It isn't often that you get to see Law Minister Salman Khurshid, who is in normal times about as suave a politician as you can hope to find in the Congress, so fiery and rattled and ill-tempered as he was at his press conference on Sunday to rebut allegations that an NGO run by his family secured funds under false pretences and misappropriated them.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, Khurshid was as snappy as a turtle with mediapersons, particularly from the India Today media group - whose 'sting' investigation set off the perpetual motion machine of allegations that Arvind Kejriwal has picked up and is feeding off. And earlier, in his comments in London barely a day earlier, Khurshid dismissed Kejriwal's reiterations of media allegations against him as the "third-rate" actions of "third-rate people".
The reason for Khurshid's manifest loss of equanimity in the face of these allegations against his trust isn't hard to find: from all accounts, the accusations are acquiring traction and growing in resonance. It now appears that the Uttar Pradesh police will conduct an inquiry into the allegations against the trust run by Khurshid and his wife Louise - and that Khurshid and his wife may in fact be questioned.
It is also probably galling for Khurshid that he doesn't quite enjoy the same "immunity" from investigation in the way that Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra does. The allegations centred around Vadra's dealings with real estate developer DLF are far graver, but since the allegations led to the very epicentre of power - Sonia Gandhi's household - an army of Congressmen (including, ironically, Khurshid himself) came out swinging in defence of Vadra to spike the demand for an inquiry. Today, the selfsame valiant defender of Sonia Gandhi's familial honour finds himself facing a likely investigation over far more trivial allegations of impropriety.
But coming so soon after Robert Vadra's mocking of "mango people in a banana republic" (in the wake of Kejriwal's allegations about the suspect nature of his real estate transactions with DLF), Khurshid's "third-rate" comments have given Kejriwal another handle to milk and whip up outrage among his constituency of supporters.
Yet, beyond the daily "tu-tu-main-main" spitfest, which looks set to continue into today with Kejriwal promising to dish out yet more dirt on Khurshid, the underlying issues thrown up point to a disquieting downward spiral in the discourse of accusatory politics, and the official responses to them.
On the one hand, it's becoming hard to keep pace with Arvind Kejriwal's string of hit-and-run accusations. Just last fortnight Kejriwal sensationally got a reluctant media to focus on Robert Vadra's dealings with DLF, which prima facie point to a cosy symbiotic relationship between business and power satellites and raise valid questions of impropriety that leads - in this case - to the First Family of Indian politics. Subsequent to Kejriwal's allegations against Vadra, media groups have taken the story forward by pointing to glaring inconsistencies in the narratives as put out by DLF (in response to the allegations) and the official filings made by Vadra's companies.
These media investigations have, if anything, reinforced the initial point that Kejriwal made: that Vadra's dealings with DLF merit an independent, credible investigation to establish that no impropriety was in fact committed.
Yet, rather than take full ownership of the issue that has potential to profoundly embarrass the epicentre of UPA power - Sonia Gandhi's household - Kejriwal has flitted away, like a child with an attention-deficit disorder, onto his next hit-and-run target: Salman Khurshid. Even in terms of the scale of alleged malfeasance, Khurshid's Rs 71 lakh is a pittance compared to the Rs 300 crore business empire that a wheeling-dealing Vadra built up virtually overnight, from all accounts on the strength of his proximity to power.
From what we've seen of Kejriwal's public posturing since last year, he appears to have come around to the view that whipping up daily hysteria among his supporters with hit-and-run tactics is more productive than seeing issues through to fruition. In an interview to Economic Times, Kejriwal also confirms the theory that Firstpost had noted on Sunday about his intentions: that he wants to "exercise the Samson option" by bringing down the entire political edifice on our heads since, in his estimation, it is impossible to reform it incrementally.
Kejriwal told the Economic Times that he had been compelled to enter the political arena because "we were left with no option but to completely overthrow the system." His intention, he said, was not to become "part of the system." "We are not saying that they are bad people, we are good people, and that we will run the system well by taking over. We will never be able to change the system over time, for we will get sucked into it. We will need to change / break down the system immediately."
This finds daily expression in what this blogger calls the "McCarthyism of the uncorrupted" that Kejriwal represents. "Just as the US Senator who gave the term its name saw communists lurking everywhere in the early 1950s, Arvind Kejriwal sees corruption behind every deal." And as his posturing on Parliament Street indicates, he has anointed himself both prime prosecutor and judge, pronouncing on the "invalidity" of the evidence that Khurshid cited in his defence.
But if Kejriwal has been allowed to occupy the public space and his disquieting conduct of "public trials" on the streets of Delhi has acquired resonance among his supporters, it is only because officialdom has dismissed even credible allegations, such as those made against Vadra, with airy disdain. The feeling that the UPA government will go to any lengths to shield its flock - against serious charges of corruption in the coal block allocation scandal, the Vadra-DLF transactions and in Khurshid's NGO - has gained traction among the public to such an extent that even if they disapprove of Kejriwal's shoot-and-scoot tactics, they see it is that only appropriate response to the cussedness of officialdom.
It is because even Ministers of the UPA government - from P Chidambaram (who claimed imperiously - and improperly - that there was no need for an inquiry into the Vadra case because his income tax returns were in order) to Veerappa Moily (who claimed that he had conducted an internal inquiry into Vadra's companies and found everything to be in order) - are quick to cover up these allegations of corruption that Kejriwal's own grandstanding on the streets acquires even borderline legitimacy.
Perhaps Vadra and Khurshid will be spared the agony of torment by "third-rate" people if only they would subject their affairs to a credible, "first-rate" investigation. Until such time, they may be condemned to face prickly accusations and be pronounced guilty by kangaroo courts in Delhi's streetcorners.