Arvind Kejriwal's single-point agenda of fighting corruption, that brought him to power in Delhi, has also made it quite easy for his opponents to weaken him: attack him on nothing else, but corruption. It was he, who chose it to be his Achilles heel.
Use of the sting operation, that apparently showed a staff member of one of his ministers demanding bribe, and his setback from the Delhi High Court on the CBI raids on his office - both on Wednesday — by the Congress and the BJP respectively should be seen in this context. The point on which they both want to pin him down is corruption. The fight against corruption is what made Kejriwal a star and his movement, a breakthrough in Independent India. The only way to defeat him is to kill that allure. Make him one among us.
Therefore, both the Congress and the BJP have been trying their best to demolish Kejriwal, the idol, by besmirching Kejriwal, the politician and the common man that he projects himself to be. Everything else, whether stifling him by constricting his administrative space, depriving him of the bureaucracy that he is entitled to, or pitting him against the Lieutenant Governor are just sideshows. The main ploy is to bring him down from his moral pedestal. That’s a level playing field that both the BJP and the Congress have been looking hard for.
Kejriwal, right from the beginning has been acutely aware of the need to be morally above other parties to avoid such a hand-to-hand combat. The freedom from a political legacy has been his biggest asset in claiming and maintaining such rectitude. His rivals, however they tried, cannot come anywhere close to his clean image and past and hence want to create a new baseline for him - a point at which they can call him corrupt. And so far, Kejriwal has fought this off successfully.
The sting operation certainly exposes the chinks in Kejriwal's moral armour, and it’s safe to assume that his rivals must have been undertaking many such efforts to discredit him in the hope that some of them will work. Similarly, the BJP has been looking for an opportunity to establishing a fait accompli first and sustaining it. Raiding his office, using the CBI, alleging that his principal secretary was corrupt and then fighting his office legally is evidently a strategy in this direction. The message they sought to communicate was this: if he is not corrupt, why’s he shielding a corrupt official?
The High Court order on Wednesday against the release of the documents that the CBI seized from his office is in no way an indictment of Kejriwal, but the BJP twists it as one to allude his collusion with his principal secretary. "He stands thoroughly exposed. The kind of drama he does to protect corruption has been revealed. He does not want CBI to hold an inquiry into the corruption case against his principal secretary and bring out the truth. He must apologise to the nation and should quit. We demand his resignation.” - this is how BJP union minister Prakash Javadekar interpreted the HC verdict. On the other hand, encouraged by the bribery-sting, Congress’s Delhi-specialist Ajay Maken alleged that half of Kejriwal's ministers are corrupt.
Until proven, it’s hard to judge. Some of the AAP politicians and officials of its Delhi government may be corrupt because it’s in the DNA of India’s body politic. It may not be as simple as the stings so far show because corruption is a complicated phenomenon that people have been trying to define and categorise - grand, petty, individual, collective, redistributive, extractive and so on. The sting brings it down to a framework that rival politicians want it to be seen in - somebody taking or demanding money for either himself/herself or for somebody else. In the latest case, it’s a staffer, purportedly for his minister; but we don’t know if he is completely on his own or is acting on his boss’s behalf. Hard to tell. And even harder to indict the minister and the AAP yet.
“Redistributive corruption” and “extractive corruption”, the terms that specialists use to seemingly represent two divergent acts of corruption, affect the state and the people the most. In the first, the state is rendered weak in its relationship with its society, and the individuals and groups are capable of extracting undue benefits from it. In the latter, politicians who act as the agents of the state extract benefits from society. They use the state apparatus to make money.
In reality, these two subsume all forms of corruption because ultimately that’s what denudes the state and the people of their resources, and throttle their capacity to govern. In both, the state becomes weak although it may appear to be powerful because of authoritarian rulers, and its society loses its resources while the politicians, or the ruling elite, win.
When Kejriwal declared war on corruption and promised a corruption-free government in Delhi, he couldn’t have been delusional because his party and the government did comprise people from an age-old state-politician-society ecosystem. And there would be corrupt people - both in his party, cabinet and its governance infrastructure. His aim was to disrupt this mutually beneficial ecology. Surely, he was not naive not to know that it would be hard because both the Congress and the BJP or any other party, and the existing political-bureaucratic complex would be perilously out of breath without it.
When he asked people to become sting-vigilantes, he certainly could have expected some of his people also getting caught. When he asked people to shoot and tell, he was perpetually turning a camera towards himself. And it’s working. All that he needs to do is to use it to cleanse his party and his government. One should not be surprised if more such stings come out in the open. As the popular saying goes, corruption is a cancer. Some types of cancer are curable, but but some metastasise and kill.
While the Congress and the BJP revel on occasions of possible corruption-parity with Kejriwal, one shouldn't forget that it’s the disruptive innovation that be ushered in that’s providing them with the opportunity. Any form of disruptive innovation is a work in progress as we have seen in global businesses and social interventions. Probably, Kejriwal himself could have envisaged such blips in his crusade against corruption.