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The backlash against Kejriwal

RASHEEDA BHAGAT
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Kejriwal’s broom attracts a lot of mud. — Kamal Narang
Kejriwal’s broom attracts a lot of mud. — Kamal Narang

The growing appeal of Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party has triggered smear campaigns by opponents.

Politics, especially in countries such as ours, is a dirty game and politicians have to face a lot of mudslinging, including those who enter politics to clean up the system. So the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, who struck gold on his debut in the Delhi Assembly election, is getting it in the neck from all directions.

Expectedly, the BJP, the single largest party in Delhi whose interest the AAP hurt the most by stopping its surefire march towards power after a hiatus of 15 long years, was the most strident. So when the AAP formed the government with Congress support — the same party led by Sheila Dikshit that the AAP had vowed to dethrone because of its corruption, arrogance and what have you — the attacks were virulent.

On Twitter, for the last few weeks, saffron supporters have been attacking Kejriwal with pictures, video clips, and so on, showing him as a “hypocrite” who had vowed first never to transform his “movement for clean governance” into a political party. In response to questions on forming a government with the Congress’ support immediately after the Delhi election results were declared, he had said: “Hum Congress ka support kaise le sakte hei?” All these are documented in different forms on various social media platforms with additions such as “First no security; then 3 layers of security”, no to government accommodation, vehicles, and the like.

Even as the AAP announced its ambitious plan to contest 300 Lok Sabha seats and some prominent people started joining it in different parts of India, the attacks became more vicious. Over the weekend the very sarcastic #YoKejriwalSoHonest was the topmost trend on Twitter India and under it ugly charges were hurled at Kejriwal and the AAP. For instance UglyUPA tweeted “#Yo KejriwalSoHonest that he will now demand that Delhi be declared independent of India as a new country called AAPistan”. The reference was obviously to AAP leader Prashant Bhushan’s stance that if necessary Kashmiris should be allowed self-determination.

That the party had distanced itself from Bhushan’s position swiftly was drowned in the din attacking Kejriwal. Similarly, Congress supporters are also gunning for the activist-turned-politician.

Middle classes’ hero

These vicious attacks are coming because Kejriwal has caught the attention of the educated middle class so completely that wherever you go these days, the discussion is invariably on how many seats the AAP will get in Lok Sabha.

His political acumen combined with his uncanny ability to gauge the public mood and his mantra of “participative politics” has touched a soft spot in millions of aching hearts… aching from the huge ride politicians have taken them on over long years.

Last weekend I happened to be in Coimbatore and met a large group of people. Surprisingly, there was only passing interest in or mention of the possibility of the AIADMK sweeping the Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu.

Even more surprising, not a word was mentioned about Alagiri’s latest spat with brother Stalin, and the initial spurning by dad Karunanidhi before making up with a photo op for the media. It seemed as though the DMK has been written off… at least for now.

In keeping with the general presumption that the media knows all about political trends and can accurately gauge the janta’s mood, a plethora of questions were directed at me on Kejriwal’s chances in the Lok Sabha and how many seats the AAP could actually win.

There was a lot of shaking of heads and clucking of tongues as people ventured to say, with long faces, that the AAP was unlikely to make a debut in our State! It was evident that if goodwill from the educated upper middle classes across the country could get the AAP Lok Sabha seats, it would certainly emerge a big player.

More sops from Congress?

But unfortunately, or at least till now, political battles have been won mainly in the rural hinterland of India, with some backing from urban India, and mainly on sops, freebies and other favours.

If NREGA emerged a game changer in 2009 and did its bit in paving the way for a UPA-II, this time around the Congress was betting on direct cash transfer and similar measures before the typhoon called Kejriwal hit the Indian political horizon.

But the bizarre part of the political narrative this time is that instead of being a major threat to the Congress, which seems out of the race already going by the Delhi verdict, Kejriwal & Co are threatening to halt the march of the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.

In a pathetic position already, the Congress is reportedly mulling another sop — this time for the Jats, by declaring the community backward. And forcing us to marvel at how really bankrupt it is of ideas to take on the challengers at its doorstep.

A bizarre message

In contrast, the Modi juggernaut is full of new ideas. Inspired by the Americans perhaps, NaMo merchandise is now on offer. The latest one is christened the ‘NaMo Power Pepper Spray’, and is packaged with the image of a muscular Modi raising his hand, his index finger pointing out, with this bizarre comment: “If women feel unsafe, we shouldn’t call ourselves ‘MARD’.”

Marketed as a low-cost weapon to guard women from “attackers, rapists, kidnappers”, sadly this pitch takes us back to the ghisa-pita cliché of men being the “protectors” of women. Indian women need a strongman like Modi to defend them is the message. Period.

This “self defence” tool for women, through its message about the omnipotent “mard” (macho man), once again raises serious questions about the BJP’s mindset on gender issues.

When will the party’s strategists or supporters, such as those promoting this pepper spray, which is a good initiative as it costs less than other such sprays, get it that the modern Indian woman has come a long way from aspiring for, or even needing, the protection of men.

What she needs and is demanding is a safe environment where she is not physically molested, a society where she is treated with respect and regarded as an equal, one which does not judge her by what she wears, where she goes or how late she chooses to be out of the home.

Surely Modi, who is hoping to head the next government with the support of Indian youth, half of whom are women — well almost half, and minus India’s disappearing daughters killed before birth — will have to change the nuances of the messages going out in his name if he wants the vote of the young Indian woman.

And convince her that he has more to offer her than the typical RSS-BJP line of Bharatiya sanskar and associated jargon. She wants more and is not shy of saying so.

rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 13, 2014)
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