For the first time in nearly a hundred years, the middle class of India is on the move. Almost a hundred years ago, a certain Mr Gandhi appeared in India from South Africa. Within a few years, he had become known as the Mahatma.

Now, we have Arvind Kejriwal, who is possibly even more ardent. The two were about the same age when they appeared on the political scene. Mahatma Gandhi had Gopal Krishna Gokhale as his advisor and Anna Hazare has probably launched Kejriwal in a like manner. Gandhiji wrote passionately; Kejriwal speaks passionately.

The similarities seem to end there. Mahatma Gandhi fought the British rule in India, but not the British themselves. The British were not as corrupt as the Indian politicians are these days. Nevertheless, the difference is stark and marked: Mahatma Gandhi and his colleagues such as Nehru had great admiration for the British and accorded them much respect.

Apparently, Kejriwal has nothing but contempt for his enemies. It must be said, sorrowfully and truthfully, that Kejriwal and his associates are right when they say their enemies deserve no respect. However, that is beside the point; the fact remains that unlike Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress Party, Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption has identified a different characteristic in the enemy.

Our politicians are indeed venal and intolerably corrupt. However, they have also done some good. In the 65 years since Independence, poverty has decidedly come down and so have social distances. Many more people are getting educated — badly no doubt, but yet educated. Kejriwal himself is a beneficiary of the government’s education programme and so are his friends. India has fought several wars quite creditably, except once exactly fifty years ago. They have kept the nation together, unlike our belligerent neighbour, Pakistan. Those are not unworthy achievements.

Our politicians may or may not deserve much credit for the event, yet, it must be admitted that India’s technology too has improved considerably.

If you doubt it, at the time of Independence, India imported even lavatory cisterns and manholes. Now we export pretty complicated software and even cars.


Mahatma Gandhi had a double agenda: One, a political agenda to fight for Independence from alien rule and two, an economic agenda to fight that war. He said, quite sensibly too, why export cotton and import mill-made cloth. He also had an education programme to educate the masses. He wanted women to be relieved of their traditional shackles. He fought for — though the community no longer admits it — the emancipation of the untouchables. Thus, he had several arrows in his quiver — social, economic ones in addition to the political ones.

In contrast, Kejriwal appears to have only one kind of bullet in his powerful gun — anti-corruption. Undoubtedly that is important and has become crucial in our unfortunate times.

Unfortunately, we do not know what his economic policies are, or what his social agenda is. Hence, the question arises as to whether his programme is sustainable or not. Suppose he succeeds — we all wish that he does — then, what next?

Even Gandhiji’s economic and political scheme was unceremoniously rejected by Nehru. It was a good weapon to fight the British but not considered a stable enough pillar to build a modern economy.

I would like to recall an incident about which I have written earlier. It must have been late July or early August of 1947.

Those days, the bridge across the Buckingham Canal in front of Central station in Madras was a narrow one with a really narrow footpath. I do not remember what I was thinking when suddenly an elderly gentleman with an excellently trimmed beard and who was evidently a Muslim suddenly told me: “Smile, young man, smile!”

A few minutes later I entered a bus and there he was, and virtually the only vacant seat was next to him. So I sat there while he bemoaned the Partition of the country and Jinnah committing a serious error. I could not help telling him that he must have courage to speak openly against the Muslim leader.

That gentleman must have gone to his heaven long years ago but his words still ring in my ears. He said: “Young man, the important thing is not to have any opinion against any one or any idea; it is to be for something.”

He was correct. Kejriwal is against corruption just as Mahatma Gandhi was against British rule. Yet, Gandhiji was in favour of a reformed society; what is Kejriwal in favour of?

Positive approach

Sooner or later, he will be asked what actually he is in favour of. Is he for or against nuclear power? Does he favour FDI or does he oppose it? Does he favour reservation based on caste or is he against it? Is he in favour of high-rise apartments or is he opposed to them?

Does he favour Karnataka or does he prefer Tamil Nadu’s stance in the Cauvery dispute? These and many other such questions will be asked and he cannot reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without losing friends and making enemies, more potent because that will be members of the general public.

The name of the Party — India Against Corruption — holds it back. I wish Kejriwal had chosen a more positive name like, for instance, Party for Good Governance. A negative agenda creates needless enemies, however valid the complaint may be.

Kejriwal does not seem to have a winnable idea for creating a new political party. I suggest that he tries an appreciative enquiry — Discover what we are doing well; Dream where we want to go; Design how to get there and then Deliver that Dream in the real world. That will probably make him a new Mahatma!

(This is 340th in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on October 6.)

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Responses to > and > )