JANUARY 22, 2014

I have no issues with anyone using dharnas as a political strategy, whether or not they are the Chief Minister. The “inconvenience” and “dignity of office” arguments being made by some also hold little truck with me. I write here then to mark my dissent on three specific fronts against the recently concluded AAP dharna from a different vantage point. As with all thoughts on things emergent, they are offered in the making with all their attendant uncertainties.

One, after the events in Khirki Village, I find it hard to have faith that this government will not use a police in their control to ends they see morally, ethically and politically fit rather than those within agreed frames of law or constitutional values. These ends are possibly alarming — the silence within AAP against Somnath Bharti’s unacceptable, racist, sexist, moralistic and unlawful tirade in Khirki is cause for deep concern and shame. The active endorsement and defence of his actions by Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP leaders, however, is worse.

Nothing is worse for democratic politics than leaders who are so certain of their beliefs that they hold them above the law and indeed see them as law — that is what corruption is about. That is the kind of certainty and arrogance this party claimed to rise against. The echo of Jan Lokpal is resounding here, and our collective clamour for benevolent dictators and moral saviours must concern us all. We seem to have them on all sides and in all party colours now and it says more about us than them. I was willing to see how the party would grow as it came to power but this incident and its handling is making me rapidly lose faith in this party’s commitment to an equitable politics that is not just its version of how the world should be and live, or reduced to “anti-corruption.”

Two, there are good, thought-through reports on police reform that “give” the police neither to the state nor the centre but establish a sense of autonomy, accountability and citizen-state oversight. Let us please remember that other states of India where the police is under state control hardly have shining police forces. AAP needs to address these reforms and not make a simplistic demand of handing the police to them just as the Congress and BJP did and do. Give us a vision of how a police force should be run, don’t just demand to be their masters and try and suspend them for not following your diktats blindly. Different masters don’t make more egalitarian institutions and, as a “Delhi voter” they keep addressing, I don’t want the police to just move between goons with different hat-geometries.

Three, and more broadly, AAP will have to find a balance between building and tearing down. This party has a chance to put in systems that will last after them that seek fairness but they need to show us that they have the capacity and imagination to govern. They are addressing an unequal system so some amount of challenge and tearing down is necessary but they must begin to speak in both voices within and outside their own party to indicate that they are capable of thinking about institutions beyond their own persons and leaders. Yes, its early days but that makes it all the more important for them to choose their first moves clearly. They have chosen to start with a chemotherapy-like slash and burn of all that stands — fair enough, but that will take both good and bad with it, leaving the body politic weakened and possibly unable to rebuild. I wonder, having merely days of governing under their belt, if this was the moment for this fight let alone that they have chosen to fight it on a case where, for once, the damn police is in the right.

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