(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
One of the major myths of our country’s popular culture is about the power of the common man. The belief that if one day the common man decides to finally rise and take on the system, nothing would stand in his way. The system, hitherto unresponsive, would suddenly start bending for him. Judges would remember their oath to uphold the rule of law. Lawyers would remember their responsibilities as an officer of the court. The police would suddenly start protecting the very people they were bullying till about a day ago. And all the corrupt political leaders would be left stranded at the mercy of the benevolent mob.
We’ve seen this narrative used in countless movies, novels and teevee shows. That’s what passes for ‘social justice’ in this country. One solitary person taking on some of the major evils that prevail in society and winning. However, the ‘winning’ part of the story never happens in real life. Though, not for want of trying! There have been many people who have promised to take one for the team and be the David to all the Goliaths. Alas, they become a Goliath themselves or die trying.
The latest representative of this narrative and the country’s new false hero is one Arvind Kejriwal. He’s spent the past two years crafting a narrative for himself as a crusader against corruption. First behind the scenes, using an old man with ancient ideas as his prop, then dumping the old man when he became a nuisance and becoming the face of the movement himself. He then turned the fledging movement into a political party, pretending to do it for the sake of the people even though this was his plan all along. He spent the last few weeks repackaging information already available in the public domain as a ‘new exposé’ against members of the establishment, thus earning himself the badge of a crusader in the eyes of the uninformed. This week, he finally officially launched his political party, naming it after the common man. Just like the most oppressive republics have the word ‘democratic’ in their official name, the main concern of party of the common man is the self-aggrandisement of its convenor.
In fact, having a duplicitous name is not the only idea Kejriwal has stolen from oppressive regimes. His propaganda skills were on display when he took to twitter to complain about being placed under a media blackout. Unless they never sent me the memo changing the meaning of the word “blackout” to ‘having huge visibility,’ this was simply not true. Not only was Kejriwal giving one-on-one interviews on prime-time, but every major news channel had a report about his party on their main broadcasts. Why was the media-politics nexus victimising Arvind Kejriwal by putting him on teevee everyday?
Another myth Kejriwal perpetuates is that there is no ‘common man’ in Parliament. The truth is that a lot of our politicians come from very ‘humble beginnings.’ Mulayam Singh Yadav used to be a wrestler in a small town in UP. Sushil Kumar Shinde used to be a bailiff in a Solapur sessions court. Manmohan Singh used to be a professor at Delhi University. And yet, they (and others like them) couldn’t help but be tempted by the trappings of power. Our politicians are not some special species born and bred in secret and suddenly appointed to lord over us as if it were their birthright. People vote for them because they identify with them. We believe that if we elect someone just like us to be the captain, the ship will always run in the right direction.
Kejriwal’s version of political reform is to delegate all important decisions to informal village panchayats and local resident welfare associations. Because according to him, that’s where the wisdom lies. People should be able to choose which law they want to follow or not. Or as members of the Khap Panchayat put it “What is a law and why is it trying to marry my daughter?” Will not the most corrupt & vile people inhabit these ‘noble’ bodies? Will they not suffer from the same problems as the Lok & Vidhan Sabhas? Also, in a country where a random sample of five people wouldn’t be able to decide upon what to order for lunch, Kejriwal wants to consult everyone on important foreign policy decisions. Too many cooks never spoiled the broth, apparently.
Even the economic policies advocated by the Kejriwal politburo are based on magical thinking. They want the prices of commodities to be fixed by ‘the people.’ Let consumers decide what they want to pay for goods & services. Just put a tip-jar outside your shop and watch the money roll in because if there is one thing people in India like to do, it’s paying for things they want to purchase!
If the common man is a superhero, then reality is his kryptonite.