Despair cannot serve as a theme
This is the winter of despair. This is the spring of hope. India today cannot escape Charles Dickens. The economy is in a shambles. There is no governance. Forget governance, the nation’s Parliament has become a spectacle for the rest of the world. The Union Cabinet, the highest executive authority, is now a forum for squabbling. Taking the cue, the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party attempted to wink at the administrative and constitutional procedures. The move was not so much naive, as many will like to believe, but cunning one. In sum there is so deep-rooted confusion in the idea called governance that the political discourse has turned into a cacophony of conflicting voices. The democratic system in India has touched its nadir.
For some this despair provides them hope. They see an opportunity to add to this confusion by deriding the established institutions, systems and procedures and loudly proclaiming their righteousness. Aam Admi Party and its supremo Arvind Kejriwal are thriving on such a campaign. Indian media, mostly run by post midnight’s children and brought up on the staple knowledge from Google are impressed. They feel Kejriwal, by challenging the established, has the ability to build the nation anew. Didn’t someone say that to rebuild you must first dismantle the existing structure? What Kejriwal and his supporters are doing is to demolish the existing framework that helped the corrupt to thrive.
All who succeeded did so due to the corruption in the system. For Kejriwal the symbol of corruption is now India’s richest tycoon Mukesh Ambani. Thus the Aam Aadmi Party has declared its campaign theme: Remove Ambani and save the nation. For the first time in any nation a non-participating businessman has been positioned as the main opposition. This indeed is an ingenuous campaign theme of Arvind Kejriwal. For the uninitiated it is catchy. For the superficially knowledgeable this is justified. And for the minority, conversant on the matters relating to business, this is a curious spin.
Leaving the two strong views of the pro and anti Mukesh Ambani camps let us take it as a communication ploy. With one identified symbol Kejriwal is placing both Congress and BJP on the same boat, as the beneficiaries of Mukesh Ambani’s largesse. The other key message is how big business deprives the poor their rightful spoils. The later argument is somewhat more complicated than has been projected by Kejriwal. This needs an elementary appreciation of relative cost benefit of natural resource and its use. Thankfully Kejriwal’s target populations care a fig for such debates. As Dickens said this is the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief. The spin-doctors of Aam Admi feel that the ploy will win them support. There is a clever twist to the message. The brief period of seven weeks when Kejriwal was the Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi he painted the Tata run NDPL as willing to take over power distribution of the NCT as per his terms displacing the crooked Anil Ambani companies. Such messages found way into the media without a backing from the Tata group. Now taking up the elder Ambani on the issue of pricing of natural gas the party is just enlarging its political script. The key message is how hopelessly the existing system is entwined with the corrupt. By singling out the Ambanis, Aam Admi Party is trying to isolate the formidable business houses and win tacit approval from their rivals who, too, aspire to reach that height. Could it be an implicit effort to win electoral funding from the non-Ambani business houses? Is there an unstated message that unless they fall in line AAP will take on them as well? Elections are costly. One cannot fault Kejriwal and his team to fast-track their effort to raise funds for the parliament election.
There is a secondary message also in the campaign against MDA. Delhi’s LG Najeeb Jung had played a role in privatization of the Panna-Mukta oil field when he was a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum. The field went to Reliance-ONGC consortium. Also, Jung had been the director of energy research in the Reliance-run Observer Research Foundation. The presumption is whatever independent and well-considered decision the former vice chancellor of the Jamia-Millia-Islamia university takes has some link with Reliance. By attacking Mukesh Ambani AAP is trying to draw attention to the fact that the unconstitutionality of Kejriwal-led government on the Lok Pal Bill had been the creation of Mr. Jung at the behest of Reliance. Will the electorates accept this argument?
Had the issue of big business meddling in governance been so bewitching in election why did no other political party ever take it up? This includes, not only, national parties like BJP and Congress but also regional powers like Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Mayawati et al. The obvious answer from AAP will be these parties are all dependent on funding from the big business. Thus there is only one savior for democracy and this is the Aam Admi Party. By identifying Mukesh D Ambani as his principal target Arvind Kejriwal is pointing towards the uniqueness of his own fledging outfit.
Hope and despair are two sides of the same coin. Napoleon said that a leader is a dealer in hope. But instead of dealing on hope, the leader Arvind Kejriwal is dealing with despair. His adverse campaign against Mukesh Ambani is part of pinpointing him as the reason for the despair of the democratic system the nation has. In his inimitable manner Kejriwal has shunned all debates by asserting that his monologues are axioms, above dispute.
If governance is building a consensus of differing views and founding a base for a better tomorrow, Kejriwal’s method does not serve it. Economy cannot do without the fourth factor of production, the entrepreneur. Will the post midnight’s children realise this and help Kejriwal to opt for a course correction?
The author is a communication consultant