When Union Law Ministers Salman Khurshid, returning from London, touches down in Delhi on Sunday morning, Arvind Kejriwal‘s band of supercharged supporters have promised him a “grand welcome”. Kejriwal himself has been camping on Parliament Street overnight to press for Khurshid’s resignation following allegations of misappropriation of funds for the disabled from a trust run by Khurshid’s wife Louise. Although those allegations were first made in a sting operation by Aaj Tak TV channel, it is Kejriwal who now ‘owns’ the issue, having taken it to the streets in a high-decibel way that no other political party has: not even the principal Opposition party, the BJP, which is looking to reap the harvest of the wave of anti-corruption sentiment that has tied down the Congress.
The campaign against Khurshid builds on and provides momentum to Team Kejriwal’s enormously successful expose of Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra‘s real estate dealings with DLF. Although on that occasion too, the core allegation had been in the public domain for more than a year, Kejriwal added layers of additional information to it, and elevated the pitch, compelling Ministers and other assorted Sonia Gandhi loyalists to come out swinging in defence of Vadra – thereby showing up the hollowness of their own claim that Vadra was a private individual.
By placing Vadra’s dealings with DLF – which reek of influence-peddling with benefits accruing to both Vadra and DLF – in the public domain once again, Kejriwal has also opened up further cracks in the narrative put out by DLF and the Union Ministers who have been chirping on behalf of Vadra. Some of the entries in Vadra’s companies’ filings with the Registrar of Companies have already been shown up to be untrue. Indicatively, one of Vadra’s company lists a Rs 9 crore overdraft facility from the public sector Corporation Bank – at a time when he had a paid-up capital of only Rs 1 lakh – but Corporation Bank has subsequently denied that such an overdraft facility was indeed extended to Vadra’s company. These and other inconsistencies merit an independent investigation, by refusing which the Congress is implicating itself further.
All along, the BJP has been content to ride piggyback on Kejriwal’s exertions, picking up and amplifying his allegations against UPA Ministers and Congress power satellites like Vadra. So long as Kejriwal’s accusatorial efforts were directed principally at the Congress, the BJP was keen to enthusiastically embrace Kejriwal’s campaign in the hope of walking away with the political prize.
All that could change come Tuesday. Kejriwal has promised yet more allegations, backed by compelling evidence, of corruption, and this time, the object of his attention isn’t going to be confined to the Congress. More specifically, Kejriwal has promised that he will furnish damning information about BJP president Nitin Gadkari.
By turning the spotlight on the BJP too, Kejriwal is looking to strip the tag of anti-Congressism that has thus far adhered to his campaign. He is looking to embellish his street-cred as an equal-opportunity whistleblower against corruption, taking on both the principal national parties, the Congress and the BJP.
This effectively puts the BJP in a political bind. If it dismisses Kejriwal’s allegations against Gadkari, the details of which aren’t fully known yet, as untrue, it cannot in the future hope to milk Kejriwal’s allegations against Vadra and Khurshid and other Congress Ministers with the same vigour. After all, sauce for goose is sauce for gander as well.
There is, of course, a vast difference in the scale of corruption allegations against the Congress and the BJP. BJP supporters argue that it is folly to establish an equivalence between the BJP and the Congress on ground of corruption, in the way that Kejriwal does, and that a division in the Opposition votes will only work to the Congress’ advantage. Even if they grudgingly concede to the BJP’s inability to present a clean record of governance in most of the States where it is in power, they would rather voters see the BJP’s record of corruption as the “lesser of two evils”.
But Kejriwal, who is no longer a mere anti-corruption activist but a newbie politician as well, obviously wants to stir things for both the Congress as well as the BJP in the hope that it will open up the space for his fledgling party in the political domain. Being the political newcomer, his success will ( he reckons) be measured by his ability to exercise the ‘Samson option’ – and bring down the entire political edifice on the heads of the existing players and expose them as two sides of the same coin. His calculatioin is that is a large enough constituency of voters who are jaded by both the Congress and the BJP, and want a newcomer to clean up the system.
That characterisation is already under way. “We were accused of being the BJP’s B team,” Kejriwal told his supporters on Saturday. “But it is in fact the BJP and the Congress that have become our B Team. The issues we raise today are the issues they follow up on.”
That is truly a remarkable achievement for a political force that has been active for so short a period. However grating his shrill campaign may appear to be, his political movement has succeeded in seizing the initiative from both the Congress and the BJP by ‘owning’ the political talking points of the day. To that extent, Kejriwal is carving out valuable real estate in the middle ground of the binary politics that frames the contest as between the Congress and the BJP.
Not everything about Kejriwal’s worldview is worthy of commendation: in particular, his economics, which puts him even further left of the Left parties, is a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, in the manner in which he has in so short a time seized the political initiative and left both the Congress and the BJP so leaden-footed is a tribute to his guerilla-style politics.
Team Kejriwal has begun bombing the citadels of power. His ‘Samson option’ political trajectory is already making a mark. For all their blase attitude about the newbie politician, the Congress and the BJP have reason to worry.