“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…..”
Thus begins Charles Dickens’ famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, with the two cities undergoing diametrically opposite experiences. Although the action in the story takes place in the last quarter of the 18th century, when the novel was published in 1859, Dickens goes on to write in the same paragraph that “the period was so far like the present period..”
A Tale of Two Parties
The Delhi assembly election results declared on 8th December 2013, and the non-stop political theater in the national capital thereafter, revived the memory of these opening lines from Dickens that had long ago been consigned to the archives. The period he writes about is “so far like the present period” in the two cities of Delhi – the city of the powerful elite represented by the Central Government, and the city of the Aam Aadmi represented by Arvind Kejriwal and his fledgling outfit in the Delhi Assembly. Those who have read the novel will instantly recall the characters of the evil Marquis St. Evremonde, the uncle of the protagonist, Charles Darnay, on the one side, and Sydney Carton, the quick-witted and sharp English barrister, who eventually sacrifices himself on the guillotine and emerges as the true hero of the novel.
The Congress party and Arvind Kejriwal are so diametrically opposite that the temporary marriage engineered by the former could not have lasted even the honeymoon period. When, 49 days later, it ended in an acrimonious divorce, there could not have been anyone who would have expressed astonishment at the turn of events. I was one of those who had found fault with Kejriwal for having accepted the support of the Congress and formed the government in Delhi, and wrote so in my post “AAP Post Elections: AK 28 is Shooting from the Lip.” However, I soon realized that Kejriwal had deftly played the cards that had been dealt him, and instead of running away from the field, like the BJP did, he accepted the challenge and decided to ride the tiger. (Read my post “Aam Aadmi Party’s Arc of Political Realism.”)
The events have been discussed so threadbare in the press and the electronic media that I felt that any addition from me to this cacophony would lend no meaningful substance to the discussions. While the Delhi Assembly was lurching from one crisis to another, the Central Government led by the Congress was hell-bent upon breaking Andhra Pradesh into two halves, riding rough shod over the wishes of many of its own legislators, plunging Parliamentary standards to new lows. MPs armed with knives and pepper sprays were seen fighting in the well of the Lok Sabha, creating a new history in our 60-odd years of Parliamentary Democracy. As Dickens says, it is indeed “the worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity, the season of darkness, and the winter of despair.”
The Absolute Demise of the Congress
The Congress, I believe, has reached the nadir of its degeneration, and is now fighting its last battle for survival. One can feel the desperation in its ranks and all its bravado has evaporated. Its spokespersons in the media look resigned and listless. Its Vice President’s TV non-interview with Times Now was perhaps the proverbial last nail in its coffin. There is no future with him. The Congress had suffered a humiliating defeat in 1977 after the darkness of The Emergency, but, as Tavleen Singh had then observed, there was Indira Gandhi who knew how to manipulate public opinion, and she was sure that the Congress under her would soon be back in the saddle. There is no such solace now. Sonia Gandhi is a spent force, notwithstanding her mysterious illness, and for those who might have rested their hopes on Priyanka, the unhealthy weight of her husband’s doings is enough to make her a non-starter. The breaking of the ranks has already begun, the rout will soon follow. The long absence of internal democracy and a committed cadre will eventually disintegrate the party as minor regional satraps like Kiran Reddy and even Suresh Kalmadi will declare their independence from the centre and float their own outfits, like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Bannerjee and Jaganmohan Reddy have done in the past. There are still a few columnists left who are unable to come to terms with a Congress-less India and they keep hoping that the party will somehow reinvent itself and institute internal elections and reforms. One can only feel sorry for these sentimentalists. They do not realise that the Congress today is a leaderless horde, and to expect this horde to reinvent itself into a dynamic organism like the Congress of the Nehru-Shastri era is nothing but wishful thinking. To have milquetoasts like Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister for ten years, and A. K. Antony as the Defence Minister for eight years, tells a tale of its own. The Congress cupboard is completely bare of political talent and consists only of abject sycophants and parasites who cannot survive even for one day on their own.
Manipulation of the Public
The many events that happened during the Aam Aadmi Party’s government in Delhi have evoked different responses from different people. The Law Minister’s finger-wagging, the Chief Minister’s midnight dharna, Prashant Bhushan’s remarks on the presence of the security forces in Kashmir, and other such unconventional acts led to the media and some people calling Kejriwal an anarchist – a quintessential political agent-provocateur who is more comfortable agitating in the streets than in an office of responsibility. The media, which is a part of the crony-capitalist edifice created by the Congress, went to town with manufactured stories on how AAP had failed on all the promises it had made to the people, and how it was trying to shy away from the task of governance. The spotlight and the camera were continuously focused on select images that could be interpreted in a damaging way. The coverage of the confrontation with the Delhi Police was held up as an example of high-handedness by the AAP Minister. The role of the Police having ignored the many complaints of the residents and the fact that it continued to defy the Minister without adequate reason, was completely glossed over. A senior journalist like Shekhar Gupta lost no time in pouring scorn over Kejriwal’s political thoughts in his National Interest column: “Arvind Chitra Katha” published in The Indian Express on February 8th. Calling Arvind Kejriwal’s little pamphlet, Swaraj, that he wrote in 2012, a “scary little manifesto” that has been inspired by “Chandamama history,” Gupta at once trivializes the entire Aam Aadmi movement, makes fun of the mohalla sabhas, and lampoons Kejriwal’s desire to bring about meaningful change in governance. Kejriwal’s Swaraj is treated as if it were the Red Book of Mao or the Communist Manifesto – works that would brook no comment or change. Having decided that Kejriwal was an interloper who did not have the genes or the bloodline of the natural-born ruling class, the writer pronounces him unsuitable for supping at the high table reserved for the Gandhis and their kind. The media has continuously made fun of his dress sense and the muffler that he wore outdoors during the severe Delhi winter also became an object of ridicule for it.
Learning from Gandhi’s Experiments with Truth
RajMohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi joins AAP. pic.twitter.com/yrLYreD7WM
— Aam Aadmi Party (@AamAadmiParty) February 22, 2014
In their hurry to denounce and discredit this unknown intruder, most of the established writers have missed the point that Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party are not finished products but works in progress. Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography is actually the story of his experiments with truth. The recent events in Delhi made me revisit Gandhi’s story to read how he confronted similar situations. I found that Gandhi’s ideas were in a state of continuous flux; he analysed each event microscopically and came to a decision only after considerable thought. He does not gloss over the deficiencies and defects in his behavior, but instead subjects them to severe and unsparing examination. He takes the reader through his thought processes, explaining why he preferred a particular course of action against another. Gandhi began with a firm belief that the British Empire was good for India, and it was this belief that made him volunteer his services to Britain’s war effort in the First World War. He was quick to realize that he had made a “Himalayan miscalculation” when he asked the peasants of Kheda district to launch their civil disobedience movement prematurely. His book is full of such doubts and misgivings, and the impression one gets at the end is that Gandhi was constantly searching for answers as no single solution was likely to fit the multiple problems of a nation that was so diverse in its composition. Little gems like: “a man of truth must also be a man of care,” “morality is the basis of things, and that Truth is the substance of all morality,” and “even differences prove helpful, where there are tolerance, charity and truth” abound in his book. Gandhi was constantly revisiting and revising his ideas and thoughts and modifying them as they were examined under different circumstances. His entire life until the day it was cut short by an assassin’s bullets was one of examination, and one cannot predict with any degree of certainty how India would have evolved had he not been violently removed so soon after independence.
A Step in the Right Direction
I am not saying that Arvind Kejriwal is another Gandhi in the making. Perhaps the country and the economy have moved on too far for a Gandhi of the 1940’s to be relevant today. The charkha and the loin cloth can no longer be the symbols of change and progress. Similarly, the enemy today is not an external Imperial power, against whom the diverse groups could be temporarily unified, but the domestic power-hungry politician, the avaricious administrator, the corrupt businessman, the compromised media person, and the religious rabble-rouser. All of them have been despoiling the country, creating divisions where none existed, demolishing institutions of governance in the service of dynastic dispensations, thereby creating a population of people for whom self comes before service. The country needs a different type of revolution, different from the kind that was ushered in by Bhagat Singh and his comrades, as also different from the kind that Gandhi launched. In fact, Gandhi gives us a hint as to what kind of revolution is really needed. He writes that “anything that helped India to get rid of the grinding poverty of her masses would in the same process also establish Swaraj.” Arvind Kejriwal’s “Swaraj” too is a tentative first step for a man getting into public life, and I am sure his ideas will also go through the churning process as he comes more and more in contact with the masses and their problems. It would be defeatist and self-destructive to consider his movement and the Aam Aadmi Party as a flash in the pan. He has used the Jan Lokpal issues adroitly to force the Congress to dissolve the mismatched alliance. The BJP too has missed a great opportunity by not helping him to table the proposed bill. The courts were, after all, examining the validity of the Home Ministry’s directive!
In keeping the Delhi assembly in suspended animation, the Center has displayed acute myopia, and its hopes that the Aam Aadmi Party will disappear into oblivion due to attrition, are ill-founded. There is no hope that this legislative assembly will be able to provide a stable government to Delhi. The BJP is short of majority and having stated that it will not encourage defections, has ruled itself out of contention. AAP with 27 legislators is also similarly handicapped. There is no alternative but to hold fresh elections. These can be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. It is the Congress which is destined towards political oblivion and no amount of trickery will save it from its fate. Gandhi at the conclusion of his story had this brilliant piece of advice for the party and for each one of us: “So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him.” Arvind Kejriwal, in this respect, is certainly much closer to Gandhi than the scion of the family that has appropriated his surname.
Bapu’s grandson shuns Congress, joins AAP http://t.co/Awkmo9dKHa
— Times of India (@timesofindia) February 21, 2014
So, at these times, instead of crying over lost opportunities, we will perhaps do better to look ahead and try to convert the doom and gloom into “the best of times, the age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, the season of light, and the spring of hope.”
By Vijaya Dar