Who stands to gain from anti-corruption politics? - Hindustan Times
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Who stands to gain from anti-corruption politics?

Mar 25, 2024 11:28 PM IST

With the general elections looming, both the BJP and Congress are hoping to see these movement-based parties become embroiled in scandals.

The coming general elections will have a distinction: It will be the first elections in which two chief ministers (CMs), a deputy chief minister, a Member of Parliament, and a minister are in prison on the charges of corruption. There are dozens more who have either spent time in jail or are headed for it. Is this an outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declared anti-corruption agenda, or a plot to weaken the Opposition?

AAP leaders take out a march in protest against the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in Govindpuri in New Delhi on Sunday. (ANI) PREMIUM
AAP leaders take out a march in protest against the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in Govindpuri in New Delhi on Sunday. (ANI)

Let’s start with Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal. In the early years of the last decade, Kejriwal emerged as a “crusader” for the truth. He had quit the Indian Revenue Service to work for an NGO and as a Right to Information activist. His involvement in the 2012 Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement brought him recognition. His comrades and he had then proclaimed they had nothing to do with electoral politics and were merely fighting for truth, fraternity, and justice. So, his admirers were startled when he announced the launch of the AAP. He argued then that cleaning politics required getting your hands dirty. He projected himself as an unconventional leader. He could be spotted sitting with auto-rickshaw drivers or members of the working classes. But after the first election, he took help from the Congress, a party he had earlier accused of corruption, to gain power. The AAP is fighting the general elections, this time, with the Congress.

Over time, some of Kejriwal’s colleagues started noticing inconsistencies between his words and deeds. Many either left the party or were dismissed. Kejriwal has an incredible ability to understand voters from the underprivileged and middle classes. The AAP won the hearts of the residents of Delhi through measures such as offering subsidies on water and electricity. His government also did well in education and health. In exchange, the people of Delhi gave him an overwhelming majority in two successive elections. His party also succeeded in forming the government in Punjab and was recognised as a national party, when it cornered 12.92% of the votes polled at the Gujarat assembly elections.

The question now, though, is: Despite these successes, how did Kejriwal’s journey land him behind bars? Did it happen due to the high cost of contesting elections, where all parties require funding from known and unknown sources? If so, how is he different from the others? It’s also notable that he was detained for the alleged excise scam. Kejriwal and colleagues developed an excise policy that made Indian-made foreign liquor cheaper in Delhi. The AAP was gaining momentum by relaxing the liquor policy.

Vijay Nair, one of the new faces that emerged in the AAP, had a say in the new alcohol policy. He was the first among Kejriwal’s colleagues to be arrested but is out on bail. Later, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh were sent to Enforcement Directorate (ED) custody. Kejriwal’s detention has prompted numerous questions. The AAP argues that their leaders were imprisoned despite no “money trail” being established and that they have yet to receive justice from the courts.

Kejriwal, who is used to forging new paths, did so again this time. In the past, politicians suspected of corruption or other such charges, used to resign if they faced arrest. Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren was the most recent example. Kejriwal’s colleagues have indicated, though, that he will not step down. The question that arises in this context is: Can a government be run from jail? The Constitution is silent on this matter, but provisions in the jail manual will prove to be an impediment. In political circles, speculation is rife about whether Kejriwal and Soren would gain from a sympathy wave. It’s also said that only those who oppose the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are being detained. That the BJP is not a party, but a “washing machine”. Is this a new trend? Certainly not. Who was in control when the Supreme Court referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation as a “caged parrot”?

Another difficulty arises. After Kejriwal and Sisodia are jailed, there is no popular figure who could keep the AAP unified. Following Soren’s imprisonment, his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, faces a similar predicament. Hemant’s sister-in-law, Sita Soren, has sought refuge in the BJP. If Soren remains in jail for an extended duration, how will his family keep the party in their control

With the general elections looming, both the BJP and Congress are hoping to see these movement-based parties become embroiled in scandals. They understand that bystanders reap maximum benefits when the market is plundered.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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