Kejriwal’s battle: It’s optimism over cynicism

"We want to change the way politics is perceived in the country,’’ Arvind Kejriwal told CNN-IBN today. Nice words. One expected nothing less from a man burning with raw, impatient idealism. Kejriwal is driven by boundless passion to change the quality of politics in the country. And he believes changes are possible. That’s reassuring.

There’s something outrageously naïve about Kejriwal. He believes in quick solutions to complex problems. His understanding of issues borders on the simplistic, much like that of his primarily young, college-going middle class followers. He promises what is impractical - stuff straight out of high school debates high on idealistic talk. This is precisely why his politics looks headed nowhere.

Arvind Kejriwal in his office. Reuters.

But that’s also what makes you indulgent about him. Possibly our cynicism about the world around sits so heavy on us that we have given up on the hope that anything good is possible. We have come to accept politicians the way they are. We have come to terms with corruption and we have come to accept all aberrations around us as normal. Kejriwal looks the odd man because he does not conform to our standards. He is as cynical as any of us but his cynicism is backed by optimism; in case of the response is one of resignation.

"In your opinion and popular opinion today, politics is a bad word. Politics is about compromises, politics is about corruption, politics is about coalitions, politics is about crime and therefore we should compromise. We don't agree with that, we are not into it for all that,’’ he said in the interview.

Yes, the position on corruption, crime is understandable. The country is ashamed of its corrupt and criminal politicians and the whole architecture of immorality on which our politics rests. If Kejriwal manages even minor success on these fronts that would be quite an achievement. One wishes him success here.

But there’s a hitch here. How can you imagine politics without compromises and coalitions? That is where Kejriwal’s naiveté shows. If by compromises he meant compromises with illegalities and by coalitions he meant coalition with spurious interests, there’s no reason to complain.

But he seems to be in denial of the basic demands of politics, which is after all about constant dialogue between several groups of people with various, sometimes competing, interests. The job of the politician is to balance their interests. It calls for both coalitions and compromises. These are thus not words with a heavy negative connotation as he would like us to believe.

One would like Kejriwal not to set impossible benchmarks for himself and commit himself to a position from where he would find difficult to retract. That is the prescription for quick fall in popular estimation and ultimate disaster. It would be better perhaps if tried to make his impressionable followers understand that compromises are indeed necessary and an essential part of politics. This does not mean the same as being corrupt. His ideology should have enough space for maneuvering.

If he is serious about changing the quality of politics in the country Kejriwal would be better off reminding his followers that politics is not as easy as it appears from outside. It’s messy and it is not always the politician who makes it like that. While promising to link it with patriotism, he must define patriotism first. So far, it appears to have a very limited definition - and it appears to exclude all people who don’t fit into the description of aam aadmi. He has to bring some clarity here. There are too many loose ends in his political idea, he needs to address that too.

Kejriwal’s weaknesses are pretty obvious. But his basic honesty of purpose overshadows that at the moment. However, that could be a temporary phase. Once he gets into the rough and tumble of regular politics he might face challenges that will test his character. For now, let’s back him, if not for anything else, for his positive cynicism.

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