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The common man breaks new ground.
"Corruption has become so blatant, so pathological that those
involved don't even try very hard to hide their tracks." -
He is the new crusader against corruption in India. His press
conferences are jam-packed, his exposEas make national headlines,
politicians and businessmen dread his disclosures.
Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
him the "bomb thrower". He is the new agenda-setter, his
rapid-fire whistle-blowing tactics have hit the corrupt elite like never
income tax inspector
, 44, is short and at
Affected by improper nutrition or an insufficient diet.
. He sports a neatly trimmed moustache,
frameless spectacles and loads of attitude. In recent months, Kejriwal
has exposed them all -- from senior ministers to top politicians, from
Fortune 500-listed CEOs to high-profile NGOs. All have been hit where it
hurts the most. The ruling elite are in shock and the middle class has
erupted in sheer delight at Kejriwal's naming and shaming of the
rich and the powerful.
Until late last year, Kejriwal was a
n. or back room
1. A room located at the rear.
2. The meeting place used by an inconspicuous controlling group.
India's most popular anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, who
rallied Indians in a series of sit-ins to push for a powerful ombudsman
who can fight corruption, a cancer that has seeped into every layer of
government and public life. Led by a small team of committed activists,
including Kejriwal, 75-year-old Kisan Baburao Hazare, or Anna Hazare,
rattled the government in nationwide protests and hunger strikes
beginning April last year. His movement gathered momentum and gained
unprecedented support of poor and middle-class people, who skipped work
to hear him slam ministers and politicians.
Hazare's movement occupied prime-time television and the
national narrative for months, forcing the Congress-led government in
, city (1991 pop. 294,149), capital of India and of Delhi state, N central India, on the right bank of the Yamuna River.
to table a bill for anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal. But
this Lokpal Bill was rejected by Hazare and his "Team Anna",
who said it was a lame-duck law with little powers and scope to
prosecute powerful and wealthy.
Frustrated by the government's dillydallying, Hazare began a
final push for his version of Lokpal Bill and launched an indefinite
hunger strike in July at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar. The government
ignored this round of protest and after ten days of hunger strike,
Kejriwal and his team were urged to end the stir and find an alternative
to endless protests that mobilised thousands of people but served no
real purpose. From this platform, Kejriwal announced his group India
Against Corruption will launch a political party to provide a clean
alternative to Indians who are fed up with the existing parties.
Kejriwal and his trusted team then broke away from Team Anna and
announced a roadmap to launch a political party. Since then, Kejriwal
has gone on a marathon name-and-shame campaign. His first big fish was
Robert Vadra, powerful Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi's
son-in-law. He accused Vadra of making millions through illegal land
deals, a charge swiftly denied by his mother-in-law's party. Vadra,
married to a charming Priyanka Gandhi, does not hold any position in
Congress but enjoys immense clout. The stunning allegations were backed
by documents Kejriwal said prove Vadra's illegal land deals. It was
the first time that someone had pointed fingers at the Gandhi household.
The government and Congress denied charges and dismissed demands of an
investigation. Also exposed was then minister of law and justice (now
foreign minister) Salman Khurshid who Kejriwal said misappropriated
funds meant for the physically challenged through a trust run by his
wife Louis Khurshid. Another high-profile politician targeted by
Kejriwal was Nitin Gadkari, president of opposition
[Hindi,=Indian People's party] (BJP), Indian political party that espouses Hindu nationalism.
, who he accused of accepting business favours from the ruling
Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra. These allegations made in a
press conference and broadcast live on national TV embarrassed the
BJP British Journal of Psychiatry
BJP British Journal of Photography
BJP Bubble Jet Printer
BJP Bence Jones Protein
BJP Boston Jolly Pirates
that projected itself as a clean alternative to corruption-ridden
But the most high-profile businessmen on Kejriwal's radar were
Fortune 500-listed CEOs and brothers Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani. Last
month he said India's most powerful corporation Reliance Industries
was arm-twisting the government in an attempt to make billions in
natural gas contracts. He also suggested that Mukesh, ranked 19th in the
global rich list and head of Reliance, was behind the removal of a
Cabinet minister who refused to oblige his company. Soon after this,
Kejriwal accused the brothers of stashing illegal cash in the
, Fr. Genève, canton (1990 pop. 373,019), 109 sq mi (282 sq km), SW Switzerland, surrounding the southwest tip of the Lake of Geneva.
branch of a well-known international bank.
Popularity and acceptance
Today, Kejriwal's trademark press conferences provide fodder
to a fiercely competitive media and are a source of glee for the middle
class that is increasingly getting frustrated by the extent of
corruption in public institutions. His every exposEa has made newspaper
headlines and been debated on prime-time TV watched by millions across
the country. In recent months, Kejriwal, who quit a government job to
launch his movement, has seen his popularity graph rising steadily.
But why he is so popular and why media attach so much importance to
Kejriwal's utterances? Because, commentators say, people of India
are fed up by Congress's attempts to weaken democratic institutions
in recent years. "It started with the
/emas·cu·la·tion/ () bilateral orchiectomy.
The surgical removal of the testes and penis; castration.
of the prime
minister," columnist Tavleen Singh wrote recently. "After he
helped the United Progressive Alliance win re-election in 2009, he was
allowed to take charge and appoint a Cabinet but it soon became clear
that he could not appoint a minister or sack one without Sonia
Gandhi's approval. She then proceeded to give so much power to her
National Advisory Council that the Cabinet became a subsidiary. The
executive wing of government was reduced to a caricature."
She feels people's anger is not limited to the Congress,
though: "The damage to Parliament has been more insidious and has
been accomplished with the participation of every political party.
Hereditary democracy is the main cause of the damage. It is an idea that
originated from the Congress Party but is now the norm, so Parliament,
and state legislative assemblies, have become private clubs into which
ordinary Indians are denied entry. This is the real cause of the rage we
see in middle-class Indians who believe they have been totally excluded
from the political process. When Arvind Kejriwal says that political
leaders across party lines are
hand in glove
in subverting the system,
he is not wrong."
Another reason for Kejriwal's popularity is his seemingly
clean past. In 2006, Kejriwal won the
Ramon Magsaysay award
Leadership, regarded as Asia's
award given for outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, peace, or literature. The awards were established by the will of Alfred Nobel, who left a fund to provide annual prizes in the five areas listed above.
. Born in 1968 to
working-class parents, Kejriwal studied mechanical engineering from the
country's top Indian Institute of Technology. He spent years
working with the Tatas and India's notoriously corrupt Income Tax
Department before quitting in disgust.
But others attribute his success to Kejriwal's guts in
breaching a psychological barrier that provided immunity to the corrupt.
"EoACA* it would appear a crucial silence has been broken,"
wrote Shoma Chaudhury, investigative magazine Tehelka's managing
editor. "Indian media and politicians have always had some
inexplicable no-go areas, islands of immunity no one questioned out of a
strange mix of tribal propriety, vested interests and fear. With Arvind
Kejriwal's high-visibility fusillade against Sonia Gandhi's
son-in-law Robert Vadra, that moat was decisively breached. Since then,
rolling one upon the other, several other politicians have come under
Chaudhury believes Kejriwal's campaign will encourage others
to expose the rot: "In every way, this breached moat can only be a
good thing. It signals that something is shifting in Indian democracy.
tr.v. em·bold·ened, em·bold·en·ing, em·bold·ens
To foster boldness or courage in; encourage. See Synonyms at encourage.
others to speak up. The scrutiny will deepen. The old
ways can no longer hold good. The rot in India's systems has become
Of immense size, volume, or capacity; gigantic. See Synonyms at enormous.
huge or enormous [after Gargantua, a giant in Rabelais'
, it has to rebuild or it will
"With each exposEa -- differing as they may be in scale,
vehemence and diligence -- crucial concepts that had all but disappeared
from India's public lexicon are being forced back on the table; not
just rank corruption, but ideas of conflict of interest; misuse of
office; the political-corporate nexus; cross-party collusion; and the
simple idea that those who wield great power must also live by the
rules," she added.
Kejriwal's public disclosures are also remarkable in the sense
tr.v. de·mys·ti·fied, de·mys·ti·fy·ing, de·mys·ti·fies
To make less mysterious; clarify:
and decode corruption into a simple language that
the common man understands. When Kejriwal exposed Ambani's
arm-twisting tactics in complex natural gas contracts, he did so with a
poser to the people of India: "Are you ready to pay more for
electricity because a businessman wants to jack up the selling price of
natural gas?" And when he talked about Vadra's illegal land
deals, he pointed out that land prices went up disproportionately in
Haryana state where Gandhi's son-in-law used his influence to get
approval for a housing project on the land he bought at throwaway prices
from farmers. Later in Gadkari's case, he raised a question that
challenged the very foundation of India democracy: Of him taking favours
from the ruling Congress, thereby mortgaging people's faith
entrusted on him as the head of the nation's principal opposition
Bharatiya Janta Party.
Four months after parting ways with Hazare , Kejriwal, on November
24, announced the name of his new political outfit Aam Admi Party, or
the common man's party. "They are not politicians. They are
fed up of politicians. They are the people who are fed up of corruption
and price rise. This is why the common man has decided to challenge
them. Now the common man will sit in Parliament," he said of
activists associated with his movement. "The party's vision is
Swaraj. People should get the EoACAyraj'. That vision will be
finalised. Twenty-five to thirty issues will be discussed ... which all
issues need to be taken first by the party. Committees will be formed.
They will make drafts in four to five months. There will discussions
through the country."
In a guarded reaction, Congress leader Digvijay Singh told Weekend
Review: "We are very happy Kejriwal has formed a political party.
We wish him well." He declined a comment on the name of
Kejriwal's party that sounds similar to a popular Congress slogan.
But he told reporters that the move "reflects intellectual
bankruptcy of Kejriwal".
Kejriwal's party will make election debut in 2013 when Delhi
goes to polls. Contesting elections is different from running a
hit-and-run outfit to carry out ambush operations, a point
Kejriwal's mentor Hazare had raised when the two had parted ways
over the former's decision to launch a political party. To be able
to fight elections, his party must build a vast network of committed
cadre, raise funds and find honest people to stand in polls. This is not
an easy task, considering the sheer enormity and complex nature of the
Political observers and commentators have begun to point out
deficiencies in his name-and-shame campaign. "What is not right is
the manner in which he and his comrades have justified the lynch mob as
a solution to our political problems," columnist Singh argued.
"And just as we are paying the price for the weakening of
democratic institutions, we will soon start paying the price for
Kejriwal's brand of politics. It is beyond ludicrous to believe, as
his EoACAyvision document' suggests, that laws and economic
decisions that affect the whole country should be left in the hands of
She wrote: "The role of elected legislatures in democratic
countries is that they become the buffer between democracy and mob rule.
But, Kejriwal and his high-minded colleagues appear not to have noticed
this. What they recommend, perhaps unknowingly, is
n. pl. mob·oc·ra·cies
1. Political control by a mob.
2. The mass of common people as the source of political control.
. What is
nearly as worrying is that their EoACAyvision' for India's
future is devoid of a single new political or economic idea."
Another worrying fact is that Kejriwal may overwhelm people with a
plethora of corruption cases. "The good thing about it is that it
gives us an insight into how the networks of power connect and
. The worrying thing is that each scam pushes the last one out
of the way, and life goes on. If all we will get out of it is an
extra-acrimonious election campaign, it can only raise the bar of what
our rulers know we can tolerate, or be conned into tolerating,"
celebrated author Arundhati Roy says, adding that, "EoACA*these
exposes are strategic leaks from politicians and business houses who are
spilling the beans on each other, hoping to get ahead of their rivals.
Sometimes it's across party lines, sometimes it's intra-party
jockeying. It's being done brilliantly, and those who are being
used as clearing houses to front these campaigns may not always be aware
that this is the case."
Also, all the allegations made by Kejriwal have remained just that.
His disclosures were followed by swift denials and in some cases
Kejriwal's targets have been rewarded after he exposed them.
In a recent interview to Outlook magazine, Roy came down heavy on
Kejriwal's idea of anti-corruption ombudsman: "Setting up a
parallel government with tens of thousands of police and bureaucrats,
which is what the Jan Lokpal Bill envisages, will not solve the problem.
Have our police and bureaucrats shown themselves to be
guardians of the
? Which pool will these new, honest souls be culled from? In a
country where a majority of the population is illegitimate in the ways
in which they live and work, the Jan Lokpal Bill could easily become a
weapon in the hands of the middle classes -- EoACAyRemove these filthy
illegal slums, clear away these illegal vendors crowding the
pavements' -- and so on."
Roy's assessment of Indian democracy is brutally honest. While
there are many others who are willing to give Kejriwal and other
anti-corruption activists a chance to cleanse the system, they agree
that the crusader's task is enormous. As British economist and
former Labour politician Meghnad Desai puts it, "In dictatorships,
the top people restrict the fruits of corruption to the few they know.
India, being a democracy, has democratised corruption. Once you are in,
it is like living in the Forbidden City in Beijing. You are immune from
legal consequences and you can go on being corrupt with impunity."
It is too early to predict whether Kejriwal's Aam Admi Party,
the first such outfit by non-career politicians, will herald
India's Arab Spring. The party's first electoral test is still
months away but the party will be under close scrutiny of media and
observers who will monitor its evolution from a guerrilla-type
organisation to a mainstream political alternative.
Al Nisr Publishing
2012. All rights reserved.
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