Every man is a lion is his own den.
Salman Khurshid, newly woken up by a poke in the ribs by Arvind Kejriwal over the small matter of misappropriation of funds by the former’s Dr Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust, was all vim and gusto as he took on India Against Corruption (IAC) on his own turf.
Speaking to supporters in Farukkhabad, Khurshid had all these things to say. Sure, IAC can come to target him in Farukkhabad, but how will they return? He also talked of working with the “pen” as law minister, but he also knew how to work with “blood.” One presumes he wasn’t talking about organising blood donation camps for the poor.
He thundered: “They say we will ask questions, and you answer them. I tell them, listen to our answer and forget about your questions.”
What Khurshid said was similar in tone to what Rajiv Gandhi had to say at the height of the Bofors corruption allegations. He told a public meeting then, that he would teach the "firangis" (foreigners) a lesson with the use of a colourful phrase — "nani yaad dila denge".
Khurshid’s loud rhetoric may have gone down well in rustic Farukkhabad, but the national channels will probably go to town with his utterances, raising a ruckus over his gangster-ish thunder.
But they would be missing the underlying point.
The reason why Khurshid could speak like that in Farukkhabad is simple: politics in the hinterland is always lived in the raw, unlike in cities.
The high urban TV coverage that Team Kejriwal has gotten used to will vanish when the team tries to make its point in Farrukhabad, where voter allegiances are relatively unmoved by urban middle class concerns.
It is an open secret that Uttar Pradesh politics is as much about muscle-power as anything else. It is equally well-known that political parties cannot succeed without the help of gangsters, criminals and ruffians.
In fact, everyone knows that this is the situation in almost all states — outside the big urban areas, where the media is active.
Mamata Banerjee needed muscle power to outdo the Left’s street heft in Bengal.
The AIADMK and DMK and various other Dravidian parties make no bones about the fact that control of the streets is the key to successful politics in the state.
The late YS Rajasekhara Reddy and Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu’s cadres have frequently engaged in violence to assert their local dominance. YSR’s antecedents are substantially thuggish.
In Kerala, the Left and the Right have always engaged in brutal murders against each other in an ideological battle for decades now.
It would not be any different in Bihar, or Orissa or Maharashtra or Karnataka or Gujarat. Outside the cities, where the national media does not exist, it is brute power that works best in politics.
Team Kejriwal has been successful so far because they have been taking genteel national politicians on in the streets of Delhi. Once they move to the states, not only will they face a paucity of urban volunteers to take the campaign to the hinterland, but also a scarcity of TV cameras to put themselves on prime-time.
Perhaps that is why he has taken on the national parties first, and not the Mulayams, Mayawatis, Karunanidhis and regional powerhouses — none of whom has a shining anti-corruption record. Taking these people head-on in their lairs means risking life and limb.
Kejriwal’s movement could well face a reality check in Farukkhabad.