Fleeing hot kitchen
Arvind Kejriwal could not stand the heat so he got out of the kitchen. As a means of self-preservation, this is reasonable. But what is feasible for a customer does not necessarily hold good for the chef. When you have acquired, through your own relentless efforts the responsibility of preparing the meal, heat sounds like an alibi to a hungry voter.
Every kitchen is hot. Food needs fire. The person who should understand this best is Kejriwal. He turned the heat up so sharply in the Congress kitchen that even the indomitable Sheila Dikshit got badly singed. But Dikshit took 15 years to get burnt. Kejriwal’s skin began to peel in just 49 days.
A kitchen also needs rules. India’s political diet is controlled by specifications laid down in the Constitution. Not everyone likes those provisions, some of which can be opaque, and others disputatious. But as long as they are there, we have to live by them. There is latitude. You can always amend statutes, but there again you have to go by the process. You cannot abandon the law simply because it does not fit the schedule of your ambitions.
Some superstar chefs demand the privilege of eccentricity, and people grant it as a tribute to their art. But theatrics cannot substitute for a meal, either. Chaos is not art. It may even be described as an absence of art.
The Indian Express headline on Kejriwal’s resignation said it all: the first act of his drama was over, and the curtain had risen on Act 2. Generally, by the second act, the audience knows whether they are watching a comedy or tragedy, but this drama will require another denouement before we know.
Kejriwal said recently that he had no desire to contest the coming general elections. For many customers, this was an offering that could only be digested with a pinch of salt. It is clear now that he wanted temporary power in Delhi only as a launching platform for space in the national arena. Delhi is simply too small for any gargantuan dream.
The Jan Lokpal Bill metamorphosed from a cause into an excuse. Moreover, this resignation drama had to be conducted quickly, for within another fortnight the schedule for elections will be announced.
One of Kejriwal’s perpetual dilemmas is that he needs to be star on the stage and agitating audience at the same time. This dual compulsion of simultaneous roles is creating an aura of schizophrenia around his persona as well as his politics. The mantle of power does not combine easily with a martyr’s robes.
Kejriwal succeeded in Delhi because he could convince the voter that it was possible for his incipient Aam Aadmi Party to come to power on its own. The Delhi canvas is small. It represents just seven seats in the Lok Sabha. It will be quite another matter convincing the nation’s electorate that he can get 272 seats. Even he cannot believe this.
He can, therefore, only position himself in a general election campaign as a spoiler whose only responsibility in Parliament will be to keep the others honest. As a starting position this has its merits.
But this is not the issue on which the fate of this general election will be determined. The voter wants government, not confusion, after five years of meandering non-performance. This is not going to be a good year for small parties, particularly those who are striking out on their own. Nor has Kejriwal’s stint as chief minister done him any good in the governance stakes. A few voters might want a prime minister who distributes largesse with political cynicism but sneers at everyone else in the business, and tilts continuously at the Constitution if it has the temerity to disagree with his holier-than-thou pronouncements.
This is a year when the country is wrapped in an economic crisis. The most important statistic is not in advertisements issued by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on shiny hoardings [all paid by your money, incidentally, since your taxes will pick up the bill].
It is a fact which crept into the front page on one recent morning, and disappeared: that jobs had grown by only 2 per cent over the last 10 years. This is what an economic crisis means for the young.
These are the problems thirsting for a solution. Corruption of course is an issue, and an extremely important one; but many states have chief ministers who cannot be accused of corruption. Voters want a Union government which can heal the economy as well. It is probably too late for Kejriwal to persuade voters that he has a route map towards more food on the table.
If you think the kitchen of a small state like Delhi was hot, check the temperature of the sauna called a national government. It makes you sweat without pause. History is full of heavyweights who strode into national office and walked sheepishly out as lightweights.