Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Did I go wrong by believing in Arvind Kejriwal?

I admit to having been an ardent supporter of Arvind Kejriwal’s ideology and the AAP movement for the last one year. However, Kejriwal's actions in the last few months have led to a growing sense of alienation towards him and his party. What seemed like a movement for empowering the people has begun to seem like an unguided missile, out to destroy everything in its path.

Watching Kejriwal field audience questions during a recent Google hangout hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN IBN, I couldn’t help but ask myself if this was the same person who I admired and intensely supported during the Delhi State elections in December 2013.  

Impulsive decision making

The abrupt resignation from the position of Delhi Chief Minister was just the first in a series of impulsive missteps.

The claims to disapprove the decade of development in Gujarat by a mere three-day tour of the state seemed shallow and unconvinving, especially coming from a CM who decided to throw in the towel in 49 days. In my personal experience, I had visited remote parts of Gujarat devastated by the earthquake in 2001 to see the scale of destruction. In a subsequent visit a few years later, I can confidently say that no one can deny the pace of not just rebuilding but all-round development of the earthquake affected areas of Kutch district in Gujarat. I have been witness to the renewed confidence shown by my extended family and friends living in many parts of the state, something that was completely shaken in the aftermath of the natural calamity. To negate all that development in Gujarat in a three-day whirlwind visit is unworthy of a man as knowledgeable as Kejriwal who wants the country’s youth to believe in his capability and intentions.

I appreciated Kejriwal’s earlier stance not to contest the Lok Sabha polls as a mark of staying committed to delivering on his promises to Delhi. However when Kejriwal reversed his decision and contested from Varanasi claiming it to be the need of the hour, my doubts of his fickle-mindedness only grew stronger. 
View interview on

I shudder to think of the consequences for the entire country if a Prime Minister (as he is being positioned by his supporters) was to make impulsive decisions with no thought of the repercussions. Clearly, Kejriwal has a very long way to go.

Digressing from the Mahatma’s path 

During his campaign trail in Delhi, there were news reports about Kejriwal holding a prayer meeting at Raj Ghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi. Throughout his campaign trail, many of his arguments have been in complete contrast to the ideology and consciousness of the Mahatma.

Arvind Kejriwal at Raj Ghat on April 8 during Delhi campaign

Yes, the Mahatma was a highly assertive individual who believed in self-sacrifice as the first step to any struggle. Yes, the Mahatma always stood for deep rooted social and political reform risking his life at every step. On both these aspects, I do see some resemblance to Kejriwal’s approach. In principle, I agreed with Kejriwal’s defiance of the Home Ministry’s absurd rules imposed on Delhi. The Mahatma too broke laws which he found to be incongruent with his ideology and vision of India.  

But the similarities end there.

The Mahatma called off the nationwide Non-cooperation Movement against the British Government after a stray incident of violence in a far flung village of Chauri Chaura in 1922. In contrast, Kejriwal continues to defend the unacceptable behavior by his minister, Somnath Bharti in Delhi. Right intentions do not give one the license to misbehave. To add to this, as CM, Kejriwal proclaimed that ‘If people call me an anarchist, then I am an anarchist’, a statement that smacked of arrogance.

The Mahatma was also a highly pragmatic leader with a tremendous degree of patience. His agenda for social reform was one step at a time. During his lifetime, the Mahatma referenced the words of one of his earliest friends, Henry Salt, which read “To insist on an all-or-nothing policy would be fatal to any reform whatsoever. Improvements never come in the mass but always by installment”. The impatience that Kejriwal has shown in past few months, does not align with the Mahatma’s pragmatism.

The most striking area of digression from the Mahatma’s thinking is the highly anti-individual campaign being led by Kejriwal. No matter how much the Mahatma disagreed and despised the ways of the British Government (including the Viceroys and army officials such as General Dyer), he never singled out individuals in his movement. Juxtaposing this with today’s political scene, the argument that leaders of other political parties are using individual-centered tactics isn’t reason enough for Kejriwal to resort to an anti-individual campaign. The biggest pitfall of running such a campaign is that Kejriwal stands to become another polarizing figure, similar to the one he opposes. India needs a unifying leader not another polarizing one. 

I neither claim to be a guardian of Gandhian thinking nor an expert in running political movements. Perhaps Kejriwal’s actions are part of a larger strategy to garner high media attention for his movement, and it may also be working for his party. But, with all humility, I’d like to request him not to reference the Mahatma’s name as it hurts to see how he has either misinterpreted or not fully understood the consciousness of India’s greatest leader. 

I’m sure he can find other leaders whose principles he can retrofit to justify his actions, just as he is now using Lal Bahadur Shastri’s resignation as Railway Minister in 1956 to justify his resignation as Delhi Chief Minister.

All hail Mr. Kejriwal, the self-righteous one!

This post was written in April 2014. When India's general election results were announced in May 2014, Arvind Kejriwal's party lost all seats in its bastion of Delhi and won only 4 seats despite contesting from over 400 seats in the country. I stand vindicated.