Kejriwal 2.0: The Drama Continues
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 29 May 2015 6 Comments

When Arvind Kejriwal rode back to the Chief Ministers office with a thumping 67 seats of 70 exactly one year after having previously resigned from the same, it was much observed and appreciated as the dawn of a new beginning. A new calmer and more sensible Kejriwal had seemingly emerged and was seen advocating a policy of coordination with the Centre for the development of Delhi.


Soon after Arvind Kejriwal took office, an internal feud emerged within the ranks of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Kejriwal’s insistence on removing the “All India” elements from the leadership was a signal to many that he had become serious about governance in Delhi and would not again try to be a pan-India party, at least not in a hurry. The agenda was laid out, the party would govern Delhi to its best, coordinate with the Centre on key issues and shelve all expansionist plans. This led to many analysts, both pro-AAP and those weary of it, to breathe a sigh of relief.


Thus, the fervid radical-leftist organisation started to simmer down and get to work. But alas, the predictions, the hopes, proved to be wishful thinking.


Within just two months, Kejriwal reverted to his old-style dharna politics, raising the issue of the Land Acquisition Bill and nationwide farmer’s plight caused by inclement weather. The sheer coincidence of the farmers plight and crop losses caused by incessant and untimely rains in North and Central India, was mixed up with the Modi government's Land Acquisition Bill by the Congress and Left parties. But in the aftermath of their terrible rout in the Lok Sabha elections, they lacked the confidence to launch an all-India agitation.


This is where Arvind Kejriwal – the giant killer of Delhi, the national capital – came in. Having owed his rise to national eminence to leftist intellectuals/patrons close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the UPA regime, he was in no position to say ‘no’. Accordingly, Kejriwal went to Jantar Mantar to protest the proposed law.


Kejriwal’s personal involvement in the farmer agitation was arrant stupidity. As Chief Minister of a city-state, Kejriwal should have known that his raising the farmers’ issue in Delhi was meaningless. The AAP could have asked its state units in Punjab or Haryana or other BJP/ally-ruled states with a vast agricultural constituency, to lead an agitation, which he could have attended – thus challenging the BJP on home turf.


Instead, the AAP relied on its misguided “topi-brigade” to crowd the venue, reverting to the old habit of grabbing the television limelight. The drama ended in the tragic and suspicious death of a rich and flamboyant farmer, Gajendra Singh, from Rajasthan, whose family denied reports of their being in financial hardship. Reports suggested he had met Manish Sisodia before the rally and his ‘suicide note’ was debunked by his family as not being in his handwriting.


The worst part of the tragedy was that he could have been saved, but AAP leaders continued to play politics on-stage and Arvind Kejriwal, at whose command his supporters could have easily made a human chain and saved Gajendra Singh, remained fixated on his political rhetoric against the Centre. Across the nation, people saw the sordid episode on television and came to the conclusion that the AAP was not interested in saving the farmer but rather hoping it would give them a great political tool against the BJP. Some reports suggest that Gajendra Singh was cheered on by the crowd and his death was probably a theatrical drama gone horribly wrong.


Now, having completed 100 days in power, the AAP is again diverting attention from its governance by taking up cudgels with the Centre against the powers given to the Office of the Lt Governor and demanding full statehood for Delhi, which this writer has previously said would be an administrative disaster; in fact, Delhi should return to full UT status (Delhi doesn’t need Statehood).


The AAP seems to fear scrutiny of its 100 days in office. On the issue of public transport, the AAP chart smacks of rotten policies. It has resorted once again to pleasing its auto-driver constituency by withdrawing and curtailing the powers of the Delhi Traffic Police to issue challans to them for various offences. With this, the auto-wallahs of Delhi have once again been given a free hand by Kejriwal, much as he had promised during his first 49-day rule.


Auto drivers in the city have returned to ‘goondaism’ and hooliganism and no longer fear a call to 100 ever since Kejriwal took office. His promises have only been to protect his interests with a certain vote bank. To add to this, the Delhi government asked the Department of Telecom (DoT) to block the URLs of taxi aggregator apps like Uber and TaxiForSure, which commuters turned to for prompt service and reasonable fares after auto drivers refused to travel by meter; this gave the auto drivers a run for their money on many routes.


Power, which was the biggest election issue for AAP in both the 2013 and 2015 polls, has seen a massive u-turn by Kejriwal and his colleagues. While Kejriwal shouted and coughed at an alleged nexus between the power companies and both the Congress and BJP, and threatened action by a CAG audit of Delhi discoms, he seems to have relaxed on that issue.


The CAG audit of discoms is as yet awaited and his 2014 FIR against Mukesh Ambani and Veerappa Moily for an alleged collusion to hike natural gas prices was a well conceived farce; the legal luminaries within his party would have alerted him to the anti-federal nature of his FIR. Yet Kejriwal has continuously been engaging in theatrics for his supporters.


Health has been this government’s biggest failure. There has been no urgency to tackle corruption and ensure adequate facilities in State-run hospitals. Hospitals are over-crowded, with shortage of manpower and lack of basic CT and MRI infrastructure. The chewing tobacco ban as well as the ban and penalty on sale of tobacco within 100 metres of educational institutions remains on paper.


In education, Manish Sisodia and Arvind Kejriwal have engaged in theatrics instead of constructive work. While Sisodia has conducted a few raids and taken little action to curb indiscipline and corruption, there has been no move to fill vacant seats with permanent staff. Instead, the government is wasting time in trying to implement a State Board of Education in the National Capital.


In an attempt to keep his flock of MLAs from wandering, Arvind Kejriwal appointed 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries to his 6 ministers. As there can be only 6 ministers in the Delhi Cabinet (excluding the CM), this is a desperate move to placate those who couldn’t get a ministry. These parliamentary secretaries have ministerial status and access to government records and files, giving them some kind of parity with the ministers. Given that Kejriwal’s party is a band of people without a common ideology and bound by the goal of power, it remains to be seen how long he can keep this disparate band together.


To protect the stability of his regime, Kejriwal has been protecting Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar and AAP MLA Surender Singh, though both have been accused of allegedly holding fake degrees, causing dismay amongst sections of his own cadre. The expectation from the self-propagating “holier than thou” Arvind Kejriwal was that he ask Tomar to step down from the post of Law Minister till cleared of the charges (however, the institution has since told the court that his degree is genuine, and that he completed the 3-year course in four years). In January this year, Prashant Bhushan had released a list of 12 AAP candidates with dubious reputations, hinting that Kejriwal was ready to sacrifice his personal ideology as long as it meant victory in the assembly polls.


With all this happening, and after removing their internal Lokpal, one is not sure if Kejriwal and his party are serious about the issue of Lokpal anymore. It was likely just a trigger to rise to power. It is well known that Kejriwal had rejected the final Lokpal Bill to create a Central Lokpal as it deviated from the AAP version of Lokpal which wanted recipients of foreign awards (Nobel, Magsaysay) to be de-facto members of the Lokpal committee. Himself a Magsaysay awardee, only Kejriwal can tell us what makes a recipient of a West-sponsored award especially entitled.


After three years of riding the media wave with disproportionate coverage for his propaganda, Kejriwal issued a circular asking his officials to take note of any material circulated online or in print that is defamatory to him or his government and issue notices of defamation to such publications! This was stayed by the Supreme Court, but nonetheless highlights his dictatorial tendencies and fear of criticism. Kejriwal, who advocates freedom of speech when making defamatory statements against other leaders or business houses, then called for a “public trial” of media houses with alleged bias against him.


This week, to celebrate 100 days of his government, Arvind Kejriwal again took to the streets by holding a “public cabinet” in the heart of Delhi’s business district, completely disrupting work in the city. This was followed by a 2-day special assembly session where the party passed a resolution against the MHA note giving powers to the Lt Governor, and another resolution demanding full statehood to Delhi. It is clear that Arvind Kejriwal and his team are gearing up to fight the Centre on any issue available, to remain in the limelight and keep the focus away from their maladministration in Delhi.


The AAP must realise that such theatrics have long outlived their day and people are beginning to see through this drama. If the party is serious about taking over the Delhi municipalities (there is urgent need to revert to the single MCD and save the capital from the mess created by the Sheila Dikshit government), it must quit making a mockery of governance and get down to serious business; it has been elected for 5 years!


It is possible Arvind Kejriwal may resign and handover the reins to his deputy Manish Sisodia while himself organising nationwide agitations against the Modi government. Obviously, some unseen force (which he cannot refuse) is behind his renewed ambition to be more than Delhi Chief Minister. He would do well to remember that national elections are a good four years away. So he may be walking away from the bird in hand towards a mirage in the desert.


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