India Insight

Kejriwal 2.0 not enough to change India’s political landscape

October 3, 2012

It wasn’t long ago that social activist Arvind Kejriwal called India’s parliamentarians “rapists, murderers and looters“. After making no bones about his hatred for India’s politicians during his anti-corruption movement, the former Team Anna member may soon be breaking bread and rubbing shoulders with the targets of his scorn now that he has decided to enter politics.

Kejriwal’s first test could be the assembly elections in Delhi next year. Will his rhetoric translate into votes? Will his party succeed in overthrowing a state government that has been in power for nearly 15 years in the capital? (Please participate in our poll on Arvind Kejriwal. Our question: will his new party be able to make a political impact? At the moment, “yes” votes outnumber “no” votes by nearly two to one.)

If you go by his “vision document“, the idea of a government run by the people gives an impression that parliamentary democracy is somehow a different thing. The former Magsaysay Award winner wants citizens to make decisions on budget, commodity prices and lawmaking. While there is no doubt that his ideas hint at a disorganized system of governance, it’s a college student’s version of idealism and it won’t transform India’s government.

It’s premature to dismiss his party, but his promise of passing the Jan Lokpal anti-corruption bill within 10 days of being elected sounds ignorant. The bill has been pending for decades, leading me to wonder what secret ace Kejriwal is carrying up his sleeve.

We don’t know how many candidates Kejriwal’s party will field, or how aware they are of parliamentary procedure — including knowing how many people you need present to pass bills. How will they work with belligerent opponents? Will he bypass parliament all together and seek popular referendums on bills? Maybe he’ll revisit the constitution?

In hindsight, Kejriwal’s former boss, anti-corruption activist and frequent hunger striker Anna Hazare would have made a better politician. Hazare is a tactician, and more experienced in dealing with the murky, unwritten rules of Indian politics.

Hazare also scored higher on mass appeal, as did Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman Indian Police Service officer and former Team Anna member. But that’s not happening for Team Anna, partly because its fans lost interest and the team fractured because of internal disagreements. Hazare also is far more averse to politics than any of his former team members.

“Politics is not sacred and it is full of dirt,” Hazare said last weekend before Kejriwal announced his party’s launch.

As for Kejriwal himself, his career is worth admiring – Indian Institute of Technology graduate, Indian Revenue Officer and so on. The strength of his voice might hearken back to the the days before independence, but his manifesto should be more plausible and make more sense.

 

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