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Posts Tagged ‘Aam Aadmi Party

Muffler: check. Floaters: check. Radio spots: check. As Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal marks his first year in office, V. Kumara Swamy and Sonia Sarkar look at how he has been projecting himself as the man on the street

It was a busy Sunday for Visakhapatnam businessman Sumit Agrawal. He went around the neighbourhood collecting money to be sent to Delhi for what he believed was a noble cause. The neighbours did their bit, too, and a demand draft for Rs 364 was sent to the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, on Monday.

“I humbly request your good self to kindly accept this small contribution & use it to buy a nice pair of black formal shoes,” the businessman said in a letter to the CM.

The CM had worn his customary sandals to a reception for French President François Hollande at the Rashtrapati Bhawan last month. The choice of footwear troubled Agrawal. “You were representing the country that day… not staging a dharna at an Aam Aadmi Party rally at Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar,” Agrawal wrote.

The businessman was mistaken. As Kejriwal marks his first year in office on February 14, it is clear that, at every opportunity, the leader of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would like to underline his man-on-the-street image. He is, at any point, holding a dharna – literally or figuratively.

But then he came to power riding dharnas. And though the quiet bureaucrat in the income tax office in Delhi who became a right to information activist before joining Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign had vowed that that he would never enter party politics, he did so with aplomb – and a great many sit-ins – in 2012.

“It’s difficult to understand Kejriwal’s style of functioning. Every day, he is into a fight with some agency or the other. He seems to be an unusual politician. It doesn’t really matter if he speaks or dresses up like a common man, it is important to see what this ‘common man’ has done for the thousands of other common men who voted him to power,” former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit says.

But if there is one thing that Kejriwal has worked hard on, it’s his image of the man next door. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to dress up – a formal galabandh on one occasion, a heavily embroidered shawl draped carelessly over a kurta on another – Kejriwal sticks to his uniform. A muffler and sweater with trousers in winter, a plain shirt and pair of trousers in summer. Occasionally, a Gandhi cap. And, of course, his floaters – worn with socks when it’s cold.

It is this image that he seeks to highlight in government radio spots that flooded Delhi during and after a state government move to control pollution. The ads were about an experiment when cars with odd and even numbers were allowed out only on alternate days for a fortnight last month.

In the ads, Kejriwal approaches the listener like an old acquaintance, using words and pauses the way one would in a conversation. ” Haan ji… kaise hai” – Hi, how are you – he starts.

His aides hold that more than 80 per cent of the ads have been conceived by him and he writes his own script. “He knows how to convey the most complicated thing in the most simple manner,” AAP spokesperson Ashutosh says.

As a communicator, Kejriwal has outdone himself. But the question being asked is if the government has done any significant work for the one year it has been in power.

Government watchers say that some major steps have been taken. The government doubled the education budget for the state and major changes are taking place in teaching methods and curriculum in government schools. A call centre has been set up to register complaints against corrupt officials. And the odd-and-even experiment to control traffic congestion and ensuing pollution has largely been lauded.

But for much of the year, the government hurtled from one crisis to another. The CM picked fights with the lieutenant governor over distribution of power, hasn’t been able to cut through the bureaucratic thicket and hasn’t attempted to resolve a shortfall of over Rs 1,500 crore in municipal budgets which has led to non-payment of salaries and strikes. He has been under pressure over a CBI raid on his office over corruption allegations against his principal secretary.

But with no opposition to talk of – AAP has 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly – the failures are seldom talked of. Instead, he, or occasionally his deputy, Manish Sisodia, engages with the public directly on issues that would interest them – corruption, pollution or consumer rights.

The idea, AAP insiders say, is to move from one issue to another before discord sets in. “We monitor ads to check when people feel irritated and start abusing us for saying the same thing – is it after 7 days or 10 days? We keep a check on the saturation level,” says Delhi state unit convener Dilip Pandey, in charge of communication.

The strategy, on the face of it, seems to be working. “First it was electricity and water. Then it was corruption, which was followed by the odd-even scheme. People have been given a new issue every time something loses its novelty,” says former bureaucrat Shakti Sinha. “But I am not sure if these have been followed up and monitored closely,” the ex-finance secretary in the Delhi government adds.

For Kejriwal, clearly, a lot of the action is in the public arena. When his office was raided by the CBI, he took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley publicly. The last time he was in power – for 48 days in 2013-14 – he threw in the towel when he felt besieged. This time, Kejriwal has gone to town over the Centre’s alleged moves against him.

“People think he is confrontational but that’s not the case. Earlier, he was more impulsive, now he is calmer,” a close associate says. “His understanding of politics and society is wider now and more in-depth.”

Indeed, if there is one thing that Kejriwal has demonstrated this year, it’s the fact that he is, contrary to popular perception, an inveterate politician.

Consider the way he has tackled dissidence, or people who could challenge him.

During his days as a fledgling activist against corruption, Kejriwal had a print-out pinned on the wall in his office in Ghaziabad. It was a shot from the film Munna Bhai MBBS. The original poster had Sanjay Dutt on a motorcycle, and his sidekick, Arshad Warsi, in the sidecar. Dutt’s face was replaced by Anna Hazare’s, and Warsi’s by Kejriwal’s. The message was clear: Hazare would lead the charge while Kejriwal would be his loyal lieutenant.

But Hazare – who gave Kejriwal a boost – is now a closed chapter. Even the other stalwarts who were Kejriwal’s equals when AAP was being formed are out in the cold.

“From a consensus builder, he turned into some sort of a dictator. Only yes men got his ear. Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were men with backbone – and it was only a matter of time before they were kicked out. He wouldn’t like a competitor,” a former associate says.

His political moves should not surprise his associates, for Kejriwal has shown on many occasions that he thinks like a clever politician. An AAP member recalls how, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab, Kejriwal looked at a crowd of mostly traders at a rally, and asked one of his candidates to point out that he belonged to the same community.

“I was shocked that he wanted votes highlighting his caste. He is like any other politician now. And he is more concerned about the next election than anything else,” alleges Harinder Singh Khalsa, AAP member of Parliament from Fatehgarh, Punjab.

But then, politics is all about mining votes – and making alliances. In recent months, Kejriwal has voiced his support for state leaders Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee. Efforts are on perhaps to form an alliance to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in the next general election.

Before that, though, he has to effectively rule Delhi. “In Delhi, a battle is being played out at a political level. Officials will not be motivated to work in an enthusiastic manner if this daily uncertainty continues,” says Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary, Delhi government.

Chandra believes that citizens want predictability in their daily lives. “That is absolutely lacking because of these constant upheavals. Citizens are not interested in day-to-day politics which disturb their world,” she says.

Also, much before the next general poll is the Assembly election in Punjab next year. It was thought that AAP could give a good fight to the ruling Akali Dal and the opposition Congress, but there is dissent brewing in the AAP camp now.

“AAP has the same high command culture as any other party and the coterie around Kejriwal keeps him in a world far removed from reality,” Khalsa says.

As Kejriwal returns to the capital today after ayurvedic treatment in Bangalore, he will have his hands full. His aides expect him to promptly get back to his punishing schedule – up at 5am, yoga, and then a spate of phone calls before setting out. “He always returns calls but his timing is odd. He calls at 5.30am – and I often forget what I want to discuss,” an aide says.

And, of course, the battle with the Centre will continue. Kejriwal came fighting the Establishment. And so what that he’s the Establishment now?

It’s no secret that the Centre and the Delhi government are locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. But as the issues pile up, the big question is: which of the two is legally on a weak wicket? Sonia Sarkar finds out.

January 2016: The Union home ministry describes as “illegal” a Delhi government probe into the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA). Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal says that the probe will continue.

January 2016: Delhi home minister Satyendar Jain asks deputy secretaries and additional secretaries to report directly to him and not to home secretary S.N. Sahai, appointed by the Centre.
December 2015: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government suspends two bureaucrats belonging to the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (Danics) cadre. The Union home ministry overturns the decision.

April 2015: The Delhi government appoints Surender Singh Yadav as head of its Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). In June, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Najeeb Jung appoints the joint commissioner of the Delhi police, Mukesh Kumar Meena, as the ACB chief.

June 2015: The Delhi government replaces home secretary Dharam Pal with senior IAS officer Rajendra Kumar. The home ministry revokes the decision and later appoints Sahai.

*****

The last 11 months have witnessed a never-ending drama in Delhi starring chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and LG Najeeb Jung. One proposes, the other disposes.Who’s at fault? Under the law, it is Kejriwal.

He, however, believes that hurdles are deliberately being put in his way because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot accept AAP’s victory and the BJP’s defeat in Delhi. “Ever since we formed the government, the Centre has been determined to give us a hard time. We pass an order and they say your order is null and void,” Kejriwal recently told the press.

 

 

AAP believes that attempts are on to show Kejriwal – who has taken on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on different forums – as politically inexperienced. “The Centre wants to say that we don’t understand governance,” Kejriwal aide Ashutosh fumes.

The BJP scoffs at this. “Kejriwal is not interested in governing Delhi; he only wants to pick fights,” BJP leader Sanjay Kaul counters. “And, above all, he doesn’t understand that the chief minister has to work under the legal arrangement prescribed for Delhi.”

The arrangement, indeed, is peculiar. Once a Union Territory (UT), Delhi got a Legislative Assembly with the enactment of the National Capital Territory Act of 1991. Delhi, however, is not a full-fledged state. The 69th amendment to the Constitution states that the elected government in Delhi enjoys the powers and privileges offered to all other states in India barring subjects such as public order, police and land.

The land powers lie with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), run by the Centre’s urban development ministry, and the police and law and order departments are with the Delhi police, which reports indirectly to the Centre.

The Delhi police commissioner doesn’t report to the elected chief minister, but to the LG, appointed by the Centre. For posting IAS officers, signatures are needed from the home ministry. Further, Parliament can legislate on any subject relating to Delhi’s governance under article 239AA(3)(b) of the Constitution. Under the law, the government in Delhi has to share powers with the “administrator”, the LG.

“Unlike the governor of any other state, the LG is the real power centre in Delhi,” holds Niranjan Sahoo, senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation and co-author of a recent paper, Statehood or Autonomy: Rethinking Governance in India’s Capital.

Kejriwal, he argues, has crossed the line in every case. “In all these cases – the suspension of Danics officers, the ACB chief’s appointment and replacing the home secretary – Kejriwal is exercising powers that are not his,” Sahoo states.

Under the law, only the LG has the right to appoint the ACB chief. The Delhi government replaced home secretary Dharam Pal with Rajendra Kumar (now the principal secretary) because the former had notified the appointment of Mukesh Kumar Meena as the ACB chief, which was done on Jung’s orders. The home ministry revoked the decision on Kumar and later appointed Sahai. The LG, under the law, has the right to appoint the home secretary in consultation with the Union home ministry.

Kejriwal, again, was wrong when he bypassed the LG’s office while appointing Arvind Ray as principal secretary (general administration). This decision requires the LG’s nod. The state government was also wrong in suspending two Danics bureaucrats because only the LG has the power to do so.

“Going by the rules, these appointments made by Kejriwal are all wrong. He is not authorised to execute these,” Sanjay Kumar, professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a New Delhi-based research institute in social sciences. But these are matters that could have been solved amicably.

“The chief minister and the LG could have dissolved differences without taking issues to the media,” says a political expert in a Delhi think tank. “Now, it is a show of strength for the two.”

The Shakuntala Gamlin issue is a case in point. Last May, the LG proposed the name of the senior bureaucrat for the post of acting chief secretary. Kejriwal opposed the move, but the LG went ahead and appointed Gamlin – which he has the right to do.

Yet there is a growing belief that the Centre is thrusting its decisions on the state. Usually, such appointments are decided after informal consultations. “There is a lot of back and forth that happens,” the think tank member points out. In this instance, there was none.

That wasn’t the case in 2007, when then chief minister Sheila Dikshit told the home ministry that she wanted Rakesh Mehta as the chief secretary. The government – a Congress-led one, like the one in the state – complied. “Mehta superseded 11 seniors but Dikshit had her way,” a former bureaucrat says.

Negotiations and consultations, Dikshit stresses, are crucial in running a government. And while having the Congress at the Centre helped on many occasions, Dikshit points out she faced no major problems even during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

She refers to the NDA time when construction for the Metro rail started and some colonies in east Delhi had to be relocated. “We negotiated for land with the urban development ministry and rehabilitated the people,” she says.

On the other hand, when her government wanted to authorise some illegal colonies, she couldn’t do so because the DDA, then under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, did not give its consent. “Some hurdles will always remain but one has to keep negotiating,” she says.

At the crux of the battle, perhaps, is Kejriwal’s demand for full statehood – which has been the chief minister’s slogan from day one.

“Since Kejriwal is the face of the government, he should have all powers,” an AAP leader says. “The people who gave us 67 seats in the 70-seat Assembly want us to have all the powers of Delhi.”

A BJP leader retorts: “Chief minister of Delhi is a cosmetic title.”

The title may be cosmetic, but the battle is purely political. And Kejriwal’s target, some analysts believe, is not Jung but Prime Minister Modi, whom Kejriwal recently called a “psychopath”.

“Modi should get the message that there is someone to take him on,” the AAP leader says, pointing to the fact that Kejriwal has trained his guns on Modi’s finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Last month, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the office of principal secretary Kumar. The CBI said it was related to corruption charges against Kumar. Kejriwal countered that the raid had to do with irregularities in the DDCA, which Jaitley once headed.

“Modi targeted our principal secretary, so we got his most powerful man,” the AAP leader says.

The DDCA fracas has been kicking up a storm. The state government’s decision to set up a body for a probe has been called “illegal” by the LG’s office. However, the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports had asked the Delhi government to look into the matter in July.

Political observers point out that strained Centre-Delhi ties are not new. Dikshit’s relationship with then LG Tejendra Khanna was often stormy.

A Congress leader refers to the case of a 42-acre plot in southwest Delhi. The home ministry and the LG decided to give only 10 acres of this to the Delhi government, but Dikshit wanted more and turned down the offer. “The land remains in dispute till date,” the Congress leader says.

Such tussles are common today. But the AAP camp believes the fight has been thrust on the party. It points out that Kejriwal had earlier offered an olive branch to Modi. He has also sought an appointment with the Prime Minister, but is still to hear from him.

“Kejriwal formally met Modi on two occasions – once to seek his ashirwad(blessings) after assuming office and then to tell him he was facing problems with Jung,” a senior AAP leader says. “We told him that to serve Delhi, we needed his help. But he said: ‘Yeh toh humne suna hai, maine toh socha tha aap kuchh naya idea leke aaoge (I have heard about these things. I thought you’d come with new ideas)’,” he says.

AAP leaders, he points out, get along well with other BJP leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh. Modi, he stresses, is the hurdle. “But people know that we want to work and the Centre is creating problems,” he adds.

Perhaps, as the Kejriwal government celebrates its first year in office next month, there will be a ceasefire. “The chief minister of Delhi has to understand his or her own limitations and the rights of the Centre,” Dikshit sums up. “It took me more than a year to understand the dynamics of Delhi.”


Myanmar goes to the polls today – and change is in the air. A flowering of art, music and films is underway, writes Sonia Sarkar

The painting is stark. Military men – dressed in olive green – stand in a row. Their heads are covered with bird cages. The work by Aung Kyi Soe, in the Blind in Knowledge series, is called Cages and is on display at an art gallery in Yangon, once called Rangoon.

Young musicians strum their guitars and sing at a club. The lyrics are simple – “We hate the system,” they chant.

A local news website displays a cartoon called “Religion and Elections”. Two sumo wrestlers are fighting each other.

As Myanmar goes to the polls today to elect a new government after five decades of military dictatorship, there is talk of change in the air. Changes are taking place not just in the political milieu but in the country’s art and culture field, too. Liberal voices once muzzled by the junta are slowly regaining their pitch. And painters, musicians, cartoonists, filmmakers are all a part of the transition.

“We are taking baby steps to democracy through art,” says artist and curator Pyay Way, whose Nawaday Tharlar Art Gallery is displaying the Blind Knowledge painting.

Way, who opened the art gallery in Yangon’s busy Dagon Township in 2012, says that he always wanted to create a liberal space for artists. “My artist friends felt suffocated not being able to express themselves,” he says.

Now there are at least 10 new art galleries in Yangon. Way’s gallery is also open to poets, singers and dancers. He organises an “open mic” evening once or twice a month where people express their concerns.

“There is a vibrant art community producing strong work in a variety of styles and formats, despite years of isolation and a limited domestic market for art,” points out historian and curator Melissa Carlson, who displayed the works of Myanmar’s artists at two exhibitions – Burma by Proxy: Art at the Dawn of Democracy (2015) and Banned in Burma: Painting under Censorship (2014) in Hong Kong.

Myanmar has been witnessing significant changes since 2010, when National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released after two decades of house arrest. The military government headed by President Thein Sein released more than 200 political prisoners. Regressive laws which prevented assembly of more than five people were repealed.

The spurt in art and culture followed changes in censorship laws and as the government allowed access to the Internet. Till 2012, all videos, both feature and documentary, had to go through the video Censor Board of the Television and Video Act, 1996, before distribution and screening. Failure to comply could result in fines, imprisonment of up to three years and confiscation of property. The rules of censorship have now been relaxed.

Cinema critical of the junta is no longer rare. An 18-minute short film Ban That Scene by Htun Zaw Win, for instance, criticises censorship. Kaung Sint’s 12-minute documentary film Enter on the life of a political prisoner in Myanmar exposes political abuse. “It shows how the government tortured political prisoners in jail,” Phyo says.

Since 2013, the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival has been organised in Myanmar in a bid to prod young filmmakers into making meaningful cinema. “This film festival is an effort to create a democratic space,” says the festival organiser Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who won the best documentary award at a 2010 film festival in Hanoi for his film The Floating Tomatoes.

It’s not just motion pictures – cartoons are coming alive, too. Satirical lines touch upon a vast spectrum of subjects once considered taboo, from child soldiers and military politics to Buddhist militancy.

Cartoonist Beruma put up a sketch that showed General Than Shwe, Myanmar’s former dictator, controlling Thein Sein. A cartoon by artist Aw Pi Kyeh makes a telling comment about the political situation in the southeast Asian country, where military men are seeking to join the electoral process. A footballer has been substituted on the field – but instead of a new player coming in, he returns in another uniform.

“There is a space for political cartoons in local news journals,” says cartoonist Kyaw Thu Yein, who does political cartoons for a satirical website, Cartoon Movement. “I started cartoons in 2000. But my cartoons then were not published in newspapers except for a local humour magazine.”

For many artists, the whiffs of freedom are heady. They remember the time when few artistes could raise their voice against the rulers of Myanmar. Celebrated painter Aye Ko was arrested for speaking out against military repression. After a year in jail, he joined a shoe business. And it was only much later that he returned to art.

Artists were not allowed to display their work against the government in the galleries. Political art was banned, as was nudity. Even excessive use of black, white and red was censored.

Music came under restrictions, too. Punk bands were not allowed to perform in concerts without taking prior permission from the government’s Censor Board. Rock bands had to submit their lyrics to the government before they could even be cleared for performance or recording. Many performed secretly in warehouses and railroad yards. Rock bands such as Side Effect, Broken Order, No U Turn, and Rebel Riot performed in underground clubs, and sang of abuse of power by the military.

“We were expected to sing only good songs, about the natural beauty of the country and about love. They wanted us to shut our eyes to reality,” says Darko C., vocalist and guitarist of Side Effect.

The band was set up in 2004 but couldn’t release an album till 2012, when censorship rules were relaxed. Even then, there were restrictions. He had to drop a song on prostitution from their first album, Rainy Night Dreams.

Darko is now all set to release a new album called Voice of the Youth, where he urges the young to be agents of change.

Artistes, however, rue that they are still censored. The pro-government Myanmar Music Association has replaced the Censor Board to exercise control over rock bands. Laws such as the Electronics Transaction Law, with a jail term of 15 years for anyone using “electronic technology that threatens the security of the State”, still exist.

Last year, several paintings featuring nudes by artist Sandar Khine were removed from Yangon’s Lokanat Galleries. Even now, art galleries have to take permission from the government before displaying their work.

Increasingly, though, artistes are violating the rules. “I have been threatened by security forces a couple of times for not taking permission,” Way says. “Intelligence officials always keep a tab on our work,” adds Ole Chavannes, a media trainer who works with the anti-government news website Democratic Voice of Burma.

But many are hopeful that today’s elections will usher in a new climate. “What is the point of having an election if no change takes place on the ground,” Way asks. “Suu Kyi should come to power to bring about that change.”

You don’t often see Kiran Bedi pleading. But she is doing that right now, while urging the reporter of a Hindi news channel to ask her more questions. The reporter had stood up in a huff, terminating his interview with Delhi’s wannabe chief minister, when her aides had asked him to cut it short. “Please don’t go,” Bedi pleads. “Ask more questions.”

There’s a background to this. A few days before that, she had walked out of a television interview. Anchor Arnab Goswami was, as is his wont, hectoring her a bit when Bedi walked off, saying that she was late for another interview. The video clip went viral, leading to a deluge of jokes and critical remarks about Bedi.

Clearly, the no-nonsense former super cop is learning to be a politician. The walk-out was a mistake. Two weeks before Assembly elections in Delhi – where she is the chief ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bedi can’t afford to be seen as a political parvenu unable to handle the media.

So the first woman in the Indian Police Service (IPS), wearing a dark blue blazer over a pair of blue trousers, with a saffron scarf draped around her neck, is doing what she can to get people on her side. And that’s not a tall order, she believes.

“I have the trust of the people. That will help me to work as the chief minister,” Bedi, 65, says.

Last week, the BJP – which has no dearth of leaders in its state unit – sprung a surprise on the people, to say nothing of its Delhi party, when it said that Bedi had joined the BJP and was its candidate for the chief minister’s post. The move has led to furious debates in and outside the city. Is she chief minister material, as the phrase goes? Does a tough cop necessarily mean an able chief minister?

Many of her former colleagues believe that the very traits that made her a go-getting police officer may come in her way if she is chief minister. As a cop, she was dictatorial and broke protocol. In a chief minister, such traits will be frowned upon.

“She is an instructor, not a listener,” a former colleague rues. “Her word has to be the last word.”

Bedi denies that. “When I work, I listen to everyone. I urge people to speak,” she stresses.

Of course, Bedi is known to have a mind of her own. Old colleagues say she has been like this from the very beginning, even when she was a newbie at Mount Abu’s National Police Academy in 1972.

“Even at 21, she was outspoken and confident,” retired IPS officer Gautam Kaul says. “And she was never awkward as the only woman in the academy.”

A batchmate recalls that she would take a regular stroll with other probationers near Nakki Lake, a lone and slight woman in a group of strapping men. An Asian lawn tennis champion, she played tennis with equal elan with the then director of the academy. “We secretly envied her,” he says.

She was quick to impress her seniors with her “can-do” attitude when she was posted to Delhi after her training. “The first impression she gives is always positive,” a former cop says.

But those are the strengths – which should be an asset to any chief minister. The problems that her colleagues saw soon thereafter are traits that may trip her up.

As a cop, she would do things on her own, sometimes bypassing seniors, says a former Delhi police official. “She had this tendency to fix all problems alone, which is never possible in the government.”

She wasn’t a team player, but to be an effective chief minister she cannot work in isolation. “She has to take everyone else on board. She cannot wield her baton here,” a senior BJP leader says.

On the other hand, a trait that bureaucrats oppose may be just what the voter wants. Her colleagues were not happy with her “over-enthusiastic” approach. A senior recalls that while undergoing training as a station house officer in 1973, she decided to stay back overnight at the police station to get work done. “She went back only after a senior asked her not to ‘overdo’ things,” the retired Delhi police officer recalls.

But Delhi residents may not be unhappy at all if a chief minister decides to spend a night in the secretariat, clearing files.

Some old associates say that she is self-centered. Her detractors say that she imposes her opinion on others. But Bedi doesn’t believe this is true. “I cannot impose myself on others unless people trust me,” she says.

But if she carries so much baggage, why would the BJP have chosen her as the CM candidate? Sources say that the party had sought a delay in the elections because it was in search of a “brave” face to counter Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The party brass felt that it needed someone with mass appeal, which their Delhi leaders lacked. Senior BJP leader and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley is said to have approached Bedi, after getting the go-ahead from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

It worked out well – the BJP was looking for a face; Bedi was looking for a body. Sidelined by the AAP, she needed a platform.

The BJP high command believes it is on the right track – she is seen as honest, energetic and determined. She gets work done. People still remember her as Crane Bedi because she got cars parked illegally towed away. Delhi wallahas even believe that she had Indira Gandhi’s car towed away, though it later transpired that Gandhi, then Prime Minister, was out of town, and the car’s driver was “challaned” by a police constable for illegal parking.

In the late 1970s, she hit the headlines when she rescued 10 women and seven children from a burning house in Sadar Bazar. In 1978, with a stick in hand, she took on Akali agitators at India Gate. Her personal album has a series of pictures of Bedi – in heeled boots – warding off the men carrying sturdy sticks.

Bedi has already shown a talent that some successful politicians possess – the ability to change camps at will. When she was one of the leading lights of the Anna Hazare movement – seeking to weed out corruption from India – she lampooned politicians at a public rally. There was a time, too, not so long ago, when she was critical of Modi, frequently questioning him about the 2002 riots in Gujarat.

Her tilt towards the BJP first became apparent to the AAP in 2014, when the latter was campaigning against Union minister and former BJP president Nitin Gadkari on corruption issues. “She was fine when such protests were carried out against Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. But she opposed the AAP when it targeted Gadkari,” an AAP member says.

Bedi now sees herself an out-and-out BJP person. “It’s a value-based solid organisation. I have seen it from inside,” she says.

She may have also seen the dissidents inside – for that’s going to be one of the biggest problems she’ll face in the party. Many have already started grumbling about her lack of political experience. “She should have been made an MLA first to help her understand how the administration runs. She has always been on the other side of the fence. She has no knowledge of politics and governance,” a BJP leader says.

Her critics point out that she is also not known to complete assignments. When she was posted to Goa, she left before finishing her tenure. She was removed from a post in Chandigarh after she got into a tussle with a senior bureaucrat. She left her job in Mizoram after widespread protests about her daughter getting a seat in a medical college in Delhi under the “Mizoram quota” – meant essentially for people of the state.

Yet, for every characteristic that is seen as a con, there are many in her favour. She is disciplined and looks after the interest of her subordinates, who used to fondly call her “Madam, Sir”.

She is also seen as a doer, a quality that people would like in their chief minister. “She doesn’t sit on anything. For example, if a pipe leaks, she will get a plumber to fix it right away. She won’t go through the sarkari way of filling up a requisition form, etc,” a former colleague says.

This, though, is not a job for quick fixes. Will she cope, or cop out? Time will tell, no doubt. But before that, the voter will.

‘I give, don’t take’

Q. What are the qualities you have that will make you a good chief minister?
A. I am trustworthy. As a cop, I have learnt only to give, never to take.
Q. How did you get the BJP ticket?
A. Nobody will ever get to know this.
Q. Why do you always abandon your posts?
A. Read my book. It has all the answers. It costs Rs 500, but I am gifting it to you.
Q. Why have you changed your views about the BJP and Modi?
A. I haven’t changed my views. I have understood that it’s a solid, value-based organisation. You haven’t got a chance to understand it, which I’ve got.
Q. You are a good mimicry artiste. You also used to imitate dancer Prabhudheva’s moves in the song Muqabla muqabla…
A. I used to do that. I mimicked tennis players too.

Pros and Cons

Strengths

Quick to act
Disciplined
Clean image
Weaknesses

Critics call her dictatorial
No experience
Not a team player

Arvind Kejriwal is readying for the Delhi Assembly elections. The man who was briefly chief minister of Delhi concedes that he erred in quitting government midway but tells Sonia Sarkar that if voters give his Aam Aadmi Party a majority it won’t make the same mistake again

Arvind Kejriwal is out on the streets of Delhi again. The man who would be chief minister of Delhi – and who was its seemingly reluctant chief minister for 49 days – is collecting money for elections to the Delhi Assembly.

“An honest party can only run with honest money,” he says as he donates Rs 10,000 from his own coffers to his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at a public function on Friday. “I am here to create Swachh Rajneeti (clean politics),” he adds, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign.

Kejriwal and his team are playing the second innings of a game that they had left midway. In 2013, AAP won 28 seats and formed the government in Delhi with the support of the Congress, which had eight seats. But he stepped down in February 2014, stating that he couldn’t continue because he didn’t have the numbers to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption law that he had been spearheading.

Many former supporters of AAP believe that Kejriwal sparked hope in them, and then let them down when he resigned. The short stint, in any case, did not inspire confidence. He and his aides brought the city to a standstill with nightlong dharnas. Once the darling of the media, he earned considerable bad press when his law minister raided the houses of African women at midnight, seeking to unearth a suspected drug and prostitution racket.

Will the voter trust him again?

“There is no trust deficit. But, yes, people are asking, why did I leave the government?” Kejriwal says. “But we tell them that you didn’t give us a majority. If you give us a majority this time, we will never leave.”

AAP’s campaign has begun in right earnest. Since November, the party has received around Rs 4 crore (which, however, is just a fraction of the Rs 25 crore it says it needs for funding the polls). AAP has also released the names of the candidates for Delhi’s 70 constituencies, though the election dates are still to be announced.

“I think we will get around 50 seats,” AAP’s national convener predicts. “It is important to have a strong leadership in Delhi, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t have,” he adds.

Kejriwal, 46, blames the Congress for not allowing the previous government to function. The Congress and the BJP together did not let any bills be passed in the Delhi Assembly, he alleges.

His only mistake, he holds, was to leave the government midway. ” Bas, wahi ek galti ki thi (that was the only mistake),” he says.

Kejriwal has been mocked as much he has been idolised ever since he camped at Jantar Mantar three years ago as part of a widespread anti-corruption campaign. When we meet on Friday evening, he is wearing a brown jacket and a pair of grey trousers. The politician who has often been derided as Mufflerman wears two scarves to cover his neck and head. He still has a cough – the subject of many an Internet barb. How does he react to all these social media jokes?

“When there are nice jokes, one laughs at them,” he replies.

We are travelling in a grey Innova along with other party members – Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh and Ashwathi Muralidharan – from his flat in Ghaziabad to the Constitution Club, where the function for donations is being held. Kejriwal sits in the front passenger seat, and I sit behind him. For the 30 minutes that the journey takes, he answers all questions but never once turns back his head or neck. He looks ahead and replies, pausing only once in a while to smile at a few passers-by who wave out to him.

Kejriwal, who floated AAP after running a nationwide campaign called India Against Corruption in 2011 to bring in legislation against corruption, is now strangely reticent about the Jan Lokpal Bill. He doesn’t mention the concept of Poorna Swaraj (self-governance) either, which was one of his main planks during the last elections.

“All this is on our agenda. But there are other important issues such as educational loans for the youth, CCTV camera in buses for security and creating citizen local area development funds,” he stresses.

But corruption, he points out, is very much on the agenda. “We will stop the culture of taking bribes in Delhi at every level,” he says.

But how relevant is the issue of corruption now when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development plank holds sway?

“It is not corruption versus development. The fight is on the basis of my 49 days of governance that the people saw and the six months of BJP rule that the people have been seeing now,” he says. “Even staunch BJP supporters are now disappointed because they see there is no real work happening on the ground. What is happening is just bayaanbaazi (making tall promises).”

Ironically, the BJP seems to have taken up many of the issues that AAP had promised to deal with – the BJP has launched a mobile app in association with the Delhi police for women’s safety; it seeks to regularise 895 illegal colonies in Delhi; and its government in Haryana has issued a notice to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra about his business deals. It was Kejriwal who had raised these issues.

“They are copying us. But they are doing it only for show. Their intent is not honest,” he says.

Kejriwal, who was once described as a front for the BJP in its fight against the Congress, has been a staunch critic of the BJP and Narendra Modi for a while now. When few were willing to take on Modi, he fought (and lost) against the BJP strongman in Varanasi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

But Parliament doesn’t interest him any more – he is eyeing the Delhi secretariat. There are murmurs of discontent in the party, with some members alleging that he gave tickets to those people who could bring money for the party. Five party legislators have also been denied tickets. And he has been accused of doing away with the previous process of screening applications and interviewing candidates before giving away tickets.

Kejriwal denies the charges. “We have followed the same process of selection of candidates. We have removed some legislators because they were not functioning properly or were not accessible to their constituents,” he says. “All those given tickets are good people,” he reasons.

The new Kejriwal seems more practical. Once against corporate funding, he has no qualms today about accepting “small” donations from companies. He says he is willing to take Rs 1 lakh as donation from any company because “nobody can buy the party with Rs 1 lakh”.

These flip-flops are being closely watched. The man who once said he’d never play caste politics referred to himself as a baniya (a trader caste) while addressing a gathering of traders in Delhi last week. “But I never said give me votes because I am a baniya,” he elaborates.

Within his loosely structured party, Kejriwal has his share of detractors too. One party member believes that he follows the “Modi style of dictatorship”. Senior AAP members including former minister Shanti Bhushan and academic Yogendra Yadav, too, have criticised him for taking decisions unilaterally. Yadav, in a letter written to his colleagues last year, had said that Kejriwal behaved like a “party supremo” and not a leader.

“It shows that people in our party have every right to express their dissent,” Kejriwal replies when reminded about the criticism within.

But the party is not riding the wave that it did a year ago. Prominent members such as Shazia Ilmi and Captain G.R. Gopinath have left the party, mostly because they were unhappy with its “undemocratic” functioning. Is it true, I ask him, that Kumar Vishwas, who fought from Amethi, and academic Anand Kumar, who were both a part of the party’s national executive, have been sidelined?

“No one has been sidelined. It is wrong to believe that only members of some committee are important for the party,” he says.

This is a new side of Kejriwal – the mild-mannered son of an engineer, who schooled in small towns such as Hissar, Ghaziabad and Sonepat. There was not a spark of activism in him even when he studied mechanical engineering at IIT, Kharagpur, his friends had told the media earlier.

The change came after he cleared the civil services examination, and joined the Indian Revenue Services. He worked as a joint commissioner of income tax in Delhi and later started the Public Cause Research Foundation where he spoke out against corruption. He was one of the crusaders of the right to information campaign and went on to win the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for his work on the issue.

Kejriwal, who resigned from the services, has no time today for his passions – playing chess and reading. Of course, it’s another matter that he is playing a game of chess on a very large field. Checkmate, anyone?

(http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150104/jsp/7days/story_6571.jsp )

The Aam Aadmi Party wants to contest 350 Lok Sabha seats, but where will it get candidates who can win an election? Sonia Sarkar on the dilemma the party faces

If questions were wishes, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would ride the wave of success. With elections around the corner, the newest kid on the political block is looking at candidates for Parliament. But despite the party’s popularity in some quarters, there seems to be a dearth of suitable candidates.

“So far, we have received around 5,000 applications. We have extended the last date for applications because we haven’t got the right candidates yet,” party leader Yogendra Yadav says.

People seeking a nomination have to fill in a form that’s available online. Candidates will be called for an interview where they will be asked several questions: Do you have a past connection with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Congress? Do you have a team of volunteers of your own? Has your work made any difference to the local community?

No to the first question and yes to the remaining two would be appreciated.

But while would-be candidates are busy submitting their forms, AAP is in a dilemma. Just where is it going to get winnable candidates from? Winning 28 seats and defeating three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit in Delhi gave the party a political boost. What it has not given — a legacy that all major parties have inherited or have developed — is a list of experienced candidates.

Of course, a few well-known people have joined AAP, which now boasts of 8 million members. Among them is airline entrepreneur Captain G.R. Gopinath and former banker Meera Hiranandani Sanyal, who wishes to contest from Mumbai South. In Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, earlier with the Communist Party of India, and journalist Ashutosh are new entrants, as is former Congress leader Alka Lamba. In Gujarat, dancer Mallika Sarabhai is likely to fight the election as an AAP candidate.

But these are all people who have either never fought an election outside campuses, or fought and lost. Sarabhai was defeated by BJP leader L.K. Advani and Sanyal by Congressman Murli Deora in the 2009 general elections. Lamba lost to Madan Lal Khurana in the 2003 Delhi elections.

Earlier this week, AAP came out with a list of names — featuring, among others, BJP’s Nitin Gadkari and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi — which its candidates will fight against in the coming polls. A party functionary also said it would contest from 350 seats out of 543 parliamentary seats.

“We are looking for popularity in an area and acceptability within the organisation,” Yadav says. “Those who leave the BJP or the Congress just before the elections and join us hoping to get a ticket are not welcome,” stresses AAP’s Sanjay Singh who, along with Yadav, is the co-chair of the party’s search committee for suitable candidates.

The party is also looking for people who have done social work for more than 20 years — and that’s not an easy criterion to meet. Sanyal, for instance, is an important fundraiser, but has just five years of social work to her credit. She, however, stresses that she has vast experience.

  • In line: Mallika Sarabhai, who is likely to be a candidate; and (top) college girls at a membership drive in Patna

“I have worked with women in tribal and forest areas and helped them become entrepreneurs. I have travelled across 15 states to live with and document the challenges and successes of women. Plus, I have worked with the youth too,” she says.

The party hopes to do well in the two northern states — Delhi and Haryana — where it has a presence. But in many states, there are hardly any applicants. For the 48 seats in Maharashtra, it has received 300 applications and for the six seats in Mumbai, 60 applications so far.

“Applications for the Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra are also coming from Delhi,” says Preeti Menon, secretary of the party’s Maharashtra chapter.

In many states it has hardly any presence. In Jharkhand, the party is still to emerge. The scenario is equally bleak in Bengal, where the party has received seven applications so far. But state unit chief Mukul Kesri holds that the party will fight from South 24 Paraganas, South Calcutta, North Calcutta, Howrah and Hooghly (Serampore).

Yadav is not so sure. “Looking at the organisational strength of the party in Bengal, we don’t think that we can contest any seats there,” he says.

In Bihar, the party seems to have been overwhelmed by caste equations. “It is easier to break into a state which has a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress,” Yadav admits.

In the south, AAP is relatively strong in Bangalore, where it has over 1,00,000 members and prominent faces such as Gopinath and V. Balakrishnan, former Infosys board member and currently chairman, MicroGraam.

It has a presence in Kerala too, but not enough candidates. AAP wants to fight the CPI(M) and the Congress in 20 parliamentary seats, but has received 25 nominations so far. “But a lot of social activists who have done good work are joining us,” says Kerala unit convener Manoj Padmanabhan.

AAP has been trying to focus on Gujarat — where it plans to take on BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Ashutosh and Sanjay Singh have been conducting rallies in Gujarat but the response has been lukewarm. The party has received 105 nominations for 26 parliamentary seats but none of these is from people with strong political backgrounds.

“It is disappointing because Gujarat is a challenging battlefield for us,” Gujarat unit secretary Sanjeev Srivastava says.

The problem with AAP, it emerges, is AAP itself. The party, which has come up on a platform of clean politics, is in a bind. Many people who seek to join the party, and who may win elections, are not clean. On the other hand thousands of incorruptible people who are with AAP and willing to fight the polls do not have the capacity to win.

The preconditions — no political affiliations, 20 years of social work, etc. — don’t help either. To top it, candidates also have to support their applications with at least 100 signatures from each Assembly constituency that comes under the parliamentary seat they wish to contest from. “The parameters are very difficult to meet,” a senior Mumbai AAP member admits.

Another problem is that the party doesn’t have an established ideology — so it’s attracting people with no political backgrounds. “People wear a muffler and a Gandhi cap and come to us for a ticket — they think that’s the trademark for getting a ticket,” Madhya Pradesh member Colonel (retd) V.K. Choudhury says.

Some observers, however, believe that AAP may end with a slew of suitable candidates just before the April-May polls. “If they win 50 seats, it will signify that they have arrived. But it is highly unlikely to happen, given the lack of organisational strength of the party,” says Manisha Priyam, ICSSR fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum Library, Delhi.

Wait and watch, party leaders retort. They wowed Delhi; they hope they’ll end up surprising the rest of the country.

Additional reporting by Velly Thevar in Mumbai, Varuna Verma in Bangalore and Sharmistha Das in Calcutta


Rahul Gandhi smiles at the world from huge billboards lining the dusty and pot-holed roads of Amethi. But there is a stranger in town who vows to wipe out the smile. And that’s a little known poet called Kumar Vishwas.Kumar is likely to be fielded from the Gandhi pocket borough by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2014 general election. And the 43-year-old outsider is doing all he can to strike a chord in the heart of the eastern Uttar Pradesh town. “I have come here to listen to you,” he says, addressing some 300 people in the Salon area of Amethi.

While Gandhi has been busy addressing Congress members in Delhi, Kumar is canvassing hard in Amethi. He starts his day at seven in the morning, and his cavalcade of four cars — with Vishwas in a white Scorpio — weaves its way through the town, stopping every now and then to address meetings in a constituency that Gandhi has won twice, and which was earlier represented by his uncle, Sanjay, his father, Rajiv, and later, his mother, Sonia Gandhi.

Kumar’s plank is that of lack of development. “People of Amethi are angry with Rahul Gandhi because there has been no development here,” he says.

Indeed, the people do have a litany of complaints. Amethi — which comprises the five Assembly constituencies of Tiloi, Salon, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj and Amethi — has an average literacy rate of 39 per cent, far lower than the national average of 59.5 per cent.

Though there are six government colleges in Amethi, no new college has come up in the 10 years since Gandhi’s first election from Amethi in 2004. A new extension campus of the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Allahabad, has been opened, but locals complain that it doesn’t help them.

  • Winning turf : Sunita Kori (left) with Kumar Vishwas

“Admissions take place in Allahabad. And there is no reservation for us,” Deepak Sharma, a 23-year-old unemployed science graduate, rues.

As Kumar meets people in village corners, they crowd around him to complain about unemployment. In recent years, factories of LML Vespa, Usha Rectifiers and Samrat Bicycles have shut. Only a few companies remain, notably Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Associated Cement Companies Limited and Indo Gulf Fertilisers.

It was only last year that the foundation of the 67km-long Unchahar-Salon-Amethi rail line was laid by Rahul Gandhi. Last year, he also announced the setting up of 140 food processing units in the Jagdishpur Industrial Area and a paper mill in Amethi. But the locals are not sure if they will get jobs.

“With no new projects, we don’t even get work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. So what will these government investments do for us,” Mohammed Arif, a resident of Bhadar village, asks.

Kumar is making the most of the resentment. “Do you see any development in your village,” he thunders. “Where are the roads? Where is electricity? Don’t you think you should question your parliamentarian?”

You can see that the people are drawn to Kumar, who peppers his speeches with colloquial Hindi words and barbs, and bits of poetry. He makes fun of the dynastic rule of the Gandhi family by referring to Rahul as babua (a nickname for small boys) and Yuvraj (Prince). “You may not be able to meet your Yuvraj but I will be there for you. I will be your slave,” he says.

Though new to politics, Kumar, clearly, is a shrewd politician. He praises Rajiv Gandhi — for the people of Amethi still hold him in reverence — while pulling down his son. And he knows that in Amethi, Muslims account for 13 per cent of the total 12 lakh votes. His mission now is to assuage the fears of Muslims, perturbed by his anti-Islamic remarks of 2005.

Of course, a lot of his rhetoric is borrowed. He uses the message of an old poster for secularism by pointing out that Ramzan, the Muslim period of fasting, starts with the name of Ram, while the Hindu festival Diwali, ends with the name Ali.

The Dalits, comprising 28 per cent of the total vote, are another constituency he focuses on. He visited Sunita Kori, a Dalit woman with whom Gandhi had shared a meal in 2008, and in whose house he had spent a night. “Rahul Gandhi ate at a Dalit’s house and advertised it widely. But did he invite any Dalit to his house,” Kumar asks.

It looks like a clever political strategy to call on the woman Gandhi had charmed. But Kumar insists that it was just a coincidence. “When I was passing by the village, someone pointed out Kori’s house. So I stopped to see how she was doing,” he says. “I was very surprised to find that she was living in a pathetic condition. She neither has a roof over her head nor does she or her husband have a job. I have promised her that we will pool in money to put an asbestos roof.”

Kori seems impressed by Kumar, and disillusioned by Gandhi. A mother of three, she managed to meet Rahul only after repeated attempts last year. “But I was shocked that he didn’t even recognise me. Nor did he offer any help,” she says.

Qattar Singh of Salon is not charmed by Gandhi either. He points out that one of the major problems that the people of Amethi face is that Gandhi is inaccessible. “He comes and goes. But we never get to tell him our problems. His security officers never let us go near him,” Singh complains.

But Amethi has its share of Gandhi family loyalists too. “If anyone can do any good to Amethi, it is the Gandhis,” says Radhey Shyam Tewary, a history professor in Amethi’s RRPG College.

Local Congressmen are doing their bit to counter Kumar. He was recently attacked by his political opponents for praising Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in a symposium a few years ago. “In poetry sessions, we often say good things about the chief guests. I was not political when I said all this,” Kumar replies.

The man from Pilkhuwa in Hapur, however, misses being a poet. “I used to do political satire in my shows. I would make fun of Atal Behari Vajpayee and even Manmohan Singh but I have stopped because it might lead to controversy,” he says, popping peanuts into his mouth, while his car takes him to the interiors of Amethi.

There is nothing to show — even physically — that the constituency has powerful patrons. The town is crowded like most small towns, and the villages — with thatched huts — look like time has passed them by.

He hops out of his car near one such village. A small child calls out his name, and Kumar stops. “Tell your parents not to vote for Rahul Gandhi because he has not done his homework,” he says, as the crowd bursts into loud cheers.

It doesn’t look like he has stirred up a wave in Amethi, but he may have converted some voters. “We voted for Rahul because we didn’t know anyone. Now we have an option,” schoolteacher Satyam Piyush, 23, says.

But senior Congress leaders such as Rammurti Shukla hold that the charm of Kumar will vanish in no time. “People gather to listen to his poetry. At the end of the day, they will vote for the Congress,” Shukla says. “Kumar should understand that it is a political battle and not a mushaira (poetry session).”

The going has not been all that easy for Kumar. Eggs were hurled at him at some meeting. Somewhere people threw ink. But Kumar is not giving up the battle. “If I want something in life, I make all the effort to get it. It will happen this time too,” he says.

( This was published in The Telegraph, January 19, 2014)



  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...