The bumpy ride ahead

SOCIAL ACTIVIST Arvind Kejriwal has certainly succeeded in capturing media’s attention by targeting political bigwigs on corruption-issues.

By Nilofar Suhrawardy (Issues)

Published: Wed 31 Oct 2012, 8:57 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:45 PM

He has gone at little further by challenging Congress high command Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a public debate on corruption. Though Congress has dismissed Kejriwal’s demand for debate, the party members are promptly and aggressively reacting against this activist’s charges. The Congress is trying to turn tables against Kejriwal by questioning source of funds he receives for his activities, particularly NGOs run by him. Taking offence to Kejriwal’s attempts to “maliciously defame” her by using derogatory remarks against her, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has sent him a legal notice of civil and criminal defamation.

When Anna Hazare was in forefront in this anti-corruption campaign, the reaction of Congress was totally different. Even though, at one stage Hazare asked Prime Minister Singh to step down, the Congress did not lash out at him. The political scene has changed dramatically since Hazare has stepped into background. Though reports have circulated of their being major differences between Hazare and Kejriwal, the former has tried to play these down by saying that their anti-corruption aim is the same. The same isn’t true of other members of anti-corruption drive. This was reflected at a press conference held earlier this month by Kejriwal. He was accused by Annie Kohlie and several others for using India Against Corruption forum for his “personal” gains. She also posed questions as to whether he was acting as a “revolutionary” or as a politician and why was he not answering questions asked by others. Dazed by her outburst, Kejriwal left the press conference without answering her questions.

Ironically, though Kejriwal was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for Eminent Leadership in 2006, at this stage, it isn’t clear whether his anti-corruption drive is headed in the right direction or not. Kejriwal certainly has the right to raise questions on corruption allegedly indulged in by Robert Vadra (Sonia’s son-in-law), Union Minister Salman Khursheed and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Nitish Gadkari. This step has proved fairly costly for Kejriwal with Congress leader Digvijay Singh charging him with “irregularities” while he served as Indian Revenue Officer. Kejriwal has also been cornered for being extremely selective in levying corruption charges against only a few and not targeting several politicians who have a tarnished image.

Despite these limitations, Kejriwal has succeeded to a degree. He has moved out of Anna’s political-shadow, from where he began his political career. Allegations against political bigwigs, raking one major controversy after another, have helped Kejriwal gain substantial publicity.

Considering that Anna’s anti-Congress campaign failed to hold people’s attention for very long, one is bound to speculate on whether Kejriwal will meet the same fate. While Hazare’s drive displayed support of a few million Indians, at the ground level, that of Kejriwal barely exceeds a few thousands. Hazare had a certain mass-base, while Kejriwal’s support is limited largely to urban, middle-class crowd. Without doubt, Kejriwal has succeeded in attracting media’s attention. But so have those who have reacted strongly against him, including Congress leaders.

Kejriwal’s announcement that he will name and launch a political party on November 26 proves that the major motive of his present anti-corruption drive is securing an entry onto the political stage. Kejriwal may not have reached this stage, if he did not have support of major rivals of Congress party, particularly BJP. So far, Kejriwal has played role of a political pawn from their perspective. Thus, however, high and lofty Kejriwal’s political ambitions be, he is not likely to be supported for too long by his own present political patrons. The message is clear. However, appealing Kejriwal’s anti-corruption drive may be, the political ride ahead is a bumpy one for him and his party.

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a India-based freelancer

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