G R O U N D   Z E R O

Kejriwal out, but certainly not down
Apart from inflation and unemployment, curbing corruption is a major issue in this election. Kejriwal’s exit may appear opportunistic, but let’s not sweep away the cause for which AAP came to power.
Raj Chengappa

Arvind Kejriwal is out (as Delhi’s Chief Minister) but he is certainly not down. It is also too early to write off the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which he heads, despite its widely criticised exit from the seat of power in Delhi. With Kejriwal it was always a question of when he would go, not whether, and he did it quicker than most expected. The vilification that he was subjected to on prime-time debates on TV though seemed to have missed the fact that his was not the shortest reign.

Arvind Kejriwal delivering his parting speech in the Assembly
Arvind Kejriwal delivering his parting speech in the Assembly.

At the Centre, that record is held by the BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee (barring interim prime-ministerships of Gulzarilal Nanda in the ’60s). Vajpayee in his first term as Prime Minister in 1996 lasted only 13 days. If Kejriwal’s act was termed irresponsible, Vajpayee blotted his record by ordering a series of nuclear tests within days of taking over as PM at the head a coalition government that had not yet proven its majority in Parliament. Given the major international repercussions such a test would have caused, Vajpayee should have waited till he had the confidence of the House. Vajpayee resigned when he realised he couldn’t muster a majority but by then the nuclear devices had already been lowered into the shafts in Pokharan. Deve Gowda, who took over as PM soon after, ordered them to be removed despite pleas by scientists, including Abdul Kalam, to go ahead with the tests.

Kejriwal pulled out over what he believed was a just cause after his valiant attempt to have the Jan Lokpal Bill introduced in the Delhi Assembly failed to pass muster. Lest we forget, along with Anna Hazare, Kejriwal was a tireless campaigner for the Lokpal Bill which finally became an Act of Parliament on January 1, 2014. If he parted ways with Anna it was because, as he told me in an interview last week, he felt he had to join politics to get the Jan Lokpal Bill with the teeth he wanted.

In that interview Kejriwal had expressed his frustration over his ability to change the deep-rooted system in government. The short period at the helm taught him that “the vested interests are huge; they are all across — political, commercial, bureaucratic and even in the media.” As an example he said, “The Prevention of Corruption Act is being diluted in a major way. That Bill is being presented in Parliament, but the media is busy wondering why Arvind has taken a three-bedroom house or a four-bedroom house; why has he changed his sweater or sandals.”

The media, as Kejriwal is realising, is as fickle as Dame Fortune is with its roller-coaster likes and dislikes. But to its credit the media, along with the judiciary and non-governmental organisations like the ones headed by Hazare and Kejriwal, has acted as an initiator, catalyst and force multiplier in the crusade against corruption in India in the past decade. That movement caught the public imagination and forced the introduction of a cluster of legislation that will provide an enabling legal architecture to cut at the roots of corruption.

The Lokpal Act, 2014, gives the requisite independence and wherewithal to the institution to act against the highest in the land, including the Prime Minister. Kejriwal’s Jan Lokpal Bill was designed to cast the anti-corruption net wider and make the punishments for the corrupt even stricter. Yet that is not enough. If the fight against corruption is to be strengthened then the over half a dozen legislation pending in Parliament need to be passed quickly. Rahul Gandhi has been pushing hard for their passage but has so far been thwarted.

Among the anti-corruption Bills pending clearance is one to protect whistleblowers who expose corruption in government. Then there is the Right of Citizens for Time-bound Delivery of Public Goods and Services and Grievances Redressal Bill. Along with the Right to Information Act , which has already empowered citizens to have access to information about decisions taken by the government, the right to services facilitated by e-governance would act as a major check against corrupt officials who harass the ‘aam aadmi’.

There are others Bills like the ones for Judicial Standards and Accountability; the Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations; the Enforcement of the Prohibition of Benami Transactions; Regulation and Transparency in Public Procurement; and the Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Property that if passed would equip anti-corruption crusaders with powerful legal weapons.

That is why Kejriwal and his compatriots will continue to be important players in the country’s political stage despite the contempt being heaped on them for their recent action of walking away from the Delhi Government. Apart from inflation and unemployment, curbing corruption has become a major issue in the upcoming General Election. Kejriwal’s exit may appear opportunistic to many but let’s not sweep away the cause for which AAP came to power. The fight against corruption is going to be long and hard; we need to continue to support the hands of those who are leading the charge.





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