A mindset trapped in prejudice
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s outburst against the Union government after CBI raided the offices of a member of his personal staff can be placed in three categories: cynical, intriguing and revealing. Of the three, cynicism is easiest to understand, for distortion is the only option when facts are running against you.
Rajendra Kumar, the civil servant in question, was appointed to a position of power by Kejriwal despite the fact that he had history. He has, it transpires, used his influence to get contracts for particular companies. Details of his alleged chicanery are in public space, and need not detain. Suffice it to mention that Transparency International, a watchdog body that tracks corruption where it can, had formally warned Kejriwal about Rajendra Kumar. Instead of paying heed, Kejriwal gave him a coveted job.
Without an answer, the Delhi Chief Minister used the oldest tactic in the business: to raise a cloudburst out of thin air in order to camouflage what he had done. His attack took two forms. He used vituperative language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And he followed this up by trying to revive some jaded and discredited allegations against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The allegations against Arun Jaitley lost steam more than two years ago, for a good reason. The UPA government of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi exonerated him. This was not any act of charity. UPA would have been delighted to prosecute; and indeed asked the Serious Frauds Investigation Office to investigate. They wanted a verdict quickly, and got it fast. It was just not the verdict they expected. Despite the fact that UPA was in power, the investigators pronounced, on 21 March 2013, that there had been no fraud. The story died. Jaitley, with general elections around the corner, withdrew from cricket administration. It is important to note that Kejriwal, who has created a political career out of a crusade against corruption, never once made an issue of these allegations.
Which brings us to the intriguing part: Why has Kejriwal manufactured a false storm in order to defend a bureaucrat? It is not as if he has deep emotional commitments to bureaucracy and will always defend the institution to the death. Just a few days before the Rajendra Kumar incident, CBI had raided another civil servant in the Delhi government. Instead of defending him, Kejriwal rushed to share the credit. Why is Kejriwal putting so much political capital on the line in order to preserve and protect Rajendra Kumar?
We do not have a clear answer yet, but the question raises its own doubts. There is speculation, of course. Memories are stirring about the mysterious cheques, for instance, worth Rs 2 crore that found their way into the AAP account before the last Delhi Assembly elections. It is pertinent to recall that Kejriwal’s closest comrades, those who helped set up AAP and claimed leadership of the moral centre of the movement that gave birth to AAP, men like Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, have broken with Kejriwal because they began to suspect his bona fides.
Sometimes unintended consequences of an episode reveal interesting dimensions of a person’s thought process. There is no shortage of hostility in the battles for power. Equally, there is nothing personal in the hostility. MPs who do as much as they can to provoke one another across the aisle in Parliament, relapse [and relax] into banter when they gather in the Central Hall. Moreover, at all times the democratic discourse is marked by restraint. Slander never injures the target; it only demeans the accuser.
Kejriwal lost all restraint when he spewed venom against the Prime Minister. When he discovered that the public reaction was negative, he tried to make some amends when talking to the press the same evening. He admitted, with a sort of pity-me look, that he might have misused a word or two, but explained that he had been born in a village in Haryana.
In that throwaway remark lay evidence of an intrinsic contempt for the village; as if it was only to be expected that villagers would be abusive. Astonishing. This is a mindset trapped in prejudice; perhaps unconscious, but still powerful.
Whatever else you may say about Indian democracy, it is certainly never dull. As the drama of power and challenge consumes the second act of a five-act scenario, the characters become true to their basic nature and surprises multiply. A generation is engaged in the wars that always erupt during an age of change. Ambition waits in the wings, waiting for mishaps or mistakes on centre-stage, even as it seeks attention of the audience by any means. There is no need to expose ambition. It always advertises itself. Ambition is not the fatal flaw of only a tragic hero; it can infect a Don Quixote as well.