Politics is an essential but often maligned profession. However, it has some saint-like and egalitarian qualities. It is affected by no one. No one can change it. In the end, it changes everyone. Honest and well-intentioned individuals, social activists, teachers, lawyers, bureaucrats and many others jump into politics claiming to transform it. Alas, politics paints them all with the same brush and makes them look alike. It is the only profession that believes in and practises the dictum "all human beings are created equal".
The career trajectories over the last few years of two former bureaucrats, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, are examples of the great transformative power of politics.
Once upon a time, but not in the too distant past, Kejriwal and Bedi were the left and right hands of social activist Anna Hazare during the Jan Lokpal movement. Started under the India Against Corruption banner, the Jan Lokpal movement was a Charles Dickensian moment. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Ramlila Maidan had turned into India's Tahrir Square. It triggered the hope that things can change: the middle class can shed its lethargic attitude to politics, the youth still care for society, a motley of people can come together and sustain a movement and politicians can still be made accountable.
Realizing that the momentum was not with them, politicians relented, made compromises and called a special session of Parliament, but in the end, gave up nothing. With time, they managed to slow down the momentum of the movement and finally succeeded in vertically splitting India Against Corruption. Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi parted ways. Kejriwal decided to join politics to change it and launched Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with other movement leaders. Bedi vowed never to join politics and to keep supporting Anna Hazare and his movements.
AAP surprised its detractors, perhaps supporters too, with its success in the Delhi assembly polls of December 2013. Arvind Kejriwal went on to become the Delhi CM with Congress's support. Though the AAP government lasted only 49 days, each day was an experiment and demonstration of direct democracy in a city-state. Seeking public opinion through SMS to form a government, Kejriwal's decision to travel by Metro to take oath, threatening to disrupt the Republic Day parade, sitting on a dharna as the CM, sleeping on the road and in his car during the dharna, calling himself an "anarchist", AAP's was a never-seen-before government in India.
Having fulfilled his two key poll promises, giving free water and cutting power bills by half, and nothing much else to do due to limited numbers, Kejriwal decided to "sacrifice" the AAP government at the altar of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Now, Kejriwal was free to devote full time to the general election of 2014. Hoping for a repeat of his Delhi performance where he had defeated Sheila Dikshit, Kejriwal announced his decision to contest against Narendra Modi from Varanasi.
It appears that there is something about the Ganga and Varanasi. The very first plunge that Kejriwal took in the Ganga at Varanasi seemed to have transformed him into a typical politician. According to unverified reports, his decision to come out in green lungi after his bath in the Ganga was not spontaneous but a planned one. Kejriwal's visit to Sankatmochan and then stopping his campaign during azaan were subtle signs of a so-called aam aadmi turning into a professional politician.
AAP's drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls and his personal defeat in Varanasi had taken its toll on Kejriwal. The reality had dawned on Kejriwal: to survive in politics, one needs to be a politician.
Kejriwal 2.0 and AAP 2.0 are radically different from their earlier avatars. There is no more the pretence of being an aam aadmi by Kejriwal. AAP no longer believes in practising a different kind of politics. Kejriwal has realized that to fight and win an election, he needs funds and votes. No matter how, from whom and from where, money and voters should keep coming. Here are some examples which show that for Kejriwal and AAP, the Delhi assembly election is politics as usual:
- There is no more the "democratic facade" of getting 100 signatures from a constituency to be eligible to be an AAP candidate.
- The selection of candidates is behind closed doors. Winnability is the sole criterion to be an AAP candidate. Many party hoppers, turncoats and career politicians have got AAP tickets because of their winnability. The selection of candidates is reported to be the main reason for the Bhushans not being happy with Kejriwal.
- To raise funds, AAP has been hosting lunches and dinners with Kejriwal. The fee to attend these lunches and dinners varies from Rs 20,000 to about Rs 1 lakh. Whatever be the justification, it symbolizes the transformation of Kejriwal from an aam aadmi to a khas aadmi.
- Kejriwal is slamming BJP for mentioning his gotra in one of its advertisements. In a meeting with Delhi traders, Kejriwal himself invoked his "baniya" identity. By highlighting his "baniya" identity, Kejriwal has legitimized the politics of the Sakshi Maharajes and Owasis.
- An aam aadmi does not expect an invitation to attend a Republic Day parade. Neither does an "anarchist". For an anarchist, a Republic Day parade is nothing but a deliberate display of a state's might to instill fear among aam aadmis. Of course, if you consider yourself a former Delhi chief minister, then it will hurt if you are not invited. So, when Kejriwal complained about not being invited for this year's Republic Day parade, it was the inner voice of an ex-CM which got better of the former aam aadmi.
The AAP 1.0 was a kind of cooperative and every member had a sense of ownership. But politician Kejriwal has transformed AAP 2.0 into a corporate entity and appropriated its ownership. AAP now stands for "Arvind alone party" or "Arvind and party". For its supporters, AAP is still different from other parties. But the difference is only of degree and not of kind.
For Kiran Bedi, the last 13-14 months must have been very hard. While Kejriwal had managed to keep himself busy and in the limelight, Bedi must have been feeling left out. With Anna Hazare resigned to his dwindling popularity and relegated to Ralegan Siddhi, there were no more campaigns to run. Now, what to do? For an ambitious ex-bureaucrat, joining politics is the most natural career progression. When it comes to "serving the nation", Bedi can't look "selfish" and keep thinking about her vow of not to do anything with politics. So, here she is: the CM candidate of the BJP.
Politics has finally got its revenge on Kejriwal and Bedi. It has turned them into full-fledged politicians. Now, we are back to old-style electioneering and politics.
Come February 10, whoever — Kejriwal or Bedi — wins, it won't matter much. Politics will be the real winner.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.