Anna Hazare's attack on Arvind Kejriwal is irrelevant, just like himself

by Lakshmi Chaudhry and Piyasree Dasgupta

The 'Why are we entering politics' section of the Aam Aadmi Party website reflect Arvind Kejriwal's ongoing battle to fend off the incendiary question that has been lobbed at the party since its inception.

At the very outset, his erstwhile mentor Anna Hazare was first to accuse Kejriwal of shamelessly seeking "money through power and power through money", while conspicuously distancing himself from the nascent party. In the aftermath of their public split, Hazare didn't pull his punches, telling reporters that Kejriwal was "greedy" for power: "Earlier I used to think that Arvind is into selfless service. But I don't understand how this thought of entering politics came into his mind."

Just weeks before the Delhi assembly elections, Hazare is back again, making the same old insinuations. In a letter addressed to Kejriwal, Anna wrote, "You have formed a political party and the decision to contest the Delhi Assembly elections is entirely your own. I have nothing to do with your party or any assembly elections," adding, "I have never given authorisation to you or anybody else to create this."

Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal in happier times. AFP.

Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal in happier times. AFP.

Kejriwal's response reflects the counter-Anna strategy he has consistently employed since their split: playing the humble, misunderstood idealist. As he has done before, Kejriwal expressed shock at any suggestion of opportunism, all the while underlining his immense respect for his 'guru'.

Kejriwal, in response, wrote, “You were satistifed by my answers in the past. My concern is why and what is the intention of the persons who are telling you these false and convoluted facts."

Each time, Kejriwal has deflected Anna's attacks without ever discrediting or attacking him, but instead making public pleas to his former mentor to support and bless his party. Genuine or not, humility has been Kejriwal's most effective weapon against Hazare.

Kejriwal's most formidable political adversary has long been his own history with Anna Hazare. A year ago, Hazare was still  a media icon and the hero of the anti-corruption movement. His accusations, therefore, packed more punch than the routine attacks from the leading lights of the traditional political class. But a lot has changed over the past 12 months.

The anti-corruption movement has dwindled into insignificance despite attempts to revive it with the likes of VK Singh. It is Kejriwal who has emerged as a potential giant-killer with the chutzpah and organisational skills to take on Sheila Dixit. He no longer needs Anna's endorsement to make his political fortune. Now when Anna warns Kejriwal not to use his name during the campaign, it sounds outright amusing. By using a variety of political gimmicks, symbolism and grassroot mobilising, Kejriwal has long answered doubts of those who believed he would fail without the Lokpal hero by his side.  Today, AAP is all about Congress misrule,  onion prices and BJP's infighting. Anna has become irrelevant to its political future.

Anna Hazare's out-of-the-blue letter, therefore, strikes all the wrong notes both in timing and content. It comes suspiciously close on the heels of the UPA-approved probe into AAP's funding. Moreover, it puts him on the same side as the political establishment -- including the two national parties, Congress and BJP -- which is now united in trying to discredit the uppity outsider.  Worse, Anna's hysterics look suspiciously like that of an actor past his prime, desperate for attention. Far from Kejriwal relying on Anna's celebrity, it is the guru who needs the shishya to find his way back into the headlines, and in front of the cameras. As if that weren't sufficient irony, we now have BJP leader Vijender Gupta waxing eloquent on Kejriwal's 'betrayal' of Anna.

Time and political tide wait for no one. Not even the grand old man from Ralegan Siddhi.