Kejriwal emulates VP Singh, but 2014 is not 1987

Indian politics and India Inc have come a long way in the past two decades to be haunted by socialist slogans or dreams

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Ajay Singh | February 15, 2014


Arvind Kejriwal
Arvind Kejriwal

Those who are old enough to jog their memories of the 1980s would easily recall that the anti-industry political climate of those times was an outcome of VP Singh’s rebellion against prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. During his stint as finance minister, Singh asked tax sleuths to raid respected industrialists, detain them at any inconvenient moment.

Though Dhirubhai Ambani, then a rising star on the corporate firmament, was at the receiving end, even an industrialist like Kirloskar was detained by income-tax officials for hours on end despite his old age. Corporate India, then less muscular and influential than it is now, was left to fend for itself till the most respected constitutional expert of the time, Nani Palkhivala, took up cudgels on their behalf. He called it a witch-hunt by the finance minister to pursue his political agenda. Rajiv Gandhi too understood the sleight of hand behind the Singh’s moves and shifted him to the defence ministry. And this proved to be his nemesis as Singh went after the Bofors deal, tarnishing Rajiv Gandhi’s image permanently.

Arvind Kejriwal is no VP Singh and neither is Mukesh Ambani even a pale resemblance of Dhirubhai Ambani or the hapless Kirloskar. India Inc has grown and come to wield considerable, often disproportionate, clout on the country’s politics. There is much credence in Kejriwal’s remarks to the effect that Mukesh Ambani calls the Congress his “shop”. And for those who forgot the image of Pramod Mahajan lifting Dhirubhai’s portrait over his head, and saying he would love to be referred as Dhirubhai’s third son, would do well to recall the pictures of Narendra Modi and the Ambanis in a cosy company.

Of course, Indian politics and India Inc have come a long way in the past two decades to be haunted by socialist slogans or dreams. There appears a unique convergence of dreams and thinking between mainstream political parties and India Inc. Take, for instance, the flashy lifestyle of political leaders and their proclivity to hop on the most expensive jets for political travel – both to be matched only by top industrialists. Even they pursue the same dream of making India an economic superpower.

In such a scenario, Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party indeed strike a discordant note. As a chief minister, Kejriwal’s move to file an FIR against union petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily, Mukesh Ambani and others was a determined attempt to rekindle the spirit of the 1990s. He makes eminent sense when he says that government policies are tailored to suit the interests of corporate houses. There is much credence to his assertion that the BJP and the Congress are united in protecting the interests of these houses.

But the biggest question is: will he succeed in mobilising people’s opinion for evolution of an equitable and democratic system? It is quite doubtful. The reason for this scepticism about Kejriwal’s strategy stems from the fact that his pursuit of political power is characterised by an overdose of rhetoric and less by substance. This conforms to the pattern of all other political parties which use socialism as a fig leaf to hide their real pursuits.

Kejriwal too often refers to Mahatma Gandhi and also borrows from his lexicon. Gandhi had cordial, healthy and intimate relations with industrialists like the Tatas, Birlas and Bajajs. When Gandhi was quite unwell, Jamnalal Bajaj took him to his house for treatment. After a few days, Gandhi was so stifled by comforts and care that he virtually ran from Bajaj’s opulent house and went back to his hut. Gandhi’s antics only enhanced his moral authority in the eyes of Bajaj who always enjoyed his affection. Perhaps Kejriwal would do better to remember this anecdote instead of emulating VP Singh, who emerged like a flash in the pan in Indian politics and left behind him much confusion.

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