“All Utopias are fed from the sources of mythology; the social engineer’s blueprint are merely revised editions of the ancient text” wrote Arthur Koestler in the book “The God that failed” in 1949, as he along with five other disillusioned revolutionaries came out against their previous faith named Communism.
Today, as has been many times in the past few months, Arvind Kejriwal is yet again in the headlines. This time, refusing to pay a bail in a defamation case and thereby choosing to go to jail. We are yet again in a shrill, pitched battle between the fans who see in his every move the manifestation of the impending revolution and his critics who see in his “antics” a compulsiveness to be in the media glare, or a desperate tactic to hold on to the public mind space. The adulations and criticisms have focused on individual moves. But what lies beneath these actions? What is the larger philosophical context in which they are being played out?
So far, we have tended to look at instances such as Aam Aadmi Party’s support to the Khap Panchayats, the vigilante justice offered by its leaders, Arvind Kejriwal’s anarchic ways and his selective referendums, as tactics imperative to political positioning or as exasperation accompanied by disruption of conventional wisdom, depending on which side of the political spectrum one belongs to. As somebody who has been a critic of the AAP’s politics as also having had a soft corner towards the movement and the political party, I too have internally juggled between the two. But clarity did emerge when (a few months ago) I read what was touted as AAP’s philosophical statement – Arvind Kejriwal's book ‘Swaraj’. Reading the book gives that ‘aha’ feeling. You are suddenly able to connect the dots between these incidents and the basic philosophy that drives them. The link, the causality, the big picture, everything starts to fall in place. It starts becoming clear that AAP’s adoration of the Maoist style kangaroo justice, its reluctance or unease with the idea of governance and its preference to agitational politics may not be accidental but representative of a political narrative that its founder leader professes.
Page after page, the book tells us with sweeping generalizations how Government officials take bribes, teachers do not teach, doctors do not do their duty and so on. Since all of "them" are “corrupt”, the panacea, we are told is to wrest the ‘control’ from these “corrupt” and put it into the hands of the “people”. This is true democracy, we are told, in contrast to the fake one that India lives in. So how is this true democracy to be achieved? The magical idea is for all powers in the system; judicial, legislative and executive to be taken over and "controlled" by the “people”. This single thing is repeated over and over again in every page of the book. As you read the book, you start getting a feeling that the “people” (which he represents and is a martyr for) and the “corrupt” are two different races if not species, the former morally incorruptible and the latter polluted beyond remedy.
As I read the book, I was overwhelmed by the number of times, the word “control” appeared. I gave a quick count. I wasn't surprised; it was 110 times - slightly less than once every page. Should that say something about the leader? It is interesting to note that every Leftist tyrant from Stalin and Mao to Pol Pot and Gaddafi sought to ‘control’ in the name of this entity called “People”. In fact, I find a substantial similarity between Gaddafi's "direct democracy" propounded in his 'Green Book' and Arvind Kejriwal's "true democracy", including in its ideas, reasoning and persuasion.
But let us get back to the basic premise of his political narrative, which is “people” assuming the judicial, legislative and executive power. Let us see how Arvind Kejriwal wants to implement it
“What we have started to understand is that the law of the land must empower the citizens so that instead of making complaint against the theft of ration, the people themselves could punish the shopkeeper…….
Can this happen? Can one hundred and twenty crore people of this country be empowered to take judicial decisions?”
Since we have now assumed that all the ration keepers cheat, all school teachers are errant and all doctors are rude, it is but imperative that the "people" or the people’s committees (gram sabhas) should have the power to "punish" them "directly". Novel isn’t it? (Watch this video from my hometown where a group of people, along with local politicians assume this responsibility, as they assault the Doctor at a Medical college, for what they believe is a lapse on his part.) Is this not what was implemented decades ago in West Bengal where Communist led ‘peoples' committees’ took over Government machinery and had their hands into everything from distributing ration to adjudicating property disputes? If this were a panacea why is West Bengal in such pathetic state?
Romantically, it would be easy to assume that people are the best judges, as Arvind Kejriwal does. For starters, this entity named “people” is not a disembodied entity. It's ability to make decisions is easily colored by emotions, manipulated by influences, lured by greed, driven by prejudices and easily carried away by what is called ‘mob mentality’. I am perplexed that it did not occur to Kejriwal that it was because of the excesses and brutality of mob justice that a more enlightened way of solving problems took shape in the form of an independent judicial system. This system has refined itself over centuries of ideas and thinkers. And yet, it is hardly any perfect, we have instances of corrupt judges, delayed justice and manipulation. We indeed need to plug these gaps, fix leakages, fine tune and innovate continuously and also be open to substantial changes to make it better. But should the problems give us an excuse to propound dismantling the system back to the Stone Age? Should the baby be thrown out with the bathwater? Is Arvind Kejriwal'a model not a perfect recipe for the Khapization of Indian Republic?
The book is full of blatant errors and bald assertions. For instance, the Beladila iron ore of Chattisgarh, we are told, is in Karnataka. But let us overlook such small errors and also those incredible case studies he presents to bolster his point, many of which do not care to even name the people, place and time, as if they were nameless, timeless myths. Like for other mythologies, let us concentrate on the ideas and not the form that encapsulates them.
Like many other Leftist leaders of the last and current century, Kejriwal finds everything "rotten". And unlike a genuine social worker who diagnoses deficiencies and offers granularity to problems, he chooses panaceas and a black-and-white view of the world, where there are ‘chors’ and there are ‘aam admis’. And naturally when this happens, the only possible forms of intervention that one can come up with are finger pointing, blaming everybody else and protesting, exactly the things we have seen from Kejriwal and his team in the last few months. His book, as his politics, is in every way a version of the binary Leftist ideologies of the twentieth century, in a new cover and binding. So much for all the talk of novelty and a promise of alternative politics in India.