Fall of the Anarchists – Part II

This is the second part of my analysis of Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation. To read Part I, click here.

In this piece I take the second approach to analyse Kejriwal’s resignation: the way of Indian democracy.

More than anything else, what disturbs me the most is Arvind Kejriwal’s disrespect towards Indian democracy. He makes sweeping allegations on all politicians and denigrates the Indian democracy and scoffs at what it has achieved in the past 65 years. According to him, politicians, perhaps starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, are all corrupt and none of them knew how to rule India. Only AAP has all the answers. Of course, it is his prerogative to use this point for campaign purposes. But it is quite dangerous when this ideology comes dominate the actual governance, especially when you’re a minority government.

What irks me first is his thinking that he has the people’s mandate to pass Jan Lokpal. He doesn’t. He only has 29% of votes in Delhi and 28 seats which, with Binny’s exit, has become 27. The BJP has 31 seats and 33%, four percent more than AAP. Congress, despite its poor showing has 24% vote-share. Together they have 57% of votes, so in a representational democracy, the views of BJP and Congress should matter more than AAP. Whether their views are justified or not is a matter of academic debate. For instance, we may criticise some of Jayalalitha’s policy decisions, but we can’t argue that she doesn’t have the right to make those decisions. That’s what democracy is all about. Too bad if you don’t like this system; you can perhaps emigrate to some military dictatorship to see how you enjoy it.

So the argument that Kejriwal has people’s mandate to pass Jan Lokpal is actually nonsense.

And, to effect any sweeping changes, you need people’s support. You claim to work in multi-party, -cultural, -ethnic, -lingual democracy where 10 people have 10 different viewpoints. You would have to take them all into consideration. You need to be a consensus-builder or you need to be an incrementalist.

Nehru was a consensus-builder. He believed in taking everyone along. He believed that debate, discussion, negotiation and, in the end, consensus is what achieves results. In the constituent assembly, Ambedkar wanted to bring in certain reforms with regard to Hindu-marriage act. There was stiff opposition to it, especially from the Hindutva groups such as Hindu Mahasabha. Nehru wanted to bide his time, initiate discussions and seek consensus. Naturally, he had to make some compromises in the bill to please the Hindu Mahasabha folk. Ambedkar was so enraged he quit his post in protest of these ‘compromises’. But then, Nehru gradually brought in amendments to the bill, one by one and, in a few years later, he had introduced reforms that are far more sweeping than even Ambedkar had originally envisaged. So who won, was it Ambedkar who protested and quit or Nehru who made compromises initially but in his persistence slowly and gradually, and eventually, not only achieved his goal, but even exceeded it?

Gandhi too believed in achieving his goals gradually but work towards them incrementally, and he was willing to wait, months or even years. He has coined the powerful phrase ‘the beauty of compromise’. When in South Africa, he was leading the Indians to protest against some of the punitive racial laws of the white government. There were curbs on trading, immigration, marriages and there was even a resident tax. Of all these, the tax was actually destroying the indentured labourers and peasants. Gandhi began his campaign with requesting relaxation in trading and immigration. Some wanted the complete repeal of this act, some wanted him to include removal of the tax. Some wanted marriage law to not only be amended but also to include provisions for polygamy. Some even went so far as to say that Indians should be given voting rights.

Gandhi didn’t budge. To be sure, he faced scathing criticisms from a section of Indians who felt that he wasn’t asking enough. When Gandhi was called for talks with the white authorities, he made further compromises to his demands. This enraged a group of Indians that they attacked him for bending to whites. Gandhi was wounded badly and but for a careful nursing by an English clergyman, he would have actually died. But still, he persisted. Soon, some laws were relaxed, and when he resumed his protest later, some more relaxation continued.

Gandhi’s approach was incremental. He would write criticising these laws in the press, petition for it, lobby with the authorities in South Africa and London and lobby with Indian nationalists such as Gokhale. And then, finally, he would announce his Satyagrapha. This made the white authorities await his Satyagraha announcement with trepidation. Finally, at the end of nearly a decade after he stared his first Satyagrapha, he achieved all the goals. The trading barriers were lifted, immigration was relaxed, marriage laws were amended and the punitive tax was withdrawn. If he had started with all these at the first month, he would surely have failed.

Well, it is improper to even try to compare Arvind Kejriwal with such towering figures of our history. Sure enough, the gradualism and consensus-building of Nehru and the incrementalism of Gandhi are being followed throughout our democracy by all and sundry.  Progress and development need to be gradual and incremental. In a multi-cultural set up, we need consensus. Not just in India, but any democracy can function only on gradualism and consensus. You can’t make sweeping decisions even if you have thumping majority. With 411 seats out of 542, Rajiv Gandhi had historic mandate in the parliament. He could have thrown out our entire constitution and rewrote a new one if he wanted. But even he had to make adjustments when it came to certain decisions. If you want sweeping changes, you need to look for dictatorship.

Arvind Kejriwal could have called BJP and Congress for an all-party talk. He could have gone through constitutional process to seek Lt. Governor’s consensus. He could have initiated a state-wide debate on the provisions of the bill. Before that he could have initiated the process of complete-statehood for Delhi. He could have written, lobbied, and after the General Elections, raised this point in the Parliament through his party MPs. Full statehood for Delhi may not happen overnight, but it would happen eventually. Jan Lokpal bill may not happen overnight, but it would have gone through eventually.

Of course, in this route, both statehood and Lokpal would have taken months and even years. Meanwhile, Kejriwal could have focussed on areas where he can make a difference. He could have worked on his 18-point agenda and slowly and gradually improved the governance. Instead of worrying about police, he could have focused on reforming the departments that are in his control. He could have taken one as a model department and made it completely corruption-free in a few months. Seeing its efficiency and transparency people would have been convinced that he is a performer and would have given him a thumping majority.

Instead, he decided to squander the limited mandate people have given him. He decided to take it all or nothing. He decided that mudslinging is the only weapon in his anti-corruption arsenal. He decided that empty words will speak louder than action.

We have already seen empty words and noise from other politicians. We have already seen emotional leaders who score on honesty but lack substance. We have seen politicians who believe that staging drama is actually governing. We have seen politicians who believe that breaking law is the way to uphold law.

We are now seeing a dangerous precedence in Indian democracy. A party that denigrates all the institutions of democracy is attempting to replace them and build a new world. Only that the new world is frightening. It appears like a very dangerous world to live in. Our democracy, not a perfect one though, is hard-won. It is a broken democracy, true. But it is a democracy nevertheless. As a country, there is so much that we have achieved in the last 65 years that it is mind-boggling. We have had great leaders, Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar, Sasthri, Desai, C Subramaniam, Kamaraj, Vajpayee, Advani, and Narasimha Rao who have enriched this country, brought in development, progress and improved our life. There are still great politicians today in many parties who are working hard to make a difference. They are not winning emphatically, but they aren’t losing miserably either. Such is the way of India and they know it. They know they have to work within this broken system to get things done and, although struggling, they are working hard. And they are the ones who need to be lauded, not the shoot and scoot cowboys.

The only result of this bumbling experiment is that these aam aadmis have made people like me realise that perhaps corrupt democrats are more acceptable than honest anarchists.