I do not particularly like Arvind Kejriwal (I find him shrill) and I disagree with almost everything he has said regarding the anti-corruption legislation and body Lokpal, but his ongoing show, played out largely on live TV, and replayed and reinforced by the newspapers, has enraptured me.
This, if Kejriwal doesn’t know it already, is his calling.
And in some ways, his current role, as a conduit for and amplifier of information on the deals and dealings of ministers and politicians—Kejriwal himself calls them the ruling class—is a continuation of his earlier role as an advocate for and evangelist of the Right to Information legislation, one that brought him fame and a won him a Magsasay award.
I see Kejriwal as India’s Julian Assange; only unlike Assange’s strong anti-system objectives, his own are somewhere between highlighting the gaps in people managing the current system and presenting himself as an objective. Wikileaks was built around the documents it leaked and Kejriwal has stressed, more than once, that there are a large number of documents that IAC has received (and continues to receive).
I don’t particularly care whether Kejriwal’s party makes any headway or not; nor am I worried about his electoral fortunes (from New Delhi, no less, according to rumours, which also claim that a Bharatiya Janata Party worthy who was eyeing the constituency is now looking for another one), but I am thrilled by all the documents he has released, and those that he will, between now and the next general election in 2014.
So far, his targets include Robert Vadra, a private citizen who doesn’t have to go through security checks at airports; Salman Kurshid, the law minister who has been reduced to the caricature of a Bollywood badman; and Nitin Gadkari, the BJP president who claims to be using land that was irregularly given to his trust for the benefit of farmers.
To be sure, the authenticity of any document IAC releases will have to be verified, and anyone wishing to follow up on them would be advised to conduct their own due diligence of the documents and investigation. Some of the documents may be false or might be highlighting issues that can be easily explained. Others are likely to have a modicum of truth. Still others may be entirely true.
Kejriwal’s strategy reflects a nuanced understanding of the information age. It recognizes the end of information asymmetry that has traditionally marked governance (and even class) systems in India—the RTI Act, 24X7 TV, and, to a much lesser extent, social media, have put an end to it. And, by making the information itself open-source, much like Wikileaks did, it transfers the onus to individuals and organizations named—suddenly, the burden of proof is on them, and not on the person making the allegation.
It’s an insight that has escaped most parties, including the BJP (which is otherwise quite internet-savvy, with entire news websites dedicated to the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi). Indeed, politicians of all hues have dismissed Kejriwal as an irritant whose party will fare badly in the polls, evaluating him the same way they would their other political opponents.
To be sure, far more fundamental changes are required to cleanse India’s political system. For starters, we need new rules on electoral funding. And at the ground level, politics needs to stop being a viable business model. Still, the rules of the game are changing, and, right now, the established political parties are passive participants in the process. It is the likes of Kejriwal that are writing this fresh script.