Back in 2011, when I was heading a team of about 125 journalists at The Sunday Indian, the Anna Hazare movement was at its peak. Tens of thousands gathered at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi as Anna and his “Sancho Panza” (name of a famous fictional character in a Spanish classic who follows his mentor Don Quixote on silly adventures) Arvind Kejriwal had stated capturing global headlines. There was a buzz amongst colleagues for the magazine to pay special attention to this phenomenon and how it could possibly transform India. Though I was sceptical, we went ahead with a 32-page special supplement on Anna, Arvind and the India Against Corruption movement. Every page barring one in that special supplement was glorifying the movement and its characters as modern-day heroes. There was just one page, the last one, in which I wrote a kind of “dissenting note”. I argued that the whole thing appeared too good to be true and that the main characters were channelising the anger of ordinary Indians to hoodwink ordinary Indians. Many of my younger colleagues accused me of being cynical and “resistant to genuine social & political change”. I merely smiled.
Twelve years later, my one page “dissenting note” has turned out to be more prescient than the hosannahs being sung in praise of Anna & Arvind in those days. There can be no doubt whatsoever about this: Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party have betrayed middle class & aspirational Indians like no other party in independent India has. They have proven to be the most cynical, opportunistic and dissembling bunch of politicians in contemporary India. It is not that leaders of the Congress, the BJP, the Left and other regional parties are any better. But at least they are not so shamelessly hypocritical and steeped in double speak. What is most galling and infuriating for any Indian with a modicum of common sense is the sanctimonious drivel that Arvind Kejriwal and his acolytes spout even now about “changing India”.
All parties and most politicians not only lie but also change their stance depending on the situation. Indian politicians, like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, have an unerring ability to indulge in verbal gymnastics at the drop of a hat. But as residents of Delhi and nearby suburbs literally choke to death because of intolerable air pollution, it is evident that the AAP politicians are masters of the game in this cynical drama of virtue signalling and blame shifting. For more than six years between 2015 and 2021, Kejriwal and his gang members blamed stubble burning in Punjab as the main reason for severe air pollution in Delhi even as they toyed with gimmicks like the odd-even scheme for private cars in Delhi. They first accused the Akali Dal-BJP and then the Congress governments in Punjab of being evil people who were poisoning Delhi air by doing nothing to stop stubble burning. Kejriwal would tell all and sundry that the pollution crisis in Delhi will be magically solved when AAP wins power in Punjab. It did win a massive mandate in the state assembly elections in March, 2022. And what happened to air pollution in Delhi and neighbouring suburbs? Well, stubble burning has actually increased this November in Punjab and there is an air pollution emergency in the National Capital Region. What has been the response of the AAP government in Delhi? The environment minister of Delhi Gopal Rai has the audacity to sit in front of TV cameras and say that while stubble burning has drastically gone down in Punjab, it is very high incidence of stubble burning in BJP ruled Haryana and Uttar Pradesh that is causing severe air pollution in Delhi. Even as he was saying this, there were authentic media reports of Punjab government officials who had gone to villages to stop the practice being held hostage by “farmers” and forced to set fire to crop residues. What amazes me is the fact that there is still a sizeable section of Indians who have blind faith in Kejriwal and think there is a conspiracy against him and AAP by the BJP.
This conspiracy theory raised its ugly head recently when the Supreme Court denied bail to the former deputy chief minster of Delhi Manish Sisodia who can be described as the “Sancho Panza” to the Don Quixote in Arvind Kejriwal. Since his arrest in March 2023 in the Delhi liquor excise policy scam, Sisodia has been repeatedly denied bail by all courts. The Supreme Court has even observed that prima facie irregularities may have been committed. But Kejriwal continues to say Sisodia is the most honest politician in India who should be given the Bharat Ratna. Another top AAP leader and former minister Satyendra Jain has been behind bars for more than a year on charges of financial impropriety. He too has been denied bail. Yet another top leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh has been arrested in the excise scam case and denied bail. Kejriwal was himself summoned by the Enforcement Directorate in early November. But he has defied the summons.
More drama is in store no doubt as people like me in Delhi find it difficult to breathe despite expensive air purifiers at home. To even think that this man wanted to “change” India gives me the heebie-jeebies.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.