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Kejriwal, Mr Clean Version 3.0, and the Myth of a Graft-Free India

Recent events involving AAP show that Kejriwal’s own standards of ethics could devour him, writes Santosh Kumar.

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Recent events involving AAP show that Kejriwal’s own standards of ethics could devour him. (Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)

Ethics was central to Gandhian politics. Not as a claim to superior personal morality but as a deep philosophical recognition of human frailties and the problems caused by them. Therefore, emphasis was on human efforts of cleansing — internal as well as external. These endeavours delivered sharp political weapons such as fasts, Gramodhar, improvement of Dalit lives and many more.

From Rajiv to Kejriwal

The first Mr Clean was, ironically, Rajiv Gandhi. The reasons for our initial belief in him being an honest politician were quite simplistic. First, he showed no interest in politics earlier and, therefore, he must be a good person. Secondly, he came across as a well-groomed nice guy.

Shah Bano episode, the defamation Bill, VP Singh’s transfer from the finance to the defence ministry after raids by him on the Ambanis and the uncovering of the Bofors scandal in the defence ministry robbed us of our first Mr Clean.

That marked the entry of VP Singh, Mr Clean Version 2. He had an equally short political life as Mr Clean Version 1. His political career was washed away by the waves of mandal and kamandal.

Thereafter, we had two decades of endless corruption scandals worth lakhs of crores which made Bofors look like small change. We needed another Mr Clean. Kejriwal filled that void.

After 18 months of his government, while participating in the ceremonies of canonisation of Mother Teresa, he was being de-canonised as a symbol of clean politics by home-made videos. Self-made sex CDs and self-made degrees have transferred his ministers from the Delhi Secretariat to Tihar Jail.

His own party men have been busy making CDs of his ministers and senior functionaries accepting bribes.

Why do these leaders, who have had meteoric rise, last just a little longer than meteorites? Is it the nature of the political process or is it human nature itself?

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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia during the release of <i>Arvind Kejriwal and The Aam Admi Party: An Inside Look</i> written by Pran Kurup, in New Delhi,  19 July, 2016.  (Photo:IANS)
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia during the release of Arvind Kejriwal and The Aam Admi Party: An Inside Look written by Pran Kurup, in New Delhi, 19 July, 2016. (Photo:IANS)
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Politics Based on Ethics

Let us first examine the question of human nature. Any claim of absolute personal morality is likely to fail simply because we are humans and, thus, fallible. I am not trying to assert that politics has to be devoid of ethics. Political ethics is essential for our survival and well-being.

However, any claim of superior personal virtues of a Mr Clean, whatever the version, is a conceited and false claim and is bound to fail, sooner rather than later.

Political ethics has to be founded on the basis of a collective endeavour to fight the devil, within and outside. A political organisation is established because individuals have limitations of strength and morality. Therefore, the collaboration of like-minded people is needed to transform the individuals involved to change the society. That is what Gandhi set out to do. That is why lakhs of talented young and old volunteers joined together to form the Aam Aadmi Party.

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Kejriwal Disappointed Us

Arvind Kejriwal as a leader had to set up processes where the people who joined the party improved themselves and the better among them moved to different positions to meet the challenges before the society.

He did precisely nothing in this regard. When the occasion came for a serious debate in the National Council of Aam Admi Party, he used it to do a Hindi heartland style booth capturing of the forum to throw out Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bushan.

As per Kejriwal, because he had 24-karat gold morality, he could have frauds and his chamchas in the cabinet and still revolutionise the society. His superior personal morality could perform this miracle. This claim was bound to fall apart.

His personal fallibility is not being examined here. What is important is to look at the larger processes. This takes me to the question of the nature of our public life and corruption-free politics.

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Devoured by Own Standards of Morality

Anti-corruption campaign in Indian politics is a tiger which, if not handled dexterously, is likely to eat the person who rides it. The examples of Rajiv Gandhi and VP Singh are before us. Kejriwal may meet the same fate though it is early days for him.

We can have leaders who can give their lives to quietly clean public life. However, the moment they assert stridently that they would clean public life, they would have sown the seeds of their failure.

The reasons are manifold. Corruption has penetrated our life and institutions so deeply that any loud assertion to get rid of it makes all vested interests gang up against the person who claims to do so. They are easier to challenge if they have friends like Quattrocchi or ministers like Jitender Tomar.

In India, as it exists today, to deliver a corruption-free government is the biggest challenge. The relatively easier deliverables are employment, development and other such things. They will be seen as delivered even if done in a staggered way. Corruption-free government on the other hand has to be delivered hundred percent.

Any small blemish can make the delivery impossible. Therefore, corruption has to be fought, but possibly quietly.

A clean image of the leadership which is delivering employment or development has to be an understated message. It is difficult to sustain it as your USP for a long period of time. Any shrill message about absolutely spotless Mr Clean is bound to ensure his downfall. The downfall may be faster if his ministers/senior leaders are corrupt and silly, making videos of each other with money and women.

(The writer is a senior Supreme Court and Delhi High Court lawyer. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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