This past weekend, the public images of the two most prominent members of the now defunct Team Anna offered a study in contrasts. One, rain-soaked and fiery, stormed police barricades on the streets of Delhi. The other was busy beaming out carefully crafted messages — on Twitter and to reporters — urging restraint and realism from her safe and dry perch on the sidelines.
Soon enough, everyone was chattering about a “rift” in the anti-corruption ranks, even as both Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi tried their best to play it nice. “I fully support Arvind’s call for Jantar Mantar rally. While I feel we need to focus on party in power, I respect his and others view to cover all. This is time for ‘a united front against corruption’. If we keep fragmented, the corrupt will continue to be in power to protect itself,” said Bedi.
Kejriwal recast the “differences” as a disagreement among friends, the kind you have over coffee in the canteen: “Yes, we have some differences on this issue. She is of the opinion that BJP must not be targeted. We are trying to convince her that if the Congress loses and BJP wins, the situation will be the same.”
But all the rhetoric can’t mask the widening gap between the two. What the weekend revealed is this: Bedi and Kejriwal have chosen two very different paths to political power in the aftermath of the Lokpal agitation, and these may well put them on a collision course in the near future.
Arvind Kejriwal: Firebrand leader of the people
There is little doubt that the gherao plan was a one-man show. This was Kejriwal finally taking the gloves off, unveiling his brand of ‘take no prisoners’, in-your-face street politics — unfettered by Anna Hazare‘s softer, Gandhian image. He wasn’t going to wait for permission from the government to march. In fact, the very lack of official sanction made the gheraos all the more rebellious and incendiary. Kejriwal was positioning himself as the quintessential political outsider, the aam aadmi leader leading the masses to take on the most powerful in the land — without fear or favour. Hence, his choice of targets: Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and Nitin Gadkari.
Kejriwal’s aim: to create a media event that amplified his promise of “political revolution”. It’s why the entire strategy was aimed at provoking police retaliation, Firstpost’s Danish Raza reports. Kejriwal ensured that he and Manish Sisodia were detained early in the day by showing up at Race Course Road without warning. As a result, by the time they reached Jantar Mantar, the crowd was already enraged, more so due to rumours of police brutality against Sisodia. As the protesters split up into three different routes, they did their best to court arrest, lying down on pavements and roads; jumping walls of police stations or onto police vehicles; repeatedly breaching police barricades; puncturing tyres of many buses, and actively egging on the cops to arrest them.
And Kejriwal got exactly what he wanted: images of lathi-charging, tear gassing policemen beating down on ordinary citizens. That a number of them were sporting “I am Arvind” caps was just the cherry on this slice of PR cake. An exultant Kejriwal later declared, “This political revolution will sweep the country in the time to come.”
Kiran Bedi: Worthy BJP candidate
Where Kejriwal aims to be a firebrand leader of the people, Bedi’s ambitions are relatively modest: to secure a BJP ticket into politics and a prominent position in a future NDA government. It’s no secret that she has long harboured political ambitions, but not of the revolutionary kind. Rumours about her aspirations have centred on various political posts within the political establishment: member of parliament, India’s first Lokpal, a cabinet portfolio, and some claim, the next Chief Minister of Delhi.
None of this should come as a surprise since Bedi has built her reputation working within the system, not working to bring it down. At the height of the Lokpal movement, we saw an unexpected side of Bedi: heckling politicians in an ill-conceived pantomime on the Ram Lila stage. She has since done her best to distance herself from those rabble rousing ways. Over the past year, she’s had lots of nice things to say about the BJP and its leaders, and she was especially chatty this past weekend. She told Headline News, for example, that BJP as “the major opposition party has played a vital role” in passing the Parliamentary resolution supporting the Lokpal bill, and described them as “game changers.”
She told other outlets, “Arun Jaitely, Sushma Swaraj, LK Advani and Nitin Gadkari were receptive to our suggestions. Arvind and Bhushans had several meetings with them. And they agreed to support in some ways, not in all though. But at least they were not dismissive as the ruling party. Why must we forget this?”
There is no doubt that Bedi is angling for the right invitation from the BJP leadership — even as she is careful to distance herself from Kejriwal’s new political party, insisting she will not be part of their electoral strategy. In the meanwhile, there have been innumerable media stories of secret conversations with Nitin Gadkari, who is reportedly eager to cement the gains in the Delhi municipal elections. Bedi is a natural choice, for example, for a candidate who could take down Kapil Sibal in Chandni Chowk. Whatever the problems with her own history — be it travel billing or college seats for her daughter — they pale in comparison with the track record of Congress party heavyweights.
Neither Bedi nor Kejriwal is looking to get into a fight, but their trajectories may well put them on a collision course. The new Kejriwal-led party is looking to test political waters in the next Delhi elections in 2013. A decision that makes perfect sense since Delhi has been the location of their biggest victories, and it dovetails nicely with the symbolism of striking at the heart of political power. So if Bedi does indeed opt for a BJP ticket, she may find herself facing off against her old colleagues. And playing nice may no longer be an option in a high stakes election.
Reporting inputs Danish Raza