Saturday, December 28, 2013

Economic challenges will be Kejriwal's acid test

A lot of us have been for years saying that India will not change unless we change the way we do politics. A few attempts have been made in the past to bring about that change.

In mid-70s, when many thought that Indira Gandhi was getting dictatorial and corrupt, Janata Party was cobbled together. In an unbelievable electoral wave, she and her Congress were swept out of power in 1977. She herself lost her seat to someone called Raj Narain.

The Janata Party experiment was largely reactionary: it set up Shah Commission and hounded Indira Gandhi. Their undoing was they practised the same politics as Congress. Morarji Desai as PM couldn't keep the disparate power centres together. The same Congress, the same Indira Gandhi, came back to power in three years.

Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, gave us lot of hope. He tried cleaning up the system, and called upon bureaucrats and technocrats to come to public life. Even now there are many talented people, young and old, in the Congress. But none of them are able to break out of the party’s culture; and instead of reforming the system, they have virtually merged with the system. The BJP, positioned itself as an alternative with a different approach, but in many ways, they are no different from the Congress.

For the first time, a group of educated people, not belonging to any established political parties, but sworn to public service, took corruption as a major issue, and decided to clean up the system by getting into the system. (Of course, AAP was helped to great extent by Anna Hazare's Lokpal campaign.) That’s the reason why the AAP victory in Delhi assembly elections and today’s formation of new AAP-headed Delhi government is historic.

So far the AAP story has been a heady mixture of populism and idealism. Nothing wrong with that. But now they will have to find space for hard reality too. The AAP movement grew on India's anger against corruption. But corruption is a part of India’s socio-economic culture. Changing the way we do politics will now have to extend to changing that culture.

For example, we have been brought up on freebies and subsidies. A lot of these, which should actually go to the poor, go to people who don't need it, the upper middle class and rich. Our economy and development policies are in a shambles; and that’s one reason why our infrastructure and standard of living are way poorer than what they should actually be. Political changes are easier compared to economic changes. And therein lies Kejriwal’s acid test.

AAP and Kejriwal have a real battle ahead. But as of now, they are the best bet we have. They are not only talking idealism, but also making every effort to practise it

(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

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