Praful Bidwai  (March 20, 2014)


All those who discounted the Aam Aadmi Party’s potential for stirring things up in national politics must revise their assessment after Arvind Kejriwal’s recent “inspection tour” of Gujarat. The issues he raised in the series of questions he posed to Narendra Modi ranged from corruption and sweetheart deals with Big Business, to power shortages, closure of industries and 800 farmers’ suicides.


This had the twin effect of demolishing Modi’s extravagant claims about “development” and highlighting the gross forms of crony capitalism that have driven most investment in Gujarat. The demolition job isn’t quite new: many Congress Chief Ministers, and even the BJP’s own Shivraj Singh Chouhan, have questioned Modi’s claims to unparalleled growth.

What is new is Kejriwal’s frontal attack, based on hard facts, on Modi’s collusion with business groups like the Ambanis, Tatas, Ruias and Gautam Adani. For instance, Modi transferred to them land acquired from vulnerable farmers at throwaway prices. He allowed Adani — whose wealth has multiplied 12-fold under Modi’s tenure — to evade environmental and coastal-zone clearances while building a private port which destroyed mangroves.


Kejriwal also reiterated charges concerning the overpricing of Krishna-Godavari gas to favour the Ambanis. Modi’s opponents have so far attacked him for his role in the 2002 pogrom, and for his development claims. But Kejriwal hit him where it hurts the most — abuse of power to coddle capital. This brings Modi down to earth and reduces him to just another venal, cynical politician who is complicit in the corporate capture of India’s political system, a growing menace to our democracy. That attack packs real punch.


This is evident from both ground reactions and media reports from Gujarat –and even more eloquently, from a hysterical statement issued by “concerned” citizens sympathetic to the Sangh Parivar, many of them connected with the far-Right Vivekananda International Foundation.


The statement launches a vitriolic attack on AAP without naming it. It says “the misinformation campaign unleashed by certain new political parties” aims to “ensure division” of the anti-UPA vote and thus to “electorally help the Congress…”. It accuses AAP of trying “to hoodwink the voters by tarnishing all political parties with the same, undifferentiated brush, making seemingly bland but dangerous statements that all parties are similar.” It claims the BJP has a “clear-headed and credible leadership”.  It links AAP to “fissiparous tendencies” in Kashmir and condemns it for “rank opportunism and self-confessed anarchism.”


Although VIF calls itself “independent and non-partisan”, it was launched  in 2009 by the Vivekananda Kendra, itself linked since the 1970s to RSS members. In 2011, VIF backed the “anti-corruption” crusade of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, whose team then included Kejriwal! Besides former intelligence and diplomatic officials, VIF’s faculty includes pro-Hindutva social scientists who blithely support bans on books like Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History.


The fact that Kejriwal has rattled VIF shows that Modi is vulnerable. AAP’s real value doesn’t lie in the number of seats it wins the coming election–which may be limited — and not even in the votes it takes from the BJP, but in its ability to puncture Modi’s “56-inch chest” image and manufactured charisma. But this means AAP must keep up its anti-cronyism campaign, acknowledging that its principal adversary isn’t the Congress.

This column has often underscored AAP’s limitations and flaws. It disowns ideology, and doesn’t recognize the centrality of secularism/communalism, poverty, inequality, class/caste divisions or gender justice.


But it can nevertheless make a major contribution to society and politics if it stays on the anti-cronyism track. (The author is a writer, columnist, and a professor at the Council for Social Development, Delhi)

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