Government is not a firecracker godown

Government is not a firecracker godown

By M.J. Akbar | 18 January, 2014
When Kejriwal threatens to sit in public protest against his own state’s police, then there are only a few stages left to chaos.

Any political party that rises from street turmoil must of necessity reflect the varied character of its origins. Everyone wearing a Gandhi cap does not become a Gandhi. But the very nature of an urban insurrection forces a primary test upon its leadership. If leaders cannot separate wheat from chaff, and do so quickly, the chaff takes over. Any diet of chaff can give politicians serious indigestion.

The last effective democratic uprising to enter the portals of power was the Janata Party in 1977. Its field was not limited to the municipal girth of a pampered capital. It ranged in every state north of the Vindhyas. It won, therefore, a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha. It did not have to struggle into office on a tricolour crutch. But its experience is instructive.

The Janata Party exploded long before it could approach its potential, destroying hopes it had raised. Its leaders made a critical mistake in the first fortnight, from which the party never recovered. They pandered to irresponsible and irrepressible mavericks within the fold, instead of snuffing them out when they had the authority to do so.

The Aam Aadmi Party is encouraging street radicalism without possessing the courage to become Naxalites.It has become so holier-than-thou that when its minister is exposed by a judge then it is the judiciary that must be wrong.

The polar ends of Janata were represented by two men who could not have been more different, in personality and philosophy. Morarji Desai, a Congress stalwart, and a punctilious Gandhian, challenged the decision of the Congress high command to make Mrs Indira Gandhi PM after the sudden death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. Desai lost, but did not forget.

Desai dined on nuts [literally]. Raj Narain was nuts [equally literally]. Nominally aligned to the socialist movement started by Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Raj Narain turned into a one-man firecracker godown, whose giggles became louder with each incendiary outburst. If Desai ever smiled, no one saw him do so. If Raj Narain was ever sober, no one noticed it. By 1979, Narain, by propping up Charan Singh, and scheming with Congress, had destroyed the Janata government, and with it the Janata Party.

Raj Narain became famous when his petition against Mrs Gandhi's 1971 election from Rae Bareli was struck down by the Allahabad High Court in 1975. Narain's lawyer was Shanti Bhushan, father of the Aam Aadmi leader Prashant Bhushan.

This by itself does not establish behavioural connect. But evidence is beginning to tell its own story.

Arvind Kejriwal wants to combine the rectitude of Morarji Desai with the free-wheeling manoeuvres of Raj Narain. Ministers have become schizophrenic, responsible for departments for some hours of the day, and leading protests against their officials at other times.

Populism is a dangerous temptation. It is not limited to offering free power to those who refused to pay bills. It extends to vigilante behaviour in which any complaint is always valid, police is always wrong, and officials are morally bankrupt. Overheated rhetoric can take you perilously close to boiling point very quickly. When Kejriwal threatens to sit in public protest against his own state's police, then there are only a few stages left to chaos. Delhi's citizens voted for change, not anarchy. The Delhi police have dozens of faults, most of which those living here have experienced in one form or the other. But can you replace them with party volunteers?

White-heat purists frown upon any effort to make distinctions, quite forgetting that this is not a Leninist revolution but a democratic challenge. You cannot cut off heads and stuff government offices with party cadres.

The Aam Aadmi Party is encouraging street radicalism without possessing the courage to become Naxalites. Its tendencies [one cannot quite call it a manifesto, since no one has put it together into an intelligent, logical framework yet] are towards socialisation of the system and nationalisation to increase the power of the political class over both bureaucracy and private sector. It has become so holier-than-thou that when its minister is exposed by a judge then it is the judiciary that must be wrong. The party cannot be mistaken.

Lenin and Mao would agree.

Power is a responsibility. Think about this: if all it took to solve Delhi's woes and become popular was the distribution of cheaper electricity and water, why would Sheila Dikshit not have done so?

The one sterling card that AAP continues to possess is the promise to eliminate corruption in administration. Obviously this is not easy, which is why people will accept that this could take time. But time is not eternal in politics. Power itself is time-bound, and when you are dependent on Congress support, the timeline does become tight. Kejriwal won seats because he claimed that he had 300-plus pages of proof against Congress corruption. Someone is bound to ask, soon enough, if he has had any time to read them after becoming Chief Minister.

It does not matter if AAP ends up like Janata. What does matter is the disillusionment it will leave behind.

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