David versus Goliath in the Battle of Benares

Published: April 7, 2014
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The writer holds an MBBS (Calcutta) and a PhD (Harvard University) and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at MIT

The writer holds an MBBS (Calcutta) and a PhD (Harvard University) and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at MIT

It was just a few months ago when there was an air of everything having been settled. A corruption-ridden second-term government of Congress (I) was out of touch with the people’s issues and aspirations. And a “saviour” had descended from Gujarat –– whose public image was curated by his party’s slick PR machine to appear starkly different from Rahul Gandhi. It was but a matter of time. Much is still quite settled. But the air has cleared a bit and the saviour does not appear as divine anymore. The man from Gujarat still is way ahead in the battle. However, the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has ensured that at the end, the winner of the battle can claim political power, legislative power, administrative power and even the power to subvert habeas corpus and other things sacred to human dignity, but it cannot claim ethical and moral power with full-throated confidence.

Touted initially as an “electronic media creation” that would vanish as soon as the cameras turned elsewhere, the AAP has continued to punch way above its popular weight even after much of corporate media turned hostile overnight over the party’s decision to deny the Walmarts of the world to set up shop in Delhi. This party, which cannot claim numerical parity with either of the two behemoths of India’s political scene, has been able to go from strength to strength with these two in the game of political agenda-setting. This is partly due to the base it has been able to create for itself in crucial urban sectors that are close to the Hindi-Hindustan idiom and style. Anything Hindi-Hindustan centric is able to claim top slot in the “national” agenda –– such is the nature of politics in this republic. But that is not all. The AAP has been able to edge past its rivals in the universe of political morals and ethics by disclosing the hitherto undisclosable party-fund donor lists, naming the hitherto unnamable individuals and families who hold the political system in an unholy grip. The subcontinent has a special place for this sort of thing. Even if silenced by fear or state violence, people in the subcontinent have shown that they have respect for those who speak truth to power. Which is precisely why other agendas for respect garnering have to be generated –– “strong” leadership, teaching “them” a lesson and content-less slogans of the “India first” type. Such respect-generation is coupled with hope-production by false promises for job-creation and material prosperity that will be ushered in by the same corporates who help fund advertisements of the “strongman” in newspapers, TV channels, cell phones and websites.

Arvind Kejriwal, ex-chief minister of Delhi and AAP’s public face, will be challenging Narendrabhai Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, in Benares (Varanasi) in the 2014 parliamentary elections. This holy city, which is also the site of a mosque that Aurangzeb Alamgir built after destroying the erstwhile Vishwanath temple, is all set for a David versus Goliath battle. And Goliath will win. When Kejriwal entered Benares for his inaugural political rally, he was pelted with rotten eggs and black ink was thrown at him. The kickback that is given by the saviour’s favourite banias (caste) in exchange for mining rights, ports, agricultural lands, tax breaks, mega-subsidies and natural resources finds its way into the aviation fuel of the campaign helicopter, the liquor consumed by the black ink and egg throwers and the danda that holds the jhanda. Kejriwal is astute enough to know that the publicity from the Battle of Benares will help people know about the political agenda of a credible opposition to the BJP when the Congress (I) is in retreat. An atheist turned believer, he can publicly pull off a call upon non-sectarian divine powers to intervene on the side of the aam aadmi. Call them publicity stunts, call them what you will, but the egg and ink smeared-Kejriwal has ensured that in spite of a chhappan inch chest, immaculately clean dresses and Har Har chants, the winner this time cannot rise above the fray. The ironman may stand tall but his rusty core will not be hidden either. That is serious political currency for the AAP, which really is preparing for the election after the one in 2014.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Apr 7, 2014 - 1:55AM

    AAP is certainly an important force to be reckoned with in these elections in some parts of the country. But all possibility of defeating the BJP – or at least minimising their numbers in parliament and the consequent damage they can do to democracy – rests on the anti-Modi electorate being able and prepared to vote tactically. There will be many places where the anti-Modi vote will be stronger than the pro-Modi vote, but will be split. An organised tactical voting strategy of some kind involving choosing the strongest anti-NDA candidate locally – be they from Congress, AAP or some other anti-communal party – could seriously dent the strength of the NDA government which the opinion polls are suggesting is likely to come into power. Some of us are still optimistic that the NDA will not be strong enough to form a government.

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  • Alann
    Apr 7, 2014 - 2:42AM

    I doubt Arvind Kejriwal will get many votes. Arvind Kejriwal might by an honest guy, but he’s a bad politician. Since he rose to fame, all he does/did is press conferences and dharnas. He is more efficient as a tax officer than someone who can run a government.

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  • Mirza
    Apr 7, 2014 - 9:10AM

    In a huge country and such a diverse population it is not surprising that a third and new force is emerging in politics. Even if they win a handful of seats it would be a major achievement in such a short time.

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 7, 2014 - 9:12AM

    @farzi naam:
    This is the tragedy of India – not that there is vocal opposition to a particular politician or formation (which is the hallmark of healthy democracy)
    – but that some people have nothing that they believe him, and will therefore end up supporting candidates whose sole appeal themselves is based on religion, caste or sect and fear of the other (else why vote tactically if your chosen candidate is deserving anyway);
    – that they cannot apply the same yardstick to all candidates rationally and make decisions based on actual evidence in the public domain instead of hyperbole and wilful prevarication;
    – that they believe that this kind of negative voting has any positive benefit (they are expected to always vote this way and there are several parties that count on it – nothing will change unless they themselves change).
    This election is being swung overwhelmingly to one side by young, relatively better educated voters who have grown up in the din of a 12-year long media campaign, and have thus had time to make factual comparisons and informed decisions – hopefully setting the tone for the India of tomorrow.

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  • Gratgy
    Apr 7, 2014 - 11:37AM

    After this election people will start writing a new book called “The Rise and Fall of the AAP”.

    Everyone in my family voted for AAP the last time. Once bitten twice shy

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Apr 7, 2014 - 11:55AM

    author: ” … This holy city, which is also the site of a mosque that Aurangzeb Alamgir built after destroying the erstwhile Vishwanath temple, … “

    Puts the Babri Masjid demolition in perspective – does it not ?

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  • Realist
    Apr 7, 2014 - 1:32PM

    @Gratgy:
    But you do have to admit that corruption had paused while he was in power.The babus were afraid to ask for kickbacks.The dharna at India Gate spolid the whole show

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  • James
    Apr 7, 2014 - 1:36PM

    @Gratgy:

    “Everyone in my family voted for AAP the last time. Once bitten twice shy”

    Don’t think so, the people who did not vote for AAP last time, might vote this time…….

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  • Gratgy
    Apr 7, 2014 - 3:47PM

    @James:
    Don’t think so

    Yup we did, in fact they even helped my wife get her voter id card last time during the Delhi elections. but then he seems to have no clue about governance.

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  • Gratgy
    Apr 7, 2014 - 4:03PM

    @Realist:

    A slightly corrupt but efficient government is far more acceptable than an honest but totally inefficient one. The losses due to corruptions might be negligible compared to the losses caused by the collapse of governance.

    Kejriwal reminds me of the Foolish king and his loyal monkey story.

    “A king once had a pet monkey which was extremely loyal to the king. Since the king did not trust his guards he appointed the monkey to guard him.

    Once a snake entered the kings sleeping chambers, the monkey raised an alarm which awoke the king who killed the snake with his sword. The king was very happy with the monkey for saving his life and gifted to the monkey the sword he used to kill the snake..

    The next day a fly came and sat on the kings head. The monkey took out the sword and cut the kings head off in his efforts to kill the fly”

    Now replace King with Electorate, monkey with kejriwal and Sword with governance

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  • abhi
    Apr 7, 2014 - 9:57PM

    I think truth is little bit different. Few months back it was AAP which was riding high, now their support is reduced and they are no longer the force they used to be. There is not David vs Goliath analogy here becuase Kejriwal is no longer David he is now ex CM of Delhi which is different from aam admi.

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  • Sankar Kumar Das.
    Apr 19, 2014 - 5:44AM

    The wild attack to Kejriwal exhibits the intolerene of BJP-supporters, who are now doubtful and afraid of smooth sailing of their own God Father. But what is to be noticed is that two big political parties, i.e. Congress and BJP none have condemned these unruly activities of the those people, who are physically heckling Shri Kejriwal during his election campaign. And what about the role of the Police or election commission ? Does it not falling within their duty to see that candidates or political workers of all party are allowed to campaign in favour of their own candidates and no body prevents them or heckle them in any way for the sake of democracy ?

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