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Mahesh Vijapurkar

Mahesh Vijapurkar likes to take a worm’s eye-view of issues – that is, from the common man’s perspective. He was a journalist with The Indian Express and then The Hindu and now potters around with human development and urban issues.

Message to Kejriwal: Take the political class on at the grassroots

I hate to say this, but the Arvind Kejriwal’s movement morphing into a political party is doomed to failure. I am putting my neck out just as he has by his series of exposes. Political parties thus formed, dependent on the media, including the social media, don’t fare well. The one exception being, Nav Nirman, which kicked out Chiman Patel’s government in Gujarat.

Even Jayaprakash Narayan needed politicians of a kind to add strength to his movement besides support from people from the nooks and crannies of the country to change the unipolar power structure of the country into a somewhat bipolar one. It is now a multipolar structure, which is more visible in the Opposition ranks than among those they oppose.

Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

No doubt, the time has come to bring this scam-ridden government down, but in the same breathe it has to be conceded that the Opposition too does not deserve to be there - it has its cupboards full of skeletons as well. Both need to brought down simultaneously. But does that mean Kejriwal’s as yet unnamed party will fill the treasury benches? Unlikely.

However, there is no denying the general frustration with the system, the all-pervading belief that the country is in the hands of the self-serving politicians who have also bent the bureaucracy to their will and made deals only with contractors and businessmen to the exclusion of the concerns of people. People, it is clear, are not even in the peripheral vision of the leaders. It has never been so bad. The citizen is not even a stakeholder in the democracy anymore.

JP’s movement, the temporary dethroning of Indira Gandhi post Emergency and Rajiv Gandhi’s unseating, had all needed a strong, committed, and, more importantly, a widespread network of volunteers to match the cadre and the paid-for workers of the establishment. Fortunately for JP, he had found such men then. They are a scarce breed.

The substitute for the public meetings is not the Facebook page; the affirmation to a cause is different from pressing the ‘like’ button on social media platforms; feet at the polling booths is not the same as twitter views. A lot more is called for in terms of manpower spent, in real as against virtual networking. The raising of hands to a call at a rally is altogether another thing compared to the candle light vigils that last as long as the TV cameras remain.

Let us assume that Kejriwal, despite the split in the ranks of the leaders who initially stepped in to demand the Jan Lokpal, does manage to register a victory. It would be limited to a handful because of the reasons cited above. If the honest and the committed citizens do not fill the void left by the ruling and opposition elite by winning seats, they stand to lose their rights entirely.

The flaw in Kejriwal’s concept of a new political party, which is devoid of any regular politician, is that it attempts to chip away at the top of the pyramid. It is better done by uprooting the contemporary political class from its base - the gram panchayats, at the municipal councils.

It does not matter if the elected is the presumed communal or the claimed secularist as long the political class is ousted and replaced by citizens themselves. The 'self-government', the devolution of power that the panchayati raj envisages does not include the politicians but the citizens. Now that the divide between the politician and the citizen is one of 'them' versus 'us', it is time for the ‘us’ to get active.

These bodies are easier to contest, easier to win and cost little compared to the huge cash chests that are opened by the politicians. The number of people one needs to woo is reasonable and with local networking, one can overcome the money, even muscle power as well as encashment of favours sought and received. It has to be realised that favours are a requirement because the politicians have rendered entitlements unrealisable.

The strategic need is not to tilt at the apex of the system. It would make better sense to battle on your local turfs and thus awe the political system as it exists. Tell them that we would unsettle them by choosing the right battlefield than fritter away energies in targeting the big names that have big-ticket scams to their credit.

Use the infamy heaped on such rascals by the recent revelations, engage the local community, persuading them that the final battle is only ahead. The carpet to be pulled is at the local level. Once that is managed, then you can see the politicians scurrying to deliver, conduct themselves the way they did in the first decade after Independence. That is the purpose now, isn’t it?

The moneybags have to be fought but not by posturing, not by slogans nor by confining it to the drawing rooms where we derive vicarious pleasure watching a politician pilloried and torn to shreds on the television. The people, not the activists alone, have to get involved.