on alternate days from January 1 next year for a fortnight without consulting stakeholders like Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), Delhi Police and Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) endorses the charge that he has an autocratic streak in him, does not want to hear naysayers and wishes to run Delhi government on his whims and fancies.

His government is now going to consult the stakeholders. What stopped him from consulting them before announcing the decision?

Kejriwal, like the ordinary, dyed-in-the-wool political flock occupying the treasury and opposition benches in the Parliament, obviously, would not want to partake credit for the decision with others.

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