Arvind Kejriwal’s series of attacks reminds me of a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, where two weavers design a new attire for the emperor that, they tell the emperor, will be only visible to those who are honest and loyal. The emperor subsequently dons the ‘attire’ to test his subjects’ loyalty, much to the amusement of his citizenry. Arvind Kejriwal, like the child who laughed at the emperor and dared to shout that the emperor is actually parading naked, is ripping out the false masks from the faces of many such self-proclaimed political and corporate emperors and has dared to show their real faces to the world.
Arvind Kejriwal’s storm of lethal revelations against the alleged corrupt political parties, Congress and BJP, has upset the tricky equations between the government and industry and their nexus that has been regularly facilitated by the incumbent parties. He has set the tone that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and scary for mainstream political parties, who could have earlier afforded to patch-up over such common vices. It all started with the most coveted Robert Vadra. For years now, people in media and everyone else with an idea of things around, had been whispering about his deals. And it’s not just about DLF, but about many other big, realty companies! However, in spite of almost all real-estate owners and politicians being conversant with the Vadra-DLF knot, none ever tried to question this fixture. Arvind had the courage to come out with it in public and with proof! He reiterated that DLF granted favours to Robert Vadra wherein Vadra used black money worth Rs 500 crore to purchase properties. In return, DLF gave an interest-free loan of Rs 65 crore to Vadra and Co. Moreover, numerous discounted residential flats were gifted to Vadra and Co. in Gurgaon, Haryana. Given the fact that Vadra is closely ‘related’ with Congress, the party’s powers-that-be in Haryana gave land meant for public utilities (and from the green belt) to DLF with easy clearances for an express-lane as well.
After Robert, Arvind went out to less significant exposés concerning Salman Khurshid and Nitin Gadkari – though strangely, while the Vadra case was buried by the media in a couple of days, and Khurshid’s in two more days, Nitin Gadkari’s relatively less consequential business deals are something the media seems to have taken an excessive liking for! While the other allegations concern misusing public money, Gadkari’s seem more of private business dealings. However, corruption is corruption. And the biggest storm that was unexpected in the corridors of crony capitalists came on October 31, 2012. In a press conference, the activist-turned-politician Kejriwal tagged the Reliance-politicians’ nexus as crony capitalism – again, this was something everyone was always speaking of – and pointed out how the entire political spectrum, not just Congress, extended undue favours to Reliance – of course, Congress in particular. All these parties are in fact – in Kejriwal’s articulation – in Mukesh Ambani’s pocket. The press release by Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption, published by many media houses, mentions, “RIL takes away more than 80% of profits and the government gets less than 20 per cent of profits.” Kejriwal also adds that Reliance gained Rs 1 lakh crore by plundering the country’s resources. He also accused Reliance of placing students in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas for their own benefits, and further accused RIL of selecting the Petroleum Minister.
Arvind’s tricky and difficult corruption questions are bringing out names that were beyond our wildest imagination, beyond suspicion, and names that were once sacrosanct. For example, Manmohan Singh – who was always given a clean chit even by his ardent critics – has been accused by Kejriwal of being overtly sympathetic and soft on Mukesh Ambani. He further alleged that the PM referred Reliance’s demand for hiking the gas price midway through the contract to the Accountant General, when such freebies were not considered for even NTPC! The contract for supplying gas to state-owned power plants in the Krishna Godavari Basin, which is allotted to Reliance, echoes of nepotism and corruption. It all started with the NDA government, where the price of gas was fixed at $2.5 per unit for the next 17 years to be supplied to the state owned NTPC; but Reliance revised the rate – initially to $4.25 per unit in 2007 – and then showed its intent of charging $14.24 per unit. All this had the blessings of Manmohan Singh. Kejriwal further exposed how the PM did not raise any concerns even after Reliance broke the contract deal and stopped producing the required 80 mmscmd of gas. The only person in the ministry to raise objections to the guile of Reliance was the former petroleum minister, Jaipal Reddy, who was sacked from his office – for all the obvious reasons. Jaipal Reddy’s honesty in not accepting bribes from Reliance and instead, his act of slapping a notice penalizing them with Rs.7000 crore, was literally putting a cat among pigeons – or rather, a pigeon amongst a group of cats – and he eventually had to pay for his attitude. Kejriwal has consistently maintained that the Prime Minister is complicit in this corruption seesaw. Kejriwal’s allegations further state that, in a similar vein, Mani Shankar Iyer was replaced by Murli Deora in 2006, because the latter was cozier with Mukesh Ambani and had no qualms in raising the gas price from $2.34 per mmBTU to $4.2 per mmBTU. Interestingly, gradually, all voices against Mukesh Ambani were locked up in a closed room where the chairs were replaced with the ones who were aides of Ambani and Co.
The bigger issue – other than the big name-game that Kejriwal has begun – is actually beyond Mukesh and Robert. It is this game of looting the nation that The Sunday Indian has been highlighting since inception without a break. It is about land acquisitions and SEZs; it is about iron ore and coal mines; it is about mobile phone spectrums, power distribution and tariffs; it is about nuclear plants… It is about everything to do with natural resources and national interests. In each such case, the State is acting against the aam aadmi brazenly and in favour of the corporate class, giving rise to crony capitalism. Sadly, on its own, the media mostly gossips about such things in whispers, till activists and brave souls like Kejriwal force them to raise these issues.
Kejriwal’s rise with his organization, India Against Corruption, is in real terms almost like an uprising and a wave of revolutions that has the potential to remake India; that is, if Arvind can sustain this momentum. Many even think that by taking Robert Vadra and Mukesh Ambani head on, Kejriwal has virtually sent a challenge – kill me if you can! Against popular perception – that you will be finished if you take on such sacrosanct names – Kejriwal has become a symbol of focussed and cool-headed bravery, speaking each time with compelling logic and supporting evidence, and that’s where he scores. And he is using the media very intelligently indeed! Today, even getting rid of him has become a very difficult option – as then, Kejriwal’s dream of Tahrir Square in India might really come true. A small murder case of Jessica Lal with the family having hardly anyone ready to battle for them, was converted into a massive movement. Kejriwal is definitely not an individual that people would not battle for. In his fight for supremacy in the Indian polity, there is one drawback that is intrinsic to India’s deficient dynamics – and that is, how many people out of our 1.2 billion plus citizens are actually listening to his speeches? Unlike Congress and BJP, Arvind does not have a huge cadre or force to penetrate every nook and corner of the country and influence the voters. Therefore, with limited wherewithal, he has to depend on TV and print penetration; and this limits his impact in the country. However, his tendency to unearth the naked truth and open secrets surrounding India’s ghoulish network of corruption has vast implications for India and the region as a whole. It is clearly the start of a long-drawn battle towards cleansing India. And by taking the corrupt so bravely head on, Kejriwal has shown that it just takes one Kejriwal to change the status quo. Sadly – as of now, it seems – there is only one.
- 01 November 2012 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics