Last week, Arvind Kejriwal announced the transformation of his India Against Corruption movement into a political party called Aam Aadmi Party. The party’s action plan is yet to be revealed, but he and his colleagues have been hard at work, exposing one politician after another. They may not have had either the means or the desire to bring any one scandal to a legal conclusion, but it has been a pleasure watching Kejriwal and his team of merry muckrakers hauling prominent leaders over the coals. It has been even more of a pleasure watching Congress and BJP partymen using one set of arguments to explain why their own leaders are innocent and exactly the opposite set of arguments to explain why their rivals are all totally corrupt. Amid all this, the spokesmen and women of Team Kejriwal have been taking part in heated TV debates with barely concealed glee and amusement.
But what began as a serious attempt at reforming the system is slowly evolving into something else: a kind of reality TV that lets politicians duel it out in studios so that news channels can get the audience they need. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because I am sure in the mind of Team Kejriwal, the never-ending exposures is serving a clear purpose. They are making it clear to the citizens that the whole system is rotten and has to be brought down, so that a new system can be built in its place. In theory, at least, this sounds great: Team Kejriwal is digging up the foundations of the existing system so that it will cave in on itself.
In reality, though, I think Team Kejriwal is day dreaming. They may not realise it themselves, but what they are really running is a free vaccination camp for corrupt politicians. It works like this. Once a political leader is selected for vaccination, Team Kejriwal releases a set of documents that are enough to arouse a suspicion of corruption, but not enough to prove it. This triggers the political leader, his supporters and his party to immediately release rebuttals, denunciations, and counter-accusations of all kinds so that the public is left with a vague sense that some impropriety has been committed by someone somewhere — or perhaps everyone everywhere!
Within a matter of days, of course, Team Kejriwal moves on to a new target, while the old target heaves a sigh of relief. Not only is he politically alive, he is now in a better position than earlier. His immune system has kicked in, and he can now take on further attacks of Scandalitis with greater fortitude and thicker skin. If you don’t believe this, try and get hold of the pictures of a beaming Robert Vadra taking part in the HT Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Saturday, November 18. Six weeks after Team Kejriwal targeted him, he knows that he has escaped unhurt, and that no further revelations are going to hurt him. The next time somebody alleges that Vadra has made a Rs 600-crore real estate deal, the mango people are going to respond:”So what’s new?!” Vadra’s smile is the tangible demonstration of the fact that the Kejriwal Vaccination has been effective.
I wouldn’t be surprised if any political leader with a skeleton or two to hide will now start praying for Kejriwal’s attention and vaccination treatment. The attention can turn out to be positive, as in the case of Salman Khurshid whom Kejriwal targeted, and who has used that opportunity to position himself as a loyalist of the Gandhi family and move up from being law minister to being foreign affairs minister. The only one who has had to pay at least some price for questionable behaviour has been Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari, whose future is still hazy. But then, Gadkari is in trouble not because of Team Kejriwal, but because of the allegations that two TV news channels made. Remember that the Team Kejriwal’s allegations against Gadkari – about a farmland acquisition – were easily shrugged off by him and his party, and only later were they blindsided by the TV channel accusations about fake companies and benami directors.
If there’s only one thing you can say about Team Kejriwal, it is that they learn quickly. That’s why it is time for them to sit back and re-strategise. First of all, their current strategy is not working as intended, and is turning out to be a free vaccination drive for corrupt politicians. It needs to be abandoned quickly. They need to focus on fewer but provable cases of corruption – and use all means, including legal – to bring each one these to a conclusion.
Second, and more importantly, they need to give up the current approach of tarring all politicians as corrupt, and all business as corrupting. This might serve a political purpose for Team Kejriwal — because it positions Kejriwal as the only leader who deserves votes and it prepares the ground to argue for a Utopian world of self-sufficient village republics. But the picture that Team Kejriwal is painting is not true and shows either intellectual laziness or political dishonesty, or perhaps both.