Arvind Kejriwal frequently refers to Aam Admi Party as a 'movement'.
It may have been a movement at inception that raised hopes and promised to clean up the cesspool of Indian politics. That ship sailed long ago.
On Tuesday, Kejriwal showed that AAP's transformation from a 'political revolution' to a media-driven burlesque is complete.
By all accounts, 9 May, 2017 will go down in the annals of Indian politics as the day Delhi Assembly turned into a giant stage for a high-octane political farce beamed right into our drawing rooms.
Among the many 'feathers' in his crown, Kejriwal is considered a pioneer in lowering the bar of political discourse.
On Tuesday, he also earned the dubious distinction of lowering the dignity of the House by abusing the immunity it offers to take cheap potshots at a revered Constitutional body.
It was a bravura performance, though, planned right down to the T. Kejriwal has repeatedly proved himself to be a master manipulator of headlines and a media maven who knows how to play the medium and stay on top of news cycle.
The task before him was complicated. Struggling to keep his flock together after a string of electoral reverses leading to multiple intra-party mutinies and facing a barrage of corruption charges from his own party members, Kejriwal needed to stall the negative headlines, deflect media attention and somehow regain a modicum of control over the narrative.
Kejriwal's problem was augmented by the fact that Kapil Mishra, one of his closest acolytes and a minister in his cabinet, had turned against him. Mishra has been tutored by the master himself in the art of shoot-and-scoot politics. He knows well enough how to trade unsubstantiated charges and hog publicity. As Mishra let loose a litany of bribery allegations and hoisted Kejriwal on his own petard, the Delhi CM knew he had to come up with a response.
He developed a master plan. The greatness of it lay in the simplicity. Kejriwal's coterie consists of AAP members who have journalistic background. The art of media manipulation arises out of a deep understanding of the ways in which this medium works.
Dramatics is not the purview of only entertainment channels. 24x7 news channels rely on convincing storytelling with a dash of theatrics and work best when given a script that unfolds in real time. Kejriwal started the teaser campaign early on Monday, tweeting that a 'big conspiracy' will be revealed in Delhi Assembly on Tuesday.
Why Delhi Assembly, one may ask. Isn't the hallowed precincts of House used to deliberate on policy decisions meant for Delhi public? Why choose the Assembly floor for 'live demonstration' of electronic voting machine (EVM) tampering?
If the AAP is confident of its tampering charges, if it is convinced that the machine can be easily hacked, if it is morally secure of its actions, why seek the immunity of Delhi Assembly? Why not hold a news conference carrying out the 'hacking' and ask the EC to challenge it?
The answer goes at the heart of the crisis that plagues AAP. Kejriwal needs to control the massive damage to his credibility brought about by the graft charges but having shown the way, he is now trapped inside his own narrative.
It is revealing that he sought to wriggle out of this predicament not by rebutting Mishra's charges, but sensationalising the EVM tampering allegations in a setting where he may escape judicial scrutiny.
This is the picture of a political leader who can offer no new narrative, no inspiration, except by staging a morally repugnant drama right inside Delhi Vidhan Sabha. The drama, though, was riveting. It was sleekly produced, marvelously coordinated and masterfully presented with just the right amount of pathos and comedy.
Kejriwal remained seated while his sidekick arranged for a prototype machine and displayed a sleight of hand that would've made even Houdini proud.
One need not go into the countless loopholes that puncture AAP's 'EVM hacking' claim. It is enough that AAP was insecure enough to stage the show inside the precincts of the House.
If they were confident of the charges, they would've taken up EC's 'hackathon' challenge and tried to tamper with an EC-certified machine, not a prototype whose whereabouts and manufacturing details are unclear.
However, EVM isn't even the real issue. It is Kejriwal's desperation to regain some political space and a modicum of control over his party.
Will this diversionary tactic work?
Updated Date: May 09, 2017 20:07:31 IST