A perplexed question: Through which kink in our Freudian sub-strand has “saala” become a vituperative pejorative across the Indian subcontinent? We may be divided by caste, creed, colour, community and country, but there is unprecedented unity within our cultural and linguistic commitment to “saala“. You could be speaking in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, or indeed, our healthy local variant of English, and “saala” [or “shaala” in Bengal] will find its place on the roll of dishonour. You could run a course in an acting school over the many forms of intonation we use for this ubiquitous term.


I don’t know. After all, it means nothing more exciting than a younger brother-in-law, a fairly humdrum relationship in most families. Does “saala” represent some deep, dark, mysterious guilt or desire, whose meaning is beyond the collective ability of psychoanalysts?

Its overt meaning, however, is plain enough. When used in a fit of rage or outrage, it acquires a special virulence. Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, fashionable hero of middle class moralists and sacred hope of the capital’s newly-dispossessed, used it to describe the two men he currently loathes, his former comrades Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. He added “kameena” to the angry lexicon, dismissing their challenge as vicious betrayal. The froth bubbling through his voice meant that this pent-up lava has been waiting for an opportunity to burst out.

Kejriwal, Bhushan and Yadav constituted the triumvirate who created a party that has had the rare distinction of converting two very local victories into national news. Bhushan was the quiet ideologue, Yadav the chief strategist, and Kejriwal was the public campaigner and therefore presumptive leader. Success was a result of complementary skills. Without Bhushan and Yadav’s help, Kejriwal could not have reached where he has.

But success is cruel, where failure is sympathetic, for triumph feeds the ego where defeat blunts its impulses. Kejriwal was happy, even anxious, to share street space with his mentors during the phase of agitation and struggle. The podium is another story. The acronym for AAP becomes a very polite “you” in Hindi, and this happy pun was used effectively in the plea for votes. In power, Kejriwal’s message is blunt. AAP has become “me”. It is now Kejriwal’s party. Others serve at his pleasure. He is not a first among equals. He is simply the first. Period.

Details of any divorce are titillating for a few minutes, and utterly boring thereafter. But since the acrimonious AAP divorce involves disputes over property rights, the interest will last a shade longer. And because sanctimony is among the claimed assets, arguments will also be holier than thou. It is already noticeable, however, that only the faction without power is laying any claim to morality. The Kejriwal lot, with one Field Marshal, 66 brigadiers and ebbing platoons of infantry, has already told rules and regulations to take a running jump. Its new catechism is realpolitik.

This change took shape during the recent Delhi election campaign. Kejriwal collected funds without questioning the colour of that cash or the source of at least four Rs 50-lakh cheques that walked, without a crutch in sight, into his picnic hamper. He sought money from dubious characters seeking a ticket, another dutiful homage to convention. His candidates distributed liquor to voters before polling day, as the police will testify in court.

What is interesting is Kejriwal’s repeated, livid, assertion that Bhushan and Yadav are “kameena” because they did their best to sabotage the party’s victory in Delhi. How precisely? Neither Bhushan nor Yadav said anything harmful about Kejriwal in any election speech or press conference. They kept quiet about their reservations. We can only assume therefore that they must have been vocal in private, telling Kejriwal to maintain the values of integrity and transparency which were part of their commitment to the people. Bhushan and Yadav thought this was their party’s USP. Kejriwal was equally convinced that only Kejriwal was the USP. The rest is semantics.

The debate over whether the party should remain Delhi-centric or expansionist is irrelevant. Kejriwal has decided that theoretical idealism was good for initial ballast, but will not serve in either preserving the party or running a government. He has given virtually every MLA a loaf or a fish from the basket of power. They are ministers or parliamentary secretaries. What precisely is the function of the second category? Who knows? Who cares? But you will get a car and an office and bragging rights.

When Kejriwal was sworn in as Chief Minister in 2013, he sang a number from a Dilip Kumar movie: Insaan ko insaan se ho bhai chara, yehi paigham hamara. In 2015, he could have considered another Dilip Kumar song: Saala, main to sahab ban gaya…

In Arvind Kejriwal’s revised Model Code of Conduct, the destiny of brothers-in-law is the gloom of exile. Any brother ready to become a conventional outlaw, however, are most welcome.

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