I once respected and admired your movement, born as it was in those heady days of Jantar Mantar. It was a true citizens’ movement, led by the newly empowered, educated, middle class that was fed up of a system reeking of entitlement and corruption. I cheered on Anna Hazare, and I too had goosebumps at the youth, the energy and the intelligence of the movement.
Alas, it was not to last. As with most revolutions, after the pure beginnings, a demagogue arose to steal the stage, and use the movement for his own purposes. Before we knew it, Arvind Kejriwal – clad in muffler, with his bizarre antics and natakbaaz cough had taken over the reins and purged those with backbone or morality – Anna Hazare, Yogendra Yadav, Kiran Bedi. The moral core of the party was dead, and the party was now little more than the Arvind Kejriwal Show.
The AAP today is just an Indian echo of the many populist movements that have broken out across the globe. These are fueled by our sensationalist news media and social media environment where truth, research, and facts are less important than snappy slogans, antics, and ratings. Be it Corbyn in the UK, Syriza in Greece, Le Pen in France, Grillo in Italy or Donald Trump in the USA, the story is the same.
And just like in the rest of the world, such a populist is dangerous.
For these people expertise doesn’t seem to matter. Kejriwal’s economic plans would not pass scrutiny by an eighth standard economics teacher. His vision of huge expenditures, and ruinous taxes on business, would rapidly reduce our economy to that of Greece – hollowed out and bankrupt. But of course, “free wi-fi, free college, tax the rich” is such a wonderful slogan, why bother with pesky logic? Just tell the people what they want to hear.
Like other populists, Kejriwal knows the power of an Enemy. Kejriwal attacks businessmen and politicians. Businessmen, he says, are the root of all evil. No one, in his tax-inspector eyes, can succeed in business without cheating. Success is something to be suspicious of, not something to celebrate.
Of course, in reality, in a country of entrepreneurs and family businesses, most business is a force for good – creating jobs, providing goods, services, and development. In fact, corruption exists largely due to people like Kejriwal – a tax inspector with little understanding of economics, and a need to create thousands of rules to control every aspect of the market. These complicated rules lead to a proliferation of lazy and corrupt officials that suck the life out of the country through thousands of small bribes and blackmails. In such an environment, crooked practices thrive.
Most international populists rail against the “politicians”. Rather than actually going about the business of governing and taking tough decisions, it is easier to paint everyone as a thief – Sab Chor Hai – and claim to be above the system. So it is with Kejriwal. Despite being CM of Delhi, Kejriwal does not hold a single portfolio, and seems shockingly uninterested in the nitty-gritty of actual governance (fobbing it off to his Deputy CM). A simple traffic experiment like his odd-even scheme was made into a huge drama with daily headlines. Mumbai’s traffic police quietly handle far more complex problems on a daily basis without making them into national news items.
Just like the Donald Trumps of the world, Kejriwal understands that today’s Reality Television is more important that Actual Reality. Thus the bizarre spectacle of various assaults on Kejriwal, always conveniently within camera range (ever wonder why no other leader gets assaulted as much as Kejriwal? Or why Kejriwal never gets attacked when he is off camera? Just as Trump shot to political fame by funding an investigation into whether Obama was actually born in America, Kejriwal gets attention by attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hence, the disastrous challenge to PM Modi in Varanasi, and the ever increasing volume of abuse and conspiracy theories. For a populist demagogue, facts and results are not relevant. Success is counted in the only currency that matters – Ratings.
Unfortunately today, the more outlandish the claim, the crazier the conspiracy theory, and the more unparliamentary the language, the better it is for ratings. However, in order to maintain attention (and distract from lack of achievement) one has to create ever more outlandish spectacles.
This has to end. We now have the spectacle of a sitting Chief Minister accusing the Prime Minister of India of planning to murder him! Do we want to live in a country where the boundaries of civil discourse permit such wild and baseless accusations for the sake of television ratings? Do we want our polity to be “Trumpified”?
I call upon all remaining supporters of the AAP to take back their movement. To return to the positivity and hope of the Anna Hazare days, to kick out the fakes, and the natakbaazes. It time to return to the soul of the movement – a fight against corruption, a fight for the rights guaranteed in our constitution, and at its core, a fight by the educated classes for a right to enjoy the Indian dream. I know all of you want what is best for the country, you must start by ending the Arvind Kejriwal Show.