Governance a casualty of confrontationist politics
The contrast between the two main opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Delhi could not have been more stark. On one side is the 130-year-old Congress, the so-called Grand Old Party whose grandeur has begun to fray at the edges. On the other is the new kid on the block, the Aam Admi Party (AAP), which is just over two years old.
Probably because of its youth, the AAP displays a kind of aggression which, in the last few days, has crossed all limits of decency with its leader, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a coward and a psychopath following a raid by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the Delhi secretariat. To this date, Kejriwal hasn’t withdrawn his remarks, presumably because it is not in his nature to do so.
Throughout his career of a few years as a public figure, his combativeness has been the most distinctive feature of his persona. It has also won him not inconsiderable support among mainly the lower middle classes because of the belief that he is a fearless fighter against corruption. His diatribes against the Congress and personally against industrialist Mukesh Ambani are noteworthy in this context.
Kejriwal has been engaged in running battles with both Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Police Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi over the inadequate powers, in his view, of the Delhi government. Now, the chief minister has made the prime minister and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley his targets. Perhaps he wants to get his own back for Modi having once quoted the AAP leader’s claim of being an anarchist to advise him to join the Naxalites in the jungle.
Even if Kejriwal receives some support for castigating the CBI for acting at the Modi government’s behest - as has come from Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee - his abusive diatribes against the prime minister have undermined his standing to a considerable extent. This setback may be the reason why he is now concentrating more on Jaitley for the latter’s suspected involvement in financial irregularities in the Delhi and District Cricket Association.
But, as Jaitley has pointed out, the charges - of which he claims he was cleared by the Manmohan Singh government - are meant to divert attention from the allegedly shady financial deals of Kejriwal’s principal secretary which led to the CBI raid. The murkiness of the entire affair is obvious but, to the average person, what will be highly disconcerting is that in the midst of these personal and political battles, the governance of both the country and of the state of Delhi is bound to suffer.
With the Parliament held hostage by the warring MPs and the shadow cast over the Delhi government by the CBI, neither can Modi push forward his legislative programme nor can the chief minister focus on the nitty-gritty of routine administration. Meanwhile, the air pollution in Delhi continues get worse while the city earns the infamy of being the rape capital with 1,813 incidents in 2014 - the highest in the country - compared to 1,441 in the previous year.
It is now clear that the goods and services law will miss the deadline of being enacted by April next year, although it is being supported by an increasing number of parties, of which the latest backers are the Janata Dal-United, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress.
However, it is not the AAP which poses the main hindrance to its passage in parliament, but the Congress which has apparently made up its mind to stall Modi’s development plans at any cost lest their enactment boosts the government’s image. Hence Jaitley’s poser to the party of Jawaharlal Nehru about the “legacy” it wants to leave behind. But the legacy about which there will be greater concern is the deterioration in the conduct of politicians.
For one, they do not seem to mind holding parliament to ransom, thereby compelling the government to wonder whether the time has come when the country has to be run via executive decisions rather than legislative action.
For another, the kind of language which Kejriwal has used - and which was resorted to by a Union Minister who called Modi’s opponents “haramzade”or illegitimate offspring - point to a depressing lowering of the calibre of today’s politicians. The description of media personnel as “presstitudes” by another union minister, Gen. V.K. Singh (retd), falls in the same shocking category.
It is possible that the feud between the BJP and the AAP is the outcome of the fact that while the former is still unable to digest the fact of its massive defeat nearly a year ago at the hands of a fledgling party, the AAP suffers from an inferiority complex over the Delhi government’s lack of powers compared to other states. It wants to hide this feeling of inadequacy with arrogance and abuse. The two parties, led mostly by those belonging to the urban middle class, also have a streak of righteousness which makes them prickly.
Although the BJP is no longer the party with a difference, it retains some of that earlier hauteur while the AAP’s self-image is that of an outfit of angels intent on cleansing corruption. Such haughtiness cannot but lead to confrontations.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are strictly personal)