Kejriwal's daughter 'stings' a babu: Sorry Mr CM, this is no aam aadmi victory
His daughter went to get her learner’s license. Kejriwal says, “I could have called the department and officers could have made it for me.”
"Come in the first half," the woman at the Kolkata Corporation office assured me. "The deputy will be there."
I was trying to figure out a property tax arrears bill. It had taken me close to an hour traipsing around various floors in a labyrinthine building just to locate the right desk in the right room that could even have an answer to my query. But alas, the right babu was gone for the day. It was almost 5.
Next day I was there during the “first half” but the desk was still empty. The deputy was in the building but no one knew where he was. After two and a half hours of running from pillar to post, counter to counter, standing in various straggling queues, listening to matchmaking gossip, waiting on one official or the other, I understood firsthand a fact of life in India – the system never works for you unless you know someone with connections.
It’s an unexceptional story, a familiar one, and hardly worth mentioning were it not for the adventures of Kejriwal Jr that her father, the chief minister of Delhi, decided to share with the world.
The story as told by Arvind Kejriwal runs like this:
His daughter went to get her learner’s license.
Kejriwal says, “I could have called the department and officers could have made it for me.” But the daughter waited her turn. She didn’t tell the officer who she was but said she was not carrying one of the documents that were needed. He refused to give her the license. She then tried to bribe him by offering him money. The officer noticed her phone and wondered if she was trying to make a sting video. The daughter offered more money. But the officer refused.
Then comes the clincher. She came back with the relevant documents. And everything changed.
"The officer after reading her name and my name in father’s section asked her if she was daughter of Chief Minister of Delhi and then entire department came forward to make her license."
The lesson Kejriwal draws from this little heart-warming happy-ending anecdote is the "level of corruption has come down in the city…Corrupt officers are afraid while the honest officers are moving fearlessly." Kejriwal even ventures a figure to quantify the downturn in corruption - 70-80 percent.
And he uses his daughter as Exhibit A to prove that point.
It’s a problematic story on so many levels. Politicians often, and very rightly, ask the media to stay away from their families, especially their children. Here is the chief minister of Delhi happily making his own daughter part of his crusading political agenda. Kejriwal has asked citizens to send sting videos of corrupt officials. Now even his own young daughter seems to be part of that political gameplan. This is not to imply that he asked her to do it but his touting that story to prove that corruption was on the decline in Delhi is basically using his daughter to score a political point.
During the last Lok Sabha elections, the Aam Aadmi Party was on the backfoot, still trying to defend itself against “bhagoda” charges. One story AAP’s autowallah supporters regularly trotted out during his rallies was how policemen stopped taking bribes when Kejriwal was CM. I heard that story over and over again on the campaign trail. Whether or not it was true, it had become part of urban legend. But that was a story about a general perception. No one shared a story about a particular routinely bribe-taking cop who had suddenly turned over a new leaf. The anecdote Kejriwal shared was about a very particular unnamed official.
This person never asked for money. He did not even seemed receptive to taking any. Everything happened on the daughter’s end. But by using that story to illustrate his theory about how the corrupt were quaking in the new New Delhi, Kejriwal is, in effect, casting a shadow on this man who might have been a perfectly honest official anyway as opposed to one who was now too scared to be dishonest in Kejriwal’s Delhi of a 1000 stings. And that is highly unfair to the official who as far as we can tell simply went by the book.
But the worst thing is the point this story actually underscores is a very different one than the one Kejriwal thinks he is making. India is still very much a land of connections. More than money or fame, the real prized commodity in India remains “connections.” With connections you can get everything in India from something as routine as a learner’s license to school admission to coal blocks. While some rejoiced that the court of law did not spare a superstar like Salman Khan, on that same day his sentence was announced, his connections also ensured that a sessions court stayed open two hours extra to process his interim bail. Now that is real power.
Most of us would feel like fools to self-righteously eschew the privileges of the right connection. We live in a culture of “Do you know who I am?” or its close cousin “Do you know who my father is?” This is a society where queues are for plebians and anything can be fixed if you have the right person just a phone call away. Most of us probably wished that a sessions courts would stay open two hours extra for us as well.
If I had the mayor’s number in my phone would I have been tempted to drop him a call as I cooled my heels in the Kolkata Corporation? When the deputy finally arrived and dismissively glanced at my stack of papers, would a famous surname have changed his demeanour? Or had he already sized me up as inconsequential because I had spent the better part of two hours waiting dutifully for him?
I am glad Kejriwal Jr did not drop her name to get to the head of the line. I am glad Kejriwal Sr did not make a call to have that license processed. That's how it should be and in an ideal world papa doesn't need to preach about it. Corruption might well be on the decline in Delhi but the story he shared does not prove that one way or the other. It just reiterates the enduring power of a famous surname, whether Gandhi or Nehru or now Kejriwal.
Here's what the aam aadmi took away from the story. Without connections you are at the back of the line, knocking futilely at the doors of power, waiting for a babu to appear at his desk. With connections you have “the entire department” processing your learner’s license. Lesson learned.
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