Aam Aadmi Party: A Reasonable Appraisal
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rode a wave of anti-incumbency and grassroots-level support to put up an impressive showing by finishing a close second in the recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections in which the corrupt Congress was deservingly decimated. Kejriwal promises that the AAP will not remain confined to Delhi. It will contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Now that AAP has positioned itself as a viable alternative to the BJP and the corrupt Congress, it is only reasonable that one scrutinizes AAP as much as one would scrutinize other parties.
Kejriwal emphasizes the need for probity in public life and a desire to weed out corruption. One must welcome this message given that corruption is pervasive in Indian society. A corrupt government weakens society in many ways. Public are denied services, prices of commodities rise, and a politician with a secret Swiss bank account is easily arm-twisted by imperial powers and the War Inc. thereby weakening national security and economic progress.
A WikiLeaks cable which revealed the American confidence that Rahul Gandhi, Congress’ likely prime ministerial candidate, could be easily manipulated testifies to this reality. Kejriwal is a former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer. Even though the IRS is perceived to be pervasively corrupt, there hasn’t been any charge of corruption leveled against Kejriwal which says that he is honest. Had he been corrupt, his political opponents would have exposed him. Reforming a corrupt society begins with an honest person. Kejriwal seems to be one.
Kejriwal exposed the illegal land-grab deals of Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the Congress chieftain Sonia Gandhi. Land mafia is the major cause of deterioration of law and order in India’s metros. It takes courage to target one such mafia don and member of India’s most powerful family. In a society where the English media is brazenly subservient toward the ruling Gandhi family, Kejriwal’s courageous stance should be admired.
AAP promises to implement “a powerful anti-corruption law, Janlokpal, to remove corruption from our system.” Complaints of corruption against politicians and public officials will be investigated on a fast-track basis within six months. Those found guilty would be imprisoned immediately and their property confiscated. A public official who fails to deliver services within prescribed time limits would be punished and the victim compensated within 30 days. One should welcome this stance.
An Indian politician illegally setup 323 ISDN lines to run his cable TV business costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. The infamous 2G Spectrum scandal cost the taxpayer over 40 billion dollars. Sonia Gandhi is reported to have stashed away billions of dollars of corruption money in Swiss banks. But it is impossible to file a complaint against such corrupt politicians, have a fair trial, and punish them. Yevgenia Albats, a member of the official Commission on KGB Operations set up by President Yeltsin, disclosed in her book, The State within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia – Past, Present, and Future, that the Gandhi family had been the beneficiary of KGB payoffs. Yet, in the prevailing system, Sonia Gandhi has evaded judicial and media scrutiny. An expedited trial and imprisonment of these corrupt politicians under Janlokpal would be certainly welcome. It is another story that for Janlokpal to be effective, India’s judicial system has to be reformed.
AAP, which has consistently taken the admirable stance that it would neither give nor take support to enable the formation of coalition government, advocates the citizen’s ‘Right to Reject‘ all candidates in an election. A candidate rejected by the majority cannot contest in the reelection. This is a well-intentioned advocacy though of the motherhood and apple pie variety. Let us assume that the electorate has the ability to judge candidates on merit and reject those who are corrupt and criminal. Let us say this electorate, in an act of collective anger, rejects all candidates. What if there is one honest candidate among many undesirable contestants? Why should he/she be penalized for the crimes of the rest? Hence, the advocacy should be amended to seek a ballot reform.
A voter should rank candidates in the order of preference and exclude those candidates who are unacceptable. Let us say, a voter’s first preference is the AAP candidate and second preference is the BJP candidate but the Congress candidate is unacceptable. The voter would then rank the AAP candidate first, BJP candidate second, and reject the Congress candidate. One could then apply Bayes’ Theorem to prevent a candidate with minority support from stealing the election in a multi-cornered contest.
However, while this would be a good mechanism to weed out vote bank politics and ensure that the majority choice is respected, it does not guarantee the elimination of corrupt and criminal candidates. In a well-reasoned analysis, the former CEC N Gopalaswami argues that the electorate is least bothered by corruption. Only when the public becomes aware of the need to battle corruption and crime, corrupt and criminal politicians would be eliminated.
The manifesto to supply 700 liters of free water to every household and allocate free houses to all slum-dwellers is populist and detrimental to economic progress. Who is going to fund such schemes? What prevents a slum-dweller from illegally renting his allocated apartment to someone as has often been observed in other states where such schemes were attempted? AAP seems to have imitated other political parties to attract its own vote bank: immigrant slum-dwellers. This manifesto demonstrates an inability to understand the fundamental reasons that lead to the emergence of slums: economic and growth disparities between cities and rural places.
Desperate people in search of opportunities gravitate toward slums in metros. Unless one creates a system and infrastructure that provides all round growth, in metros as well as in rural pockets, this phenomenon will not end. Would AAP continue to build free houses for every new batch of immigrants settling down in slums? Instead, it would be prudent to learn from Modi’s model of governance in Gujarat. Modi channelized his government’s energies into creating an infrastructure for growth. This resulted in all round development in Gujarat and obviated the need for the rural poor to gravitate toward metros and settle down in slums.
In 2012, there was an organized protest to prevent the commissioning of the nuclear reactor in Koodankulam. Christian missionaries reportedly operating under the directive of imperial powers were orchestrating the protests. It was falsely alleged that the reactor lacked safety measures. Indian scientists refuted the allegation and pointed out that the reactor is safe and that India has an excellent nuclear safety record. The former president and scientist Abdul Kalam inspected the reactor and vouched for its safety. Yet, Kejriwal joined hands with the protestors and agitated against the commissioning of the reactor. This incident deserves to be examined.
The protests resulted in a shortage of electricity generation and adversely impacted economic growth. Students preparing for their exams were inconvenienced by the power outages. Nuclear reactors are necessary to generate electricity for a growing economy like India. They also provide Indian scientists the wherewithal to build nuclear weapons and hence create a deterrent against hostile powers.
However, imperial powers and the War Inc. which thrive on selling conventional weapons to Third World countries are opposed to the prospect of India becoming a stronger nuclear power due to many reasons. First, India with nuclear weapons cannot be arm-twisted. Second, with the credible deterrence that nuclear weapons offer against aggression, India wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on importing conventional weapons. Third, investments in nuclear research spawn innovations that would be applicable to other areas too: e.g., nuclear medicine. And this would transform India into an innovative technological state and not merely an outsourcing hub for Western corporations.
These prospects do not appeal to the imperial powers, multinational corporations, and the War Inc. So, they fund leftist NGOs to stage regular protests against nuclear technology using the pretext that it is unsafe or that nuclear weapons derail peace. Given the fact that conventional weapons have killed millions of people around the world and destroyed peace, one would expect these NGOs to protest against importing conventional weapons. However, they do not. How can they bite the hand that feeds them?
Why did Kejriwal support such NGOs and protestors? I am not implying that his integrity is suspect. On the contrary, I suggest other reasons and a serious error of judgment. He might have naïvely believed the propaganda that nuclear reactors are unsafe. However, this is a cause of worry. Should one entrust the future of a nation in the hands of a person who rather naïvely trusts propagandists than rely on the trustworthy assessments of nuclear scientists when it comes to the safety of a nuclear reactor? One would have expected better from an IIT Kharagpur-educated engineer.
Another possible reason is that he needed the backing of the leftist media to reach out to the public. So, he may have subconsciously chosen such themes as anti-nuclear protests to earn the approval of the media. If so, that does not testify to his strength as a leader. A strong leader, especially one who wants to reform the entire political system, should be able to withstand a hostile media. If he could stand up to Robert Vadra, he could stand up to the unscrupulous Indian media too. I hope Kejriwal would publicly revise his stance on anti-nuclear protests. Doing so would only increase his stature.
Some of his associates like Prashant Bhushan have supported Islamic separatism in Kashmir. Bhushan has also defended such terrorists as Abdul Nasser Madani in the Bangalore serial bomb blast case and made an appeal for clemency to the terrorist Afzal Guru. Bhushan voluntarily defended these dreaded terrorists. It is hard to tell what distinguishes him from the much despised lawyers who voluntarily defended the rapists of Nirbhaya in Delhi: both showed no qualms about defending those who committed the most despicable crimes against civil society.
In contrast, when asked to comment on the hanging of Afzal Guru, Kejriwal stated that one should not politicize such hangings that followed due judicial process. He went further and expressed his sympathies for the commandos who were injured during the terrorist attack. Kejriwal’s value system is at odds with Bhushan’s. So, rather than evasively claim that Bhushan has merely expressed his personal opinion Kejriwal should courageously denounce the likes of Bhushan and not associate with them. Would AAP elect the lawyers of the rapists of Nirbhaya to represent the party? Why would it then offer such a platform to the likes of Bhushan?
In an interview, Kejriwal expressed his admiration for such leaders as Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and B R Ambedkar. All of them were persons of fortitude. Patel and Ambedkar not only recognized Islamic separatism as a danger to society but also did their best to repress it or warn their followers to save themselves from the dangers it posed. Kejriwal would be guilty of hypocrisy if he claims to admire these leaders on the one hand but continues to associate himself with such an advocate of Islamic separatism as Bhushan on the other.
Congress promoted the culture of communal politics for several decades. Other opportunistic parties like the SP, BSP, and DMK emulated the Congress and created their own communal vote banks. Vote bank politics led to the emergence of coalition governments and the rampant corruption and lack of accountability that accompany it. In recent years, Modi did a stellar job of reversing this brand of politics.
He convinced the electorate that regardless of whether one is a Hindu or a Muslim, a Brahmin or a Dalit, one should vote for the party that provides the best governance. Recent elections seem to indicate that this message has resonated well with the electorate. In several Muslim-dominated constituencies in M.P. and Rajasthan, BJP won handsomely thereby indicating that the Muslims voted for it in large numbers. It seems that an overwhelming majority of Dalits also voted for the BJP. In Delhi, AAP delivered its own version of Modi’s message: one should vote for the party that eradicates corruption.
This message too seems to have resonated well with the electorate. Muslims and Dalits, the traditional vote banks of the Congress, voted for the AAP in large numbers. This is one of the main reasons that not only Congress but other corrupt parties such as the SP and BSP were also routed in the polls.
This is a welcome trend. If Indians refuse to be part of vote banks and instead vote for those politicians who provide good governance, it would lead to the dismantling of the opportunistic and corrupt parties such as the Congress, SP, DMK, etc. Hopefully, BJP and AAP could replace them as the main contenders in the polls which would indeed augur well for India’s future.
Kejriwal seems to be a well-meaning person with many admirable traits. He is free to embrace economic and social policies that differ from Modi’s. However, he would serve society better in the long run if he were to rather embrace Modi’s pragmatic governance than embrace token populism. His stature as a leader would only increase if he were to reverse his indefensible stance on anti-nuclear protests and dissociate himself from the likes of Bhushan.
Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the forthcoming book What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity.