In an elaborate 4-hour stage show, Arvind Kejriwal left no stones unturned in serving up a ‘big political event’
If Arvind Kejriwal could win an election based entirely on how he manages a stage; his birth as a politician would be a smooth one. The last two years of running an anti-corruption movement have, however, played out very differently on the ground. Behind the grandstanding, there has been almost nothing that separated him from his political rivals; except perhaps that he is not corrupt. The official launch of his new party then, is of this same mould. The Gandhi button was pushed. Freedom-song and sentiment stirred.
Of course, with the split from Anna Hazare, some of the visual architecture was changed. The backdrop had Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri on it instead of Gandhi and Hazare. The caps his flock in the audience wore had “Mai hoon aam Aadmi…mujhe chahiye Jan Lokpal” – “I am the common man, I want the Jan Lokpal” printed on it instead of “I Am Anna”. But this is just semantics. As Hazare made himself political pariah, Kejriwal has done the expected thing — orchestrate a big show with the electronic media in faithful attendance.
It stretched out over four hours, presented in part by Manish Sisodia and Kumar Vishwas — the old faithful; and in part by political scientist Yogendra Yadav — now seen firmly as friend and advisor to the new party. The party has no name yet—that’s part of the show. To make it seem truly participatory, names like Kranti and Swaraj were served up in suggested whispers and the final name will be the result of a poll. A five-page pamphlet was the much awaited release, the hype for which was built up as Kejriwal’s team sat sorting the pages in mountainous piles and then snatched back wayward copies that made off with journalists before the appointed hour with — “Oh no, I have to take that back. It isn’t time yet…we aren’t meant to distribute these just now.” Unsurprisingly the show stopper, the pamphlet once displayed on stage and distributed, had nothing in it that hadn’t been said on a stage by Kejriwal and co before. Their 13-point charter suggests they will push for the Jan Lokpal. The charter also made a case for electoral reforms including the right to reject and the right to recall candidates and strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions. The other proposals for public healthcare at the village level and education are not something original or surprising or even different from any other party manifesto across the political spectrum.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter — the structure of the party and its funding. Proclamations have been made on how anyone can fill out a form to join the party; that their claims will be put to a screening committee and that the entire edifice will be democratic and egalitarian. Thus far, the writing in the pamphlet hasn’t been demonstrated on the ground, if Kejriwal’s now extinct core team and Anna is to be believed.
To Kejriwal’s credit, he has withstood the extreme condescension of the UPA government; of detractors from amongst people from the movements, including his mentor — Aruna Roy; and finally from Anna. And he has stuck to his vision, which for a long time has been to bite the big bullet and face off with the UPA on their terms and their turf — i.e. the political mainstream.
The next few months will determine just how the political grandstanding will square with the need to show progress and tangible success on the ground, without sullying his hands in either partisan or corrupt politics. The date for the next show was announced to be 26 November, as the day’s proceedings and flag-bearing drew to a close. It will be the day when Kejriwal’s party will get its name. It’s also the anniversary of the adoption of the Indian constitution. That may be the last opportunity for Kejriwal to draw on patriotic symbols and the recent public memory of a people’s movement.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.