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Aap in a soup

By Prem Chandran So, how’s the AAP these days? Normally, this question could be asked to a journalist covering the .....

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Thumbs up Aap in a soup

By Prem Chandran

So, how’s the AAP these days? Normally, this question could be asked to a journalist covering the Delhi government, or one covering the general political beat in the national capital, or an intelligence official tracking Delhi local politics. But these, instead, are times when a journalist from Delhi could call up an Indian sitting in a professorial chair in an outlandish US university and then initiate a conversation like this: “Hi sweetie, how u?.... Well, may I ask you a question? Would you enlighten me as to how our AAP here is faring these days? I mean the party of Arvind Kejriwalji.” And, in a similar situation, the US professor’s answers in what turned out to be an interview on the state of Delhi-based AAP party has been splashed prominently on a page of the largest-circulated English daily in India by way of a special treat to its Sunday readers.

This is journalism of the snobbish kind. Journalism of a new class of media personalities, mainly in the English media, and journalism specifically to what’s generally known as the Jute Press -- that calls most of the shots here these days both in its print form as well as the electronic form. Such obsessions go to show the class and character of the new-age leadership that sections of the media has come to acquire. Sit in a chair, make a few phone calls, file a story, take a byline even for press releases and corporate handouts, and go home relaxed. News is far from what’s happening on the ground. You as a scribe do not know what’s happening around you, and someone sitting in a university professor’s chair elsewhere is better-equipped to wax eloquent and give expert opinion on what basically for a journalist worth his or her salt is elementary or brass tacks.

Coming to the question, per se, as to what’s happening to the AAP, the Indian media itself is giving us enough and more of meat. A report in Indian Express, or the Sunday Indian Express edition, a day ago, has an impressively crafted investigative report; virtually an expose of what prima facie is a major fraud committed by one of Kejriwal’s ministers – the very Sandeep Kumar, who has been asked out of the ministry a few days ago, following surfacing of a CD about his alleged sex-escapades. That explains what’s happening with the Arvind Kerjriwal-led government, and more starkly with the AAP party that had arrived on the horizon like a rainbow and remained there for long. Sure, that media expose also has an American angle, and a highly terrifying one at that.

That report speaks eloquently about a virtual escapade that Sandeep Kumar had allegedly done -- by flying to the US twice at government expense without really making clear to Kejriwal or the government the real – personal — reason for the visit. It turns out, as per the report, this minister had been to the US to have his wife’s delivery performed at a premier hospital there – which naturally costs a bomb — and he not only disguised the visit in some official form, but also held interactions with, and collected funds from, AAP’s well-wishers in the US. Such fraudulent acts are not uncommon with the political class, and crores are spent on foreign jaunts of politicians in power as also of bureaucrats, for reasons that are often flimsy, and not very obvious or straight. For instance, one- third of a few crores allotted for a public toilet scheme were used up for the jaunts of a set of politicians and bureaucrats of Telangana state recently to fly to London and learn about the toilet system there. In the end, the public toilet system suffered for lack of funds to execute the works!

As per the report, minister Sandeep Kumar had also summoned his secretary to the US at state expense, and all the three stayed there for days, without giving any hint to the outside world that a delivery was taking place. And, now, adding to this, another scandal about the minister has surfaced. Apart from the taped visuals appearing about the minister’s sex-escapades in or around Delhi, and at top of that, a woman has come up with a complaint that she was drugged and then raped by him. With all these, things have become quite explosive for the AAP as also Arvind Kejriwal. This time, Kejriwal however is not accusing PM Modi of framing one of his ministers. Kejriwal, as the apostle of good public conduct, might be hanging his head in shame. A worry on our part, on the part of his large flock of well-wishers, is also whether the AAP supremo’s saga would stop simply by hanging his head in shame; and what more is in the works!

The Sandeep Kumar episode should in normal course have been the last straw on Kejriwal the camel’s back. But, having conditioned himself as a politician in the past three years, a safe guess is that he has by now acquired the thickness of skin and conditioning of mind to weather such storms. The scenario has been pretty bad for quite some time. For, what has been happening in respect of the men who surround him in the ministry is a parade of shameful situations. Having consensual sex with a woman outside of marriage might by itself be, as old pal Ashutosh has testified, no crime in today’s society. Only hypocrites might cry hoarse over it. But, in this case, as allegations stand, things have gone further down to gutter level: like, the case of a woman walking into minister Sandeep Kumar’s office seeking help to obtain a ration card, and the minister allegedly taking her inside a room, serving her a drink mixed with sedatives, and then raping her! So went the complaint from the woman.

In other words, when a politician does not take cash, he takes gratifications in kind. Agreed that the rest of the political class, with ministers, MLAs and MPs being extended a whole lot of powers like providing people out-of-turn sanctions for LPG connections at homes, as also railway reservations and ration cards -- to name a few -- this could be happening in capital city after capital city and elsewhere too on a daily basis. There is no scarcity, after all, for cold drinks or sedatives or wayward politicians out here. But, the puzzle is, haven’t we thought that the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal was a cut above the rest? Now, having heard shameful stories like this, what is the difference between the AAP leaders and the other smart Alecs of the political pack? Are we back to Square One?

This incident, as of now, has come as the tip of the ice berg. Kejriwal who heads a party and government for the past few years has been through the thick and thin; and he has by now seen it all—all things happening under his political roof. To start with, he dismissed a minister when there was clinching evidence he took hefty bribes from realtors to tweak rules. Then came situations of party and governmental functionaries being accused by women of indiscretions; of a minister threatening to rape a woman for the reason she came and raised some uncomfortable questions about lack of civic amenities. What happened to a senior leader like Kumar Viswas is well-known. The CBI arrest of a governmental functionary who was close to Kejriwal on the issue of amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income came as another bombshell on the Kejriwal edifice. Almost every time, Kejriwal sought to put the blame on Modi and the BJP, saying they were targeting him. To sum it up, today, the credibility of AAP and its government is at its nadir. With what face can Kejriwal face the electorate the next time, is a valid question. By hind sight, at least some of these could be handiwork of his rivals, mischievously schemed situations to tarnish AAP's or Kejriwals's image. We do not know, and we might never come to know all about that.

In a way, this is a tragic scenario not just for Kejriwal, but also for the large number of India’s well-meaning people who thought for a while that here was a messiah sent in from the high heavens to stem the political rot here – a scenario that dived down to deep depths during the leadership of this nation by an inexperienced Sonia Gandhi, that was complemented in equal measure by the incompetence of the then Opposition. Consider the time when the ruling UPA leaders and the principal opposition leaders of the BJP decided among themselves that both sides would not “personally target” each other; a principle that was given shape to reportedly by LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj from the BJP side, and the Congress leadership on the other. Such a pact, a virtual silencing of the Opposition under the UPA period, led to the Common Wealth Games scam, the 2G scam, the Coal scam, and the loot of the nation right and left by an assortment of regional and national political parties and their crafty leaderships. The Opposition sat sulking, and it was left to the media to ultimately expose the game that was going on. Such situations conspired to make a hero out of Kejriwal, his fan club reaching as far as Pakistan and the Middle East and the US as well.

In all fairness, Kejriwal as an individual, as a politician and as Chief Minister is still adorable. He conducted himself well and with extreme dignity overall. He held aloft principles, and tried his best to provide succour to the poor and disadvantaged sections of the society. He maintains his integrity, and there are no complaints about that. Those who surrounded him let him down -- from the time he floated a party, got defeated in polls, and then won a landslide victory in Delhi in the 2014 assembly polls, and rode to power in a grand style. There is little wonder if his bank balance did not grow, unlike the case of the other politicos. Where he failed is, apparently, in keeping his flock in the same principled way as he sought to move forward.

This is understandable. Narendra Modi was new to Delhi’s power centre but he carried with him a disciplined RSS band in the form of BJP parliamentarians and ministers. There is a close watch on Modi’s ministers at multiple levels. Kejriwal, on the other hand, floated his party a few months before he first faced the electoral battle, and lost out. Then, out of the blue, there was the windfall in the form of a virtual sweep of the assembly polls in what was a second round of fight at the hustings for Kejriwal and his AAP party. Many of those who joined his bandwagon and got the AAP tickets for the contest were men from different backgrounds and not personally known to Kejriwal. Kejriwal had no way other than, based on his gut instincts, selecting candidates and then identifying some among the elected MLAs for ministership; also keeping in mind the regional, communal permutations and combinations.

The good individual that Kejriwal is, this however is the time for his well-wishers to back him, despite the issues that have cropped up. If he finds his support ebbing, or things going out of control further, chances are that he will throw his hands up and step aside from public life. He has as much principles left in him. That would be a loss for all those who looked at him as a sentinel, one who could change not just the idiom and style of politics in this country but also restore respectability to public life and add strengths to its chaotic, sabotaged systems. At the same time, he could also in future avoid indulging in unproductive confrontations; like the frenzy with which he sought to investigate whether Prime Minister Modi’s degree was original or not. A politician of Modi’s stature who ruled a state like Gujarat for more than three terms does not, as a matter of importance, require the credentials of a degree to rule India. When one goes out of your way and needle someone who is as powerful as a Prime Minister, chances are also that one should equip himself adequately to face the consequences.

This is not to suggest that PM Modi or his men were out to needle Kejriwal, leading to all the problems that he faces today. Far from it. When confront, keep the defences ready. There, on the other side, are also the likes of Prashant Bhushan lurking in the shadows!
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