It was Dr. Martin Luther King who said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” But, the curve of the arc is so imperceptible that most people just do not see it. Rebecca Solnit writes in her article “The Arc of Justice and the Long Run”: “I don’t know what’s coming. I do know that, whatever it is, some of it will be terrible, but some of it will be miraculous, that term we reserve for the utterly unanticipated, the seeds we didn’t know the soil held. And I know that we don’t know what we do does. As Shane Bauer points out, the doing is the crucial thing.” The largest mountain and the largest volcano in the solar system, both are the same; Olympus Mons on the planet Mars. The mountain rises up to a height of a staggering 26 kilometers that makes it three times the height of Mount Everest. But if one were to attempt climbing it one would hardly get the feeling that one was on a mountain. Its slope is so gentle that it almost looks flat. Popular perception of volcanoes is that of a steep mountain hiding within its bosom vast amounts of destructive energy that, once unleashed, devours whole cities. The absence of tectonic plate movement on Mars allows the Martian crust to remain fixed in place over a magma hotspot allowing repeated, large lava flows. At its base Olympus Mons is 550 Kms. The curvature of this volcano is just as imperceptible as the moral arc of Dr. King. The energy contained within Dr. King’s moral universe can also be infinite, but as Ms. Solnit writes, “sometime hope lies in not looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.”
When, on 28th August 2011, Anna Hazare broke his fast after a thirteen-day Satyagraha at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, perhaps there was not one person who would have foreseen the event that happened at the same venue on the 28th of December last year. Although I do not subscribe to numerology and similar esoteric arts, it is interesting, nevertheless, to note that the number 28 seems to have some special significance for Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. The Aam Aadmi Party won exactly 28 seats in a 70-member legislature, and Arvind Kejriwal with seven of his colleagues were sworn in as ministers exactly 28 months after Anna Hazare suspended his agitation at the Ramlila Maidan. The euphoria generated by the success of this fledgling political outfit has given rise to new expectations and a new confidence among the suffering masses of this country who have been toiling under the crushing burdens of inflation, unemployment, corruption, insecurity, hunger, lack of education and health services, and a host of other disorders that an indifferent political and administrative dispensation has been inflicting upon them. In a land that has been brought up on a steady diet of mythological lore of divine avatars descending from their heavenly abodes to rid this earth of evil demons, it becomes very easy for people to believe that Arvind Kejriwal is some kind of a 21st century avatar of Lord Krishna who has descended upon Hastinapur to rid it of its Kauravas and their evil empire.
There is a tremendous amount of goodwill for the new CM and his team and the media is gushing forth like a torrent predicting the Aam Aadmi wave in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The journalists whose psephological exertions went so wrong have learnt nothing from that experience. In areas where angels fear to tread they are rushing in with new calculations and making bold declarations like the BJP would have more to fear from AAP than from the Congress. It is as if they can see the curvature of the arc with absolute clarity. But, as Ms Solnit writes, it would be much better if we looked backward to study the arc that originated with Anna Hazare’s first fast at Jantar Mantar.
The UPA’s own Olympus Mons erupted with repeated magma flows in the shape of Adarsh, 2G, CWG, Antrix-Devas, Tatra Trucks, Coalgate, and a number of other explosions, and in the absence of any tectonic plate movement within the Congress party, the crust at the top just became thicker and thicker. However, it also became possible for people to see the curvature of the arc of moral injustice, and when Anna Hazare decided to sit on a fast demanding the institution of a Jan Lokpal; he touched a raw nerve in almost every citizen of the land. The overwhelming response from the people was quite infectious and the contours of a moral revolution were just getting outlined. The movement that began on 5th April 2011 at Jantar Mantar soon grew into a mass civic protest across urban India. By keeping politicians of all hues at bay, it derived a moral legitimacy that similar protest movements had failed to garner in the past. But, it would have been obvious to even a child that a government, neck-deep in corruption, would never agree to the proposals put forward by civil society; that it would resort to deception, lies, subterfuge, disinformation, and physical coercion to crush the movement; exactly how the Manmohan Singh government responded to Anna Hazare’s challenge. It had no compunction in orchestrating a debate in the Lok Sabha and then adopting, what was euphemistically called a “sense of the house” resolution on three key issues raised by Anna Hazare. The “sense of the house” resolution moved by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee on 27th August 2011, read: “This House agrees ‘in principle’ on following issues — (i) Citizen’s Charter, (ii) lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and (iii) establishment of Lokayukta in the States; And further resolves to forward the proceedings of the House to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice while finalizing its report.” The Standing Committee, we know, is where all inconvenient demands are sent for ceremonial burial. Anna Hazare broke his fast the next day, and from then began his journey into obscurity and irrelevance.
Political battles cannot be fought non-politically. Whoever advised Anna against converting the protest movement into a new political association had obviously never been a student of history. By dissociating his movement from Arvind Kejriwal and denouncing the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party, Anna Hazare has failed to see the truth behind moral pretensions. Political realism, as defined by Robert Musil, the Austrian writer, in his novel, “The Man Without Qualities” is a “sensibility driven by needs rather than by ideas.” Robert D. Kaplan, in his essay “Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism” writes: “Realism is thus about deftly playing the hand that has been dealt you. It is not exciting or inspiring. Journalistic careers are rarely built on embracing realism, though policy-making careers often are.”
To his credit, Arvind Kejriwal and his associates never hesitated from playing the hand that had been dealt to them. Drunk with power, the likes of Manish Tiwari taunted him to fight the government electorally. A party that had an Olympian mountain of funds at its command had nothing to fear from an upstart with practically no money, no big names, no experience in government, and no history of sacrifice. The challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party was laughed away. The Congress’s hand would squash AAP like a mosquito! For the Congress, it was the BJP, with its new leader, that was the principal opponent. The BJP, on its part too, laughed away the challenge of AAP and brought all its guns out to focus on the leadership of the Congress party. The results on 8th December would shock them both; the Congress into a disbelieving numbness and the BJP into a mental stupor. The only person who deftly played the hand that the voters of Delhi had dealt him was Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP suddenly found itself in a moral bind that prevented it from seeking to form the government with its 32 legislators, refusing to purchase the support of 4 MLAs. The Congress, seeing an opportunity to regain some relevance, offered unconditional support to help AAP form the government. When Kejriwal rejected this support and then followed it up with 18 conditions, many like me thought that he was becoming arrogant and unreasonable. What appeared to be even more exasperating was his plan to go back to the people of Delhi to obtain a “sense of the mohalla sabhas” before deciding on whether to form the government or not. But, actually, on reflection, this was a master-stroke. Having obtained an overwhelming support from the people for forming the government, Kejriwal has stymied any Congress attempts at leveraging its support to obtain some quid pro quo from him. By shifting the onus of the decision to form the government from his shoulders to those of the masses, Kejriwal has deftly absolved himself of any moral turpitude in taking the outside support of a tainted Congress. The Congress is now caught, proverbially, in a cleft stick. For all the noises it is now making about its support not being “unconditional” it is left with no other choice but to keep supporting the government. It will not be able to trip Kejriwal on policy-making or on personal credibility. Kejriwal will also have to open investigations into the various corruption scandals of the Sheila Dikshit government, as it is something he has been speaking about all the time. If the Congress withdraws support it will stand thoroughly discredited and convicted in public perception. One never knows where the investigations may lead and how high they may point?
The curve of the moral arc that began to become perceptible from April 2011 is inexorably pointing towards justice, although, it’s final resting place is still lost in the dim clouds of the future. What the future holds can be terrible or miraculous; the seed is sown and we shall wait with anticipation to see what fruit it sprouts. Whether AAP should go national and try to achieve a sizeable voice in the next Lok Sabha, or consolidate its position and aim for 2019, is a question that will be answered soon. For now, by tracing its path backwards, one can hope that its trajectory will remain focused in the direction of justice and will not get flattened like the Congress’s Olympus Mons that is stagnant and immobile at the top.
By Vijaya Dar
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