A Day at the Races. When faced with a sharp, stinging query, “Are you a man or a mouse?” Groucho proposes, with tongue firmly in cheek: “Put a cheese on the floor and you’ll find out”.
Although meant in levity, the quip offers an elegant filter to distil the truly faint hearted from the really brave hearted. The trick lies in seeing cheese as a metaphor for the right bait. If that’s done, we could sift the mice from the men in any field.
Let’s apply the Groucho Marx test to Arvind Kejriwal, the supremo of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). On the face of it, he is the fearless one who is not afraid to lock horns with the high and mighty. One day, he’s gutsy enough to file an FIR against Mukesh Ambani. Another day, he climbs the poles, disconnects the power supply and cocks a snook at the establishment. On a cold callous night, he’s willing to sleep on a street to make a fiery point. In the summer of discontent, he the David is willing to take on the saffron Goliath in the lion’s lair. By all counts, Arvind Kejriwal should be the unblinking poster boy of audacity.
But as we all know, reality is more illusory than illusion. Yesterday’s iron men are mere mortals with feet of clay. The foresakers who listen to their inner voice secretly pine for power without responsibility. Fifty Six inchers are more about puffery than puffed up chests. Arvind is no different.
When the bait of power was laid out in the open, the mice in Arvind couldn’t resist the lure. The intrepid self was sent out conveniently on a 10-day health vacation to pursue naturopathy. And out came the shirker, who refused to attend the National Executive meeting even though so much was at stake.
Instead of the feisty Arvind who’s got the moxie to take bullets from his critics, all we got to see was his murine shadow hiding behind his lackeys. In one stroke, the nation caught a rare glimpse of his naked lust for power.
Critics of Arvind are not at all surprised. From the beginning, they saw him for what he was: an old school politician peddling new age politics.
Publicly he championed the cause of Swaraj (self-rule), while privately he had total contempt for devolution of power. He bragged about transparency, but was opaque about party expenses. He railed against cronyism while happily packing the party with his henchmen. He fought hard for Lok Pal in every state but never instituted a Lok Pal in every state even within his party. Every speech he made was laced with AAP (you), but what he really meant is HUM (the royal we). He urged his MLAs to let go off their Lal Battis but was unapologetic about travelling business class. He praises Yogendra Yadav when it suits him, when it doesn’t, he gets him removed from the PAC. He portrays an image of being above machinations but sits in Kaushambi and plots the downfall of Prashant Bhushan. The litany of accusations are many.
Whatever be the truth, clearly there are two sides to Arvind Kejriwal. The people of Delhi voted for the idea of Kejriwal. What we are now witnessing is the antithesis of that very idea.
Delhi and the rest of India saw an inclusive figure in him. One who can carry everyone along – from the underclass to the upper class. But if Arvind is going to block out everyone who refuses to be his lap dog, then there’s a problem.
Another expectation his well wishers had from him was the ushering in of a new polity. Going by the Prashant-Yogendra saga that unfolded, Arvind comes across as another scheming politician who won’t mind throwing his critics to the wolves. I mean, what’s the difference between a party boss who finishes off a Sanjay Joshi with a leaked CD and a leader who lets his personal secretary do a sting operation on an esteemed colleague. If pettiness were a virtue, the voting public has many more accomplished netas to choose from. Why would they waste their energies rewarding a man with 67 seats and 5 years of power if all they wanted was an Amar Singh?
Whether he likes it or not, the fact remains that AK has dented his credibility among the intelligentsia who were viewing him as the next big hope. The last time this happened was when he sat on a dharna. Arvind salvaged the situation by profusely apologising. But this time around, empty words will not suffice.
If the idea of Kejriwal is to be sustained, Arvind has to acknowledge that AAP is no longer a crowd around Kejriwal. It’s a living, breathing entity powered by the hopes of hundreds and thousands of volunteers who wish to see a better India in their lifetimes. The only way he can do justice to the cause is by stepping away and handing over the reins to someone with the appetite, ability and time to build AAP across the length and breadth of the country.
Meanwhile, Arvind should just stick to Delhi and deliver his promises there. But then this takes a big heart and lots of courage. Which brings us back to the original question that Arvind must ask himself: Are you a man or a mouse?
DISCLOSURE: The author is a liberal rightist with a soft spot for AAP.