Friday, March 7, 2014

Where Kejriwal succeeded… and failed

The dramatic change in people’s earlier revulsion for politics to something that was necessary has helped the Aam Aadmi Party, says Lok Satta founder and President Jayaprakash Narayan, who spearheaded the clean-politics-movement 18 years ago. In an interview he said he supports Modi’s message on development and might ally with the BJP if the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections are held along with the Lok Sabha polls.

You started a movement for clean politics 18 years ago, but could only get one seat, despite pathbreaking work for electoral reforms by Lok Satta. But Arvind Kejriwal, a newcomer, got spectacular success. Your comments.

It’s all an evolution, work in progress. When the Loksatta movement started 18 years ago, there was a tremendous revulsion to politics. The middle classes, the elite, they shunned and rejected politics, and didn’t take it seriously. Many people told me they had never voted, and felt very proud about it.

In the last 15 years, responsible, influential people have recognised the criticality of politics. Earlier when people said economic reforms would make everything okay, I told them 19th century politics and 21st century economics can’t go together.

Over the years people recognised we have to fix politics for a better life, and now people feel ashamed for not voting. It’s a huge step forward.

What’s happening in Delhi is welcome but India is a prismatic society, with several layers – a relatively prosperous Delhi in the 21st century and the backward regions of Rajasthan and Andhra in the 18th century. So you can’t expect the same level of improvement at the same time. India in my mind can be matched only by a combination of Europe and Africa.

Kejriwal’s experiment succeeded in Delhi because it’s a very urbane, educated well-to-do society?

No question about it. The per capita income of Delhi is the highest and thrice that of any other place; economic prosperity brings change in political attitude. Also media owned the whole movement, and enthused Delhi.

That’s why harsh criticism from the media when we saw a dharna-a-day government, which didn’t last.

If I may be frank, it’s like the story of the naked emperor and only the child pointing it out. AAP came to power exposing the nakedness and crassness of the political process. But if you remove the king and suddenly make the child emperor there will be problems.

The problem was mobilising people on hatred for politicians… Showing somebody as the villain is easy, but finding the real malaise and setting right our institutions is difficult. The AAP movement is feeding on revulsion and offering simplistic solutions. Like tackling corruption by bringing in an all powerful omnipotent Lokpal and everything will be okay. That everything is wrong and I alone am great… that’s not how democratic institutions function. In democracy you need checks and balances, you have to negotiate and compromise to protect institutions. It can’t be either my way or the highway.

But it was also our fault to expect so much. After all what is the institutional understanding or negotiating ability that this group has shown? Blazing and shouting... that is not an accomplishment. You have to judge a group by the ability to navigate through a minefield and get results. Without that, we invested faith in it because we are angry with politics today. So if the (Delhi) government fell, it’s as much our fault, because we want miracles and instant gratification, solutions. But AAP’s entry and challenge to the establishment, I am sure, are leading to some changes in the Congress and other parties.

But nowhere in the world have great parties been thrown out; they are a product of history, culture, strengths and weaknesses and social coalitions. You cant expect a new party to suddenly emerge and throw out all the old parties; this never happens anywhere in the world.

How do you rate the Narendra-Modi led BJP’s chances in the polls?

It’s not so much Modi… we’ve become so personality oriented… but he is making an important argument, which should be made by 30-40 people, but unfortunately he is the only one doing so.

What argument?

He’s saying forget everything, the only way forward to empower the youth is economic growth and jobs. This is touching a chord across the country and people are getting enthused. But if they think Hindutva, and bring it to the fore, that will be a disaster for the country and the BJP. If he sticks to the development message, we should encourage them. If they deviate, we should punish them.

Also, people are enthused by his background; that a lower caste and class person made it, not because of money or caste or 50 years of gerontocracy. But because of his own personality and accomplishments. What the Congress and other parties are not getting is that this is 21st century India where people don’t want birth to determine anyone’s future.

Your views on Telengana and the way it was done...

Though inevitable and necessary, it was done in a ham-handed, draconian, anti-federal, maverick, irresponsible manner. But we must delink the way it happened from historic realities, and learn lessons never to divide another State this way. The way forward is to make up (to Seemandhra) the Rs 13,000 crore annual surplus revenue that Hyderabad gets).

Also, as this happened a few weeks before the elections, most people will vote driven by primordial feelings and not think through issues, which is very sad.

Are you going to ally with the BJP, as the grapevine says?

If the (Andhra) Assembly elections are held immediately and in the midst of the volatility in the State, we will have to make a call. Our options are open.

And you will contest a Lok Sabha seat?

There are suggestions, but I am yet to decide.

Courtesy: The Hindu Business Line

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