Hubris can bring disaster in its wake. It has often led to the fall of the mighty. In the Indian electoral context never has this fact been driven home more emphatically than in the defeat of Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal in the just concluded elections to Delhi’s three municipal corporations. To say that Arvind lost the elections would be quite an overstatement. For, he had never really worked towards winning the confidence of the voter which is so crucial to winning any elections, from panchayat to Parliament. Hubris hit him hard.
For a party which had swept the assembly polls in Delhi just over two years ago with an unprecedented majority that made even Modi’s shot at the Centre look pale in comparison losing ward elections at the municipal level was a blow scars of which would take long to melt away. So what went wrong in these 26 months that made Kejriwal’s AAP crash with a thud after stupendous 2015 victory.
For a peek into some of those reasons rewinding to the days of Anna Hazare’s 2011 movement against corruption would be worth the while.
Arvind took the plunge head first. Along with Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Kiran Bedi, Kumar Vishwas and his long-time confidante and lieutenant Manish Sisodia, Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the chief negotiator with the UPA 2 government, holding late night closed-door meetings with Manmohan Singh’s cabinet’s who’s who on the immediate need to having a Lokpal in the country.
In its second term and dogged by corruption scandals the government of the day had already started to show signs of administrative fatigue. Opposition was already gunning for the PM’s resignation. Anna’s ‘aandolan' couldn’t have hit UPA 2 at a more inappropriate time.
In retrospect, the septuagenarian Gandhian’s aandolan lend a sanctity and credibility to BJP’s campaign against UPA 2 government. Though there were still three years to go for the next general elections, Modi was still tom-tomming his government’s policies for the benefit of ‘five crore Gujaratis’ back in even hotter climate of Ahmedabad and there was no hint in the air he would be catapulted to being BJP’s prime ministerial face for 2014 elections.
Meanwhile, Arvind hogged headlines in the national capital. Even as he shared the dais with Anna, he had been working upon a plan. Anna was the stepping stone to fructifying that plan. The image of Arvind Kejriwal sitting at Anna’s feet and standing up occasionally to wave the national flag to a cheering crowd stuck into the psyche of an ordinary Indian.
News channels beamed those images LIVE by the hour. Sweet pills in nationalism are precisely made of such images. These were pre-cow nationalism days. And Arvind emerged its sole mascot and beneficiary. A day came, sooner than later, when Kejriwal dropped more than sufficient hints that electoral politics is where his heart lay. Anna had to be dumped.
The birth of a new party opened a new chapter for Arvind and his band of trusted lieutenants including Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Riding on the wave of Anna movement, Arvind got some encouraging results in Delhi’s assembly elections and had even a few MPs in his kitty.
Though, his dream of emerging a national leader overnight was shot down by an even over-zealous and over-ambitious leader going by the name of Narendra Modi who scuttled every aspirant’s chances within the party to emerge as BJP’s prime ministerial face. The party’s gamble had paid off. Modi had not crossed the threshold with relative ease even as his critics, including Kejriwal, looked on with their mouths agape.
Past three years these two leaders have been grabbing headlines by the sheer force of their hardsell, Arvind Kejriwal and Modi. A third – Rahul Gandhi – stepping in only to fill the space left over by his two political rivals, that too, not by dint of his hardsell but by the sheer fact that his window is steadily running out of wares.
Arvind’s attention seeking skill dwells more on haranguing rivals than quietly and truly working towards what he was primarily supposed to do as the chosen one. In fact, even when the people did not chose him to govern giving his party less than even a simple majority he wanted to grab the mantle anyhow, even if that meant currying favour from his political rival Congress, whose political shenanigans had been his cause celebre to enter politics in the first place.
And when he reached there he gave the impression he never wanted to be there. So one fine evening he moved out with his entire cabinet on the pavement outside Rail Ministry. Along with the harsh winter nights Arvind had managed to grab equal space in next day’s newspapers with channels screaming from studios during prime time.
This is one trait that has never quite left Arvind all this while. He has a knack for abdicating responsibility. When he was supposed to sit in his Chief Ministerial chair in Delhi’s Secretariat he chose the pavement in New Delhi. Or was it a Freudian slip on his part after being denied adequate share in Parliament by his bete noire Narendra Modi, that he always aspired to stay closer than farther from country’s temple of democracy flanked by two power corridors – the north and the south block.
Even when he returned to power the second time with a humongous majority he chose to govern by proxy. He abdicated his responsibility in favour of his close confidant and lieutenant Manish Sisodia and chose to be a minister without a portfolio. He decided to galavant across the length and breadth of the country exploring fertile grounds for his party’s political expansion. But did not the people of Delhi elect him to govern the national capital region. Was he not duty-bound to serve them as their chief minister than handing over the baton to his deputy.
Hubris had set in. It would chose a day to strike which it did with vengeance on the 26th day of April, 2017.
His expansionist mode drove him to faraway lands like Goa. But a setback awaited there. AAP’s sound and fury fizzled miserably. Punjab did not lift the party’s spirits either. Pre-election crescendo ended in a little more than a whimper. The party managed to end up as a spoiler for Akali Dal and relegated to opposition benches.
For a man drunk on self-assured hubris, only wins matter. So every time the electronic voting machine beeped inside a polling booth in Punjab and Delhi, it beeped for Arvind and his ‘jhadu.’ His line of argument has become a butt of viral jokes now. According to the Kejriwal doctrine, losses were meant for ordinary politicos. And he has been a politician extraordinaire. He is backed by the hand of god. It’s another thing that EVM machines refused to kowtow to his pre-ordained diktat. High time somebody told him unlike his party flock he does not own the country’s electoral machinery.
Self-assured hubris coupled with series of political miscalculations triggered by whims that passed off as leadership. From a tolerant, reasonable and bearable politico who showed promise, Kejriwal has careened the AAP’s ship towards troubled waters of arrogance, highhandedness and unreason.
If Rahul Gandhi’s entry into politics almost 15 years ago promised to usher in an age of innocence, Arvind’s matched more than enough in style and content, a la 70’s Bollywoodian hero, accompanied by loud cheer from the audience, who would fight the goons for his people and deliver them from injustice. That they both proved prisoners of their own device makes the mystery of the Hotel California - 70’s mega pop hit - appear less scary by a wide margin.
It is precisely these traits that defined his relationship with some of his esteemed senior colleagues. Soon after his big victory in 2015 elections there were murmurs of dissent within. Senior members like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, once comrade in arms, flagged certain issues that allowed party to compromise on its stated principles. Kejriwal saw it as a revolt against his leadership. Inner-party democracy became an immediate causality. So, early on in its political journey AAP metamorphosed into AKP – Arvind Kejriwal’s party.
Those who did not fall in line had to go. Yadav and Bhushan were ingloriously shown the door. Seniors like Admiral Ramdass, Mayank Gandhi and many others like them met the same fate. After the Delhi win, they had all become irrelevant for him. The cause had become subservient to his brand image; so self-assured was he about selling his own brand image. Only Modi can lay claim to coming close to achieving this feat. But then he has over four decades of active political life behind him to qualify his bhakt brigade’s testosteronic boastfulness.
Under siege from within and outside after recent failures at the hustings Kejriwal may still seek to mend fences with Yogendra-Prashant Inc. The fate of 21 party MLAs hangs in balance as the Election Commission of India is set to pronounce its verdict in the office of profit disqualification case sooner than later. So it would be a tough going from here. The 2019 general elections promise to knock at the doors before long.
Arvind Kejriwal has been weighed down by his own hubris, triggered by his own insecurities and infirmities that push him to commit hara-kiri. He should realize forfeiting credibility in the eyes of aam aadmi is more dangerous than forfeiting deposit in elections. You can recover from the latter sooner than later. Regaining credibility can be frustrating.
Meanwhile, someone need read out his favourite Dushyant couplet to Arvind and put it in context lest he forgot its import yet again.
"Ho gai hai peer parvat si pighalni chahiye, is himalaya se koi ganga nikalni chahiye."