Greed being a common human failing, it is not surprising that given half a chance most politicians would steal from the public till. These past couple of days one old and another relatively new player has landed in trouble on account of the commonplace love for easy money. Former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav now stares at a fresh round of conviction in the Rs 950 crore fodder scam, following the apex court order. A nine-month time limit for all pending cases to be heard and disposed of could well finish Lalu’s political career. He already stands convicted in one case and is currently on bail.
Though Arvind Kejriwal is yet to be formally charged in a case of corruption, the AAP boss and Delhi Chief Minister will find it hard to escape prosecution should they carry out an independent investigation into the PWD scandal. The main beneficiary, one S.K. Bansal, was Kejriwal’s brother-in-law. Not only did he enjoy free access to the Chief Minister’s home and office, but, worse, he is said to have exploited that connection to extract contracts and money from the Delhi PWD. As per an audit report, the assigned works were either not completed or done most shoddily. Earlier, yet another relative of Kejriwal was appointed in a key position in the Health Ministry in violation of rules and procedures.
Some people might find it unfair to bracket Lalu and Kejriwal together, but it should be recalled, both are products of anti-corruption movements. The RJD boss too had evoked much hope when as a student leader back in the 1970s he had jumped on the “Total Revolution” bandwagon of Jayaprakash Narayan. He was handpicked by JP to contest the post-Emergency Lok Sabha poll. Soon, he got sucked into the corrupt-criminal culture of Bihar politics. So much so, Home Minister Charan Sihgh refused to appoint him the head of the youth wing of the Janta Party, saying that after dusk he could be found “lying drunk in some drain or the other in North Avenue”, the row of flats next to the Rashtrapati Bhawan meant for new MPs.
The anti-corruption bandwagon of Anna Hazare served as the platform for Kejriwal to launch himself into politics. Though an indifferent civil servant all through, he did not quit till he became eligible for pension, a considerable sum indeed. Lalu’s career got a huge boost in the post-Mandal phase. Kejriwal exploited the anti-Congress mood following a series of humongous corruption scams. Once the Janata government was formed, little was heard of JP. Likewise, once Delhi gave Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party an unprecedented 67 seats out of 70 in the Delhi Assembly, they stopped paying even lip-service to Hazare. Kejirwal was now the lord and master of Delhi who brooked no challenge from within or without.
AAP was now his private fief, to be run as he pleased. So, if Lalu carved his own party in his own image, brining in brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav and others from the extended clan, Kejriwal ejected out Prashant Bhushans and Yogendra Yadavs and got himself a durbar of Ashish Khetans and Raghav Chadhas, Ashutoshs and Sanjay Singhs. He had no equals, though a former colleague from the Ford Foundation-funded NGO, Manish Sisodia, was accorded a place higher than the rest of the caboodle for obvious reasons. Indeed, even Dilip Pandey, a factotum attached with the same NGO, was shown consideration as against the entire lot that had joined the party swayed by the Anna fast.
Soon, the AAP began to unravel. At least, Lalu had the sense to keep his ambitions in check. Not Kejriwal. He now handed Delhi to Sisodia, freeing himself to spread the Kejriwal cult throughout the country. Delhi taxpayers’ money was used to popularise the Kejriwal brand in Chennai and Mumbai, Bhuvaneshwar and Chandigarh. Naysayers were branded agents of Modi. All the while “krantikari patrakars” in television channels fuelled the Kejriwal ambition, hoping to be rewarded when he conquered fresh territory.
But the voter had other ideas. Lalu at least could count on Yadavs to stand by him despite his corruption and criminality. In the case of Kejriwal, once the façade of transparency and incorruptibility was torn aside, following daily reports of alleged misuse of power for self- aggrandisement, there was nothing to fall back on. A media creation, he now faced an existentialist threat, notwithstanding remnants of support from the original media fawners who had gone so overboard in Kejriwal-bhakti that regaining independence would prove difficult.
In the first flush of his stupendous victory, the media ignored Kejriwal’s stupidities, such as the appointment of as many as 21 parliamentary secretaries, a four-fold increase in the salary and perks of MLAs, out-of-turn appointments of durbaris and allotment of sarkari houses to them, a childish refusal to respect the well laid-out norms and procedures of conducting the business of the NCT Government, a wholly avoidable fight with the Lt. Governor and the daily abuse of Modi, etc., etc. Kejriwal seemed to believe that the people were gullible enough to treat him as a saint—because like Lalu he affected a show of being an aam aadmi—while they considered every other politician a crook. Now, as the results in Goa, Punjab and Delhi testify, people think rather poorly of this charade called Kejriwal.
Meanwhile, the woes of AAP underline an important truth of Indian politics. At its heart, it remains a dirty business, reflecting the collective character of us Indians. Though it is wrong to argue that only politicians are crooks, while everyone else outside of politics is a saint, politics is the only career-choice which is directly linked to accountability and transparency. A crooked businessman can reach the crescendo of success without anyone lifting his little finger, but a politician must necessarily operate under constant public watch and be ready to pay the price for breaching the moral and legal codes.
Kejriwal came on the promise of clean politics. He finds himself in trouble because he treated people as fools to be hoodwinked with promises of honesty and selfless service while allegedly fattening the bank balances of relatives and friends. His comeuppance is well-deserved, though it has come much earlier than most people might have believed. Lalu the politician was lucky to have lasted several decades and might still hand over the RJD to his children. No such luck for AAP. It will sink with Kejri.
Patanjali rises and rises
Baba Ramdev has parlayed his initial public persona as a yoga guru to found a multi-crore empire, selling everything from toothpaste to skin whiteners with a whole variety of food items thrown in the wide mix. A few weeks ago, the Central Food Lab in Kolkata found the much-advertised Amla juice to be “unfit for human consumption.” Patanjali nixed the Kolkata lab findings, arguing that Amla juice was a “medicinal product” and, thus, not liable to meet the standards required of food items.