October 3, 2012 · 0 Comments
Every new birth represents the triumph of hope over sordid experience. We may be convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but as a civilization and as individuals, we still propagate our species, which would be a perverse infliction on the new-born if we didn’t genuinely believe that the next generation will be better off than our own.
In that sense, the birth of a new political party on Tuesday, which represents the metamorphosis of one strand of the India Against Corruption platform under Arvind Kejriwal into a political entity, too symbolises an optimism among its followers that while our political system may not be perfect – far from it, in fact – it can always be perfected.
It is also significant for one other reason. Along with Anna Hazare, Kejriwal came to represent for much of last year a widely shared cynicism of the prevailing political culture, which can be encapsulated in the ‘sab neta chor hain‘ mentality. That Kejriwal wants to wade into the political muck, where the rules of the game are hopelessly weighted against new entrants like himself, and work for change from within the system is worthy of admiration.
After all, it’s far easier to bang away on pots and pans at streetcorners and whip up anti-establishment rage than it is to get your hands dirty and be the change you want to see in the world.
At the very fundamental level, the advent of a party that wants to dramatically change the political culture by making it more accountable to the “aam aadmi” represents a healthy churn and a striking contrast to our mainstream parties, which today symbolise the status quo and are only too happy to wallow in the stagnant waters of a corrupted polity. Every party mouths platitudes about the need for electoral reforms, but since they’ve effectively gamed the system to their advantage, there is very little incentive for them to change.
Kejriwal’s party may or may not succeed in its promise of change, but so long as he (and his followers) can offer a realistic alternative template for governance, they will be contributing, even if only on the margins, to shaping a marginally better political culture.
But the audacity of hope that Kejriwal’s as-yet-unnamed party represents must be tempered by wisdom and reason. In his comments on Tuesday, Kejriwal promised to”change the system“within a fortnight of being “voted to power”. Again, that sentiment too symbolises audacity, but it’s a dishonest promise-the-moon kind of audacity that does little to acknowledge the challenge of change that he will doubtless face.
Kejriwal is manifestly looking to ride the “revolution of rising expectations” of a constituency that is jaded by the prevailing political culture, and in particular the pervasive presence of corruption all around. But in promising instant political nirvana “within a fortnight” of being “voted to power”, he may be setting himself up for a “revolution of rising frustrations” in the future. It requires rather more courage to say that the battle is going to be long and arduous; in this aspect, Kejriwal is only saying what he reckons his audience wants so desperately to hear, however unrealistic his promises may seem.
The new party’s worldview – as outlined in its Vision Document - also represents at one level an economic philosophy that will position it even further to the left of the political spectrum than Mamta Banerjee, who as everyone knows is looking to out-Left the Left. The economic sentiments embodied in the Vision Document show an inadequate appreciation of what has held India back from realising its potential in the 60-plus years since independence.
In that sense, at least, Kejriwal’s party represents the worst kind of unthinking pandering to the lowest common denominator of populism. And since no mainstream political party has the courage of conviction to make a cogent case against such mindlessness, Kejriwal will only be contributing to a downward spiral of competitive populism.
Perhaps Kejriwal’s economic worldview will evolve over time, but it seems far more likely that it will be bogged down by ideological rigidity. But in swinging so far to the left of the political spectrum, his party will only be entering a crowded trade, one where the prospects of returns are minimal.
Kejriwal’s party is evidently looking to make a splash in the Delhi Assembly elections of next year. Given the BJP’s failure to capitalise on the Congress government’s many failings, it does open up the space for a third political entity. But even so, Kejriwal’s fledgling party faces formidable odds, being the newest kid on the block, about whom not much is known as yet. But rather than set itself up as a party of governance in just one election, it should position itself in the short term as a “giant killer” by targeting specific constituencies with big-name candidates from mainstream parties.
That should give it the liftoff it needs if it is to distinguish itself in a crowded field – and be taken seriously as a party that’s in it for the long haul.
Welcome to the murky world of politics, Kejriwal. However flawed your economic worldview may be, our political system needs people who can shake things up a bit from time to time. Here’s hoping that you will never lose your sense of idealism – but always have the maturity to learn.
By Web Editor