The (Ir)resistible Rise of Arvind Kejriwal – Enter The ‘Outsider’

The tide is clearly turning. You know this when former critics and lampooners start talking of him as a ‘game changer’; you know this when weather-cocks turn away from the corridors of power where once they had been ensconced. You know this when rats start deserting the sinking ship.

Suddenly, everybody is talking favourably about the man from the ‘outside’ who is refusing to respect any of the established protocols of protest and politics. More startling perhaps, is the fact that in the past two days we have had senior journalists and political analysts suddenly telling us that they had known all along that there was a ‘post 1980 contract’, a secret code of silence, that never would the dynasty be attacked – indeed never would any apsiring dynasty be attacked. Everybody knew, says Dipankar Gupta in the Times of India, that the issue came up one and a half years ago – and we all do know that. Robert Vadra’s doings had already  been known. A senior BJP leader is even reported to have told a senior journalist that his party had indeed been in possession of the very same documents that Arvind Kejriwal brandished at his press conference. But, this leader went to say, “after an intense discussion, the leadership decided not to rake up the issue in Parliament even after submitting a motion in each House asking for a discussion.” Everybody knew – the parties, their leaders, the media persons, political analysts. And yet, nobody spoke out. All of them colluded, in other words, in suppressing the issue. Politicians kept silent for an understandable reason – aspiring dynasties that they are, after all. But the others? Mediapersons? Any guesses?

As someone who has been trying to understand Indian politics over the decades, I have often wondered at what I have referred to as the ‘implosion of the political’ – that is to say, the destruction of politics in the formal political domain. What is called a noora kushti in Hindustani, had come to mark our parliamentary-political grammar. Farcical walk-outs after equally farcical fire-spouting rhetorical speeches in parliament, and a happy bonhomie away from the glare of the media – that was what our politics had been reduced to.

It was in this context that we saw the emergence of the anti-corruption movement – once known as the Anna Hazare movement – from late 2010 onwards. Rank outsiders suddenly barged their way into the political field and caused consternation all around. People who neither understood nor cared for the grammar that grammarians had so carefully put in place, were now all over, asking often ‘rude’ questions. The Congress propaganda machinery (the well-known dirty-tricks department) swung into action, ably assisted, one is sad to say, by the intelligentsia. Democracy was reduced to representation-by-election. The right of ordinary citizens to ask questions of their rulers was drowned in a flood of grammar lectures. As someone who came to his political senses in the early 1970s, I remember that the critique of electoral representation was not mounted only by the ‘Naxalites’ who rejected the parliament as a pig-sty. Among the slogans that used to adorn the walls in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was Zinda kaumen paanch saal intezaar nahin kiya karteen. The slogan was Ram Manohar Lohia’s – one of whose followers, Kishan Patnaik actually made the rarest of the rare moves – from parliamentary politics (from being an MP) towards non-parliamentary politics. Clearly these people understood even then, that there was something seriously amiss about the way parliamentary electoral politics functioned.

But here was the political class  and the intelligentsia from Left to Right taking the protestors to task – asking them to tame their dissent and channel it through ‘proper channels’. Contest elections and let us see how much support you have, they challenged. Anna Hazare stuck to his guns, refusing the bait. Kejriwal however, seems to have decided to call their bluff. And much before the last hunger strike failed, his political mobilization started moving away from the single point agenda of the Lokpal Bill. Apparently taking up the challenge and moving towards the constitution of a political party, Kejriwal has entered the field in a manner that might even begin to pose an electoral challenge to ruling as well as opposition parties. How much of a challenge it will be we cannot say. However, one thing is quite clear: It will probably introduce an element of serious uncertainty in the coming elections, whenever they are held. Old formulas will cease to work. Equations are bound to change with new imponderables entering the scene.

I want to underline, however, that even though Kejriwal’s outfit may decide to call itself a party, it is likely to remain resolutely an Anti-Party. For one thing, it (and he) seems to be resolutely opposed to the party-electoral logic of seeking coalitions and alliances in the bid for power. The party-form is nothing if not an embodiment of the will-to-power, a mechanism whereby the pursuit of power must become it sole raison d’etre. And that is the beginning of ‘tactics’ – of compromises, deals and trade-offs.  But with Kejriwal, his alliances if any, are likely to be worked out with social/ people’s movements, and the outfit is likely to remain focused on the central issue of corruption. The presence of one might call a “party-in-deferral” in the political firmament might introduce some interesting dimensions in our politics. It seems to me that this outfit, whatever the name it decides to call itself by, will be a harbinger of what seems to be seeking to make its appearance worldwide – a post-party politics and post-party democracy. The possibility that it might become a party and yet not be one, is interesting and new – though I am aware that there are many among Kejriwal’s confidantes who would like it to become a party right away. If these advisors have their way, we can rest assured that it will be the end of this interesting new experiment.

25 thoughts on “The (Ir)resistible Rise of Arvind Kejriwal – Enter The ‘Outsider’”

  1. Kejriwal has a great anti corruption story the challenge is will he be able to convert that into votes? I think he is already doing what a typical neta does… e.g. restoring power connection a very populist move.. IMO if he has to succeed as a Neta and win the electoral thing he will start doing things that the Mayas, Jayas and Ms. Banherjee have been doing. Only once the elections happen and he fields candidates we will know the depth of this movement, if this is a media miracle or some body whom the people of India will vote and then caste, region, community will start playing role. We have Loksatta party in Hyderabad that started similarly but not much success. And what about the other people with Anna caps….what role they will play still needs to be seen. i am sure they will want there share of TV footage and pound of flesh.- It is too early to give a verdict either way.


  2. I was apprehensive about this anti-corruption movement given its covert urban/Hindutva bias and authoritarian tendencies. So it was a relief when AK decided to part ways with Anna/Ramdev. While AK’s ideology and stands on various issues are still unknown, the presence of Bhushans and Yogendra Yadav in this camp give hope that perhaps the new party has got its ideology ‘correct’.

    I am also pleasantly surprised that AK’s movement has brought the dreaded concept (if not the word) ‘anarchy’ back into popular discourse after decades of its global ignonimity. This was done, of course, by the concept of “people’s democracy”, where people will decide on most of the issues.

    As the author puts it, interesting times indeed!


  3. Eventually ills end, as do good times & not coincidentally either!

    Both also seem to have happened together too, for more “Silent Emperors Having a Good Time’ than the Self Proclaimed king of Good Times, himself!

    Corruption was endemic and was the right topic to be taken up by a fledgling or an politically aspirant group. Happening as a logical sequence of “strife against corruption” clarion call, to taking up the challenge to accost them as a political party that politicians heaped on this ‘social activist’ group, Arvind Kejrival is definitely a reality on the floor of the Indian Political Arena that was parched and had the last drop of juice being wrung from it by new upstart political parties to the invocation of ‘collation mantras” !!

    The combination of an Income Tax Officer and SC Lawyers to make responsible exposes that can be proved and defended can be a major asset. Weather they will have the depth to last in the field to continue exposes alone and not fall prey to populist political demands of power is yet to be seen as does their response to delivery of good governance should they be chosen by the electorate to deliver their talk.


  4. No occasion for triumphalism here and neither is there any reason to believe that the earlier sceptics have converted to true believers. The campaign is effective when it goes after specific targets. In taking aim at Robert Vadra, Kejriwal reminds us of the layers of silence that protect his racketeering — including in the political opposition which we elect precisely so that it would keep vigil over such matters. The earlier phase of the campaign spoke of “corruption” almost as an abstract evil or as something inherent in the politics of representative democracy. The insistence moreover, that a fanciful construct called the Jan Lok Pal would offer salvation, strained credulity. Kejriwal now points towards a specific offence of corruption and influence-peddling without trying to herd us all into accepting any particular solution he may have in mind. That difference is key.


  5. One of the Primary reasons for Failure of Anna hazare movement was that they were seen more as anti congress and by default helping Bjp. Till the time Kejriwal does not assure all sections of society its secularism and Principles it will be difficult to make much headway in National Politics


  6. I think you have penned it very well Aditya. Your scholarly writings always inspire and I learn a lot from them. However, I feel that it is a little anticipative to feel that this is going to be some type of party-in-deferral. I think you are right when you say that associates of Kejriwal want to form a party right away. In fact, Kejriwal himself has harboured political ambitions since the Anna Hazare Movement.

    I personally never agreed with their form of protest and methodology of negotiating with the elected representatives. Even the mission statement of this platform-‘Anti-Corruption’ is vague and not adequately articulated. What Kejriwal has let out is what other parliamentarians have already known. If he has guts to speak about it then this is what the numerous whistle blowers have been doing time and again albeit, at an organizational or micro level. Even some of the MPs have raised corruption and bungling issues on the floor of the House. It’s a different matter that scams are used for settling political scores. Kejriwal has just been more strategic than all of them.

    I do not think the K factor can be called an interesting experiment of any type. Will it provide a platform to question the government in the long-run? Have not earlier social movements-be it peasants’ movements, women’s movements, environmental movements- questioned governmental policies and programmes? Why are we giving so much importance to Kejriwal? India against Corruption does not even qualify as a social movement by any academic standards. Kejriwal has a clear political agenda and if that happens, it will be as perilous and dubious as other party forms.


  7. LOL! Have u seen kejriwal’s agenda?? From the budget to the price of essential commodities will be decided by the “people”! Basically if he wins India will come to a stand-still. Running a country is not a joke and compromises and coalitions are part and parcel of a healthy democracy. I know the loony left has never understood these concepts but between “anarchy” and “democracy”, I would any day choose democracy.


  8. I am deeply sceptical about these ant-corruption movements. All I can understand is that this Mr Anand Kejrival is trying to hog the limelight by catching some evidence. In our Telugu, there is a saying, that if you take your food in a rug, you should not complain about hair in your food. Corruption is what sustains this system and it is not possible to eliminate corruption under capitalism. Let this gentleman come out with his views on socio-political issues. Then people will judge him. As far as I can see, he is just another cheap entertainer and the media is savouring his antics, as it fills their air time and print pages. I advise Adityaji to be careful about praising such types.


  9. Skepticism is always a good thing, Marlaji. I too have been writing about the IAC/ Anna Hazare anti-corruption for some time now and have always bben ‘skeptical’. It is a different matter that I was seen as a ‘supporter’, though I have maintained that it needs to be supported because if it’s essentially open character, and its future direction would depend on the nature on interventions of different kinds of forces. Sukumar, I am not suggesting that all skeptics and opponents have turned true believers. How can that be? I was only referring to the fairly visible change in the stance of many of its erstwhile critics – as an indicator that the configuration of power is changing and that this movement has emerged has a rallying point for many people.
    Alka, thanks for your comment. It seems from what you say, everything was already always happening. Parties and parliamentarians have been raising issues of corruption on the floor of the parliament. You also vehemently disagree with Kejriwal’s “form of protest and methodology”. This is indeed precisely my point. The grammar that I talked of in my post refers precisely to this: knowing and yet keeping things within certain safe bounds – in this case the floor of the parliament; staging mock protests and walk-outs and actually supping and dining together. That Kejriwal refuses to go by the rules of that grammar is precisely what attracts ordinary folk to him. All this is not to say, that finally we have now got a solution for all our ills as some new messiah has descended to the earth. Intellectually and politically what interests me is just that this movement has revealed the limits of our understanding of tired terms like ‘democracy’ about which we have long stopped thinking as one of the comments above amply illustrates. All our notions of what is political and what is not. what is right and what is wrong; what is the meaning of representation – all these have been put under a question mark. We may take this challenge and opportunity to think things afresh, or we may smugly bask in our comfortingly banal and self-deluding worlds, assuming that we already know what there is to know. This is the choice that the movement has forced upon us.


  10. Arvind’s movement organised by paid employees of NGO’s getting fund from foundations being run by ford, Rockefeller etc. have potential to mismarise those who are watching the event from their drawing room via cable T.V. network or internet. Majority of indian folk are still unimpressed by these paid worker’s show. Anna Hazare was right to the extent when he said that movement can be organised through volunteers having social commitment and not through trained and paid NGO employee as proposed by Arvind Kejriwal on instance of his funding masters. Politics is some thing different. It serves certain class of people. In case of Arvind’s outfit ,it is quite clear that he is not addressing the concern of majority of Indians which comes from Industrial working class and peasant . Ruling class is not afraid of what he is doing now. They are quite comfortable with these shows.


  11. Alright Aditya, point conceded. I can see your argument now. In this type of conspiring political scene, where everything is brushed under the carpet and the culprits never meet their nemeses, a ray of hope is what we can hold on to…or at least be optimistic that it would change things for the better. We are just turning into a bunch of cynics who seem to have developed blinkered vision. May be, we do not want to witness a change of grammar, read anything into it and even condemn it without analyzing its hidden positives. We are used to a certain way of conduct, content and methodology underlying anti-government activism. Anything that is different becomes difficult to ingest. Moreover, the over-powerful media glare can turn anything into a movement these days…We must therefore keep our fingers crossed…


  12. We have seen similar antics by Jaya Prakash Narayan of Lok Satta in Andhra Pradesh, Subrahmanyam Swamy and Cho of Tamilnadu. These people start as whistle blowers, some of them manage to gain the backing of American Institutions and then exhibit their true colours on socio-political issues. I can say that the policies of Lok Satta are deeply reactionary and pro-big business, but he covers it under the sugar coating of good governance etc. This Arvind Kejrival (I had typed Anand in my last post) is no exception and is showing his true colours by propping up on the support of some doubtful NGOs. Some in the media may be favourable to him because under capitalism, that is the name of the game. The moment big business finds him to be a nuisance, he will be dumped and he will fade in to insignificance. Anyway, the constituency he is gunning for is urban upper middle class and it hardly of interest to anyone from the Left. Le him go to hell.


    1. JP / Lok Satta are pro-business not pro-big business, leaning towards less cumbersome government regulation. It is one of the few political parties in this country that has solutions on problems facing India rather than trying to ‘import’ solutions as most left wing parties do. In fact, look around, all the so-called socialists including SP, BSP, BJP, Cong, CPI, CPIM have their favorite big business, either in public or private sector. If Lot Satta was a big-business party, it would definitely been a lot richer than it is now.


  13. At least AK has given hope to the citizens of India about good times to come and to see something concrete in the direction of reducing corruption and good goverenence in India, he may or may not come in power. He certainly give competition to perform better to other political parties in India.


  14. I Personally don’t trust Kejriwal’s wisdom. He is doing what a raw aspiring politician would do.
    He is above law according to him and that is very startling. The arrogance and the taste of power is already showing in his gimmicks to attract attention.


  15. The IAC and the AK movement fails to realize that the corruption scandals and the players themselves are manifestation of a defective governance system. Unless he can look through these external manifestations and focus on core issues that promote sleaze, he would simply be wasting energies on less productive activities such as the Vadra expose.


    1. Let us try to support the aspects of current protests that gear towards…modifying the ‘economic and social stability’ that the ‘voters settled for’ according to the

      Isn’t bringing in a new ‘economic stability’ also required?

      and mass media is indispensable if the message of any new economic stability is to reach them.
      But now that the media seems to have reduced the coverage of the Aam Aadmi Party (after Ambani’s notice to Media houses), would the Journalists friends reading Kafila consider building the pressure on media houses to stop the undeclared non-coverage policy?

      The first step could be carrying the latest letter of Kejriwal – to Mukesh Ambani on his notice to Media houses..

      An excerpt is given below
      “…Many TV channels aired our expose live. All these TV channels have now received defamation notices from you.

      I find it quite perplexing. If you felt that you have been defamed by what Prashant Bhushan and I said, then we are the real culprits and, if you had to send a defamation notice, it should have been to us. The TV channels merely broadcast what we said. Despite this, instead of sending us the defamation notice, you have sent it to the TV channels. It is evident that your sole purpose of sending this notice was to steamroll the TV channels into subservience…

      Kindly do not try to intimidate the media of this country… However, the majority of media persons keep the interest of the Country at heart even today. They are not going to capitulate so easily. History is witness that whenever the judiciary, bureaucracy and legislature crumbled, it is the honest fourth pillar, comprising such media-persons that kept democracy alive.

      You have invested in some media houses directly or indirectly. It is possible that these media houses do your bidding. However, the journalists working for such media houses will not barter their integrity so easily….”

      Can this also become a new guest post on Kafila- asking the journalist friends to help build the pressure so that the undeclared non-coverage policy of the mass media houses ends and more people can be reached (beyond social media and emails)?


  16. One thing is for sure. Whether it is Anna Hazare or Kejriwal it is easy for leftists to dismiss them and find fault with them without having any concrete plan against corruption and scams. Good governance is a taboo word for them and finding fault with globalization and liberalization is easy than thinking in terms of institutional reform, governance principles.
    Kejriwal supported the protest movement in Koodankulam and visited that place and expressed his solidarity. He and Prashant Bhushan are not acting in the way left would expect protesters to act. Their ‘scripts’ are not what the left, particularly the left academics are used to.


  17. Would an India without Arvind Kejriwal have been better than an India with Arvind Kejriwal? ‘Change’ is a different issue altogether. If one billion Indians can’t change the political system, why expect that one man will do it?


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