Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Insider, Outsider

Punjab political establishment’s effort to paint Kejriwal as a usurper is misguided.

punjab, punjab elections, punjab congress, punjab aap, aam aadmi party, arvind kejriwal, kejriwal punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, delhi assembly election, punjab politics, indian express column, elections updates, india news Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, (PTI Photo)

“Sneaky little fellow” is the epithet that Punjab Congress leader, Captain Amarinder Singh, recently used for AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.

That was not a polite thing to say about a political rival. The remark reeked of disdain, if not disgust. Was it a hasty, spur of the moment kind of tweet, as tweets can often be, or a well calculated political attack?

Let me try to deconstruct the expression for its larger political meaning. To call Kejriwal a “little fellow” makes no sense unless it refers to the relative physical size and weight of the two leaders. Kejriwal is no little fellow when it comes to political weight. His party won more seats from Punjab than the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Kejriwal’s party then swept Delhi’s assembly elections the next year, winning 67 out of 70 seats. The Congress did not win even one. Obviously then, the issue wasn’t the physical or political size but rather the “moral littleness” of Kejriwal. He was “sneaky”. Some of the synonyms suggested by dictionaries for the term sneaky are scheming, deceitful, untrustworthy. The adjective comes from the verb “sneak”. Free Dictionary defines the act of sneaking in as “entering a place quietly and in secret, perhaps without a ticket or permission”.

Kejriwal, in this story, was an outsider who had sneaked into Punjab. He may not have done so quietly or secretly but he did so “without ticket or permission” of the entrenched political establishment. His political ambitions are therefore “nefarious”. His “lust” to become the chief minister of Punjab is “abominable”.

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We must note, however, that Captain and his party are not alone in crying foul. Akali leader Daljit Singh Cheema too talked of Kejriwal’s “lust and hunger”. BJP leader Vijay Sampla said the AAP’s “real face had been exposed” since Kejriwal and “his gang” wanted to take control of Punjab. Sucha Singh Chhotepur, a prominent AAP face in Punjab until his expulsion from the party, called Kejriwal a “trickster”, a “Chanakya” who wanted to take over as chief minister. Sukhbir Badal added fuel to the fire: Kejriwal is a Haryanvi who would give away Punjab’s scarce water resources to his parent state. There are two political messages here. One, being an “outsider” is a much greater sin than being communal, casteist or opportunist. Two, once an outsider, always an outsider; always suspect, always unacceptable.

Think of Sonia Gandhi. In 2002, J. Jayalalithaa, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, said: “It is a crying shame and moral bankruptcy of the Congress party that its leaders, who were at the forefront of the freedom struggle and fought against foreigners, should think of having a foreigner as prime minister.” She added that she would support any legislation to ban persons of foreign origin from occupying constitutional positions. Go back even further to 1999 when the “Indian beti” Sushma Swaraj was pitted by the BJP against the “foreign bahu” in Bellary. Swaraj lost the election but not the zeal. In 2004, she threatened to shave her head to symbolise national mourning if Sonia Gandhi became PM.

It is thus highly ironic that the Congress should criticise Kejriwal for being an outsider. Other parties are being parochial, but at least they seem consistent on the question. The Congress is displaying a duplicity of sorts.

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The legal position on who could seek political office, and where, is clear. The person should be an Indian citizen, an adult of a certain minimum age, and a voter in the state. The courts have upheld the naturalised citizenship of Sonia Gandhi as adequate eligibility. Of course, there is no doubt about Kejriwal’s citizenship. Kejriwal is not a registered voter in Punjab but there is nothing to stop him from becoming one, just as there was nothing to stop Manmohan Singh from becoming one in Assam to get chosen for a Rajya Sabha seat.

If we are committed to the idea that India is a constitutional democracy, then we must hold that as long as a choice is not violative of the Constitution, people have the right to choose whomsoever they wish. Whether Sonia Gandhi could be an MP or a prime minister was to be judged by the courts, but once that was settled in her favour, the question whether she should be an MP or prime minister had to be decided by the people of India. They decided on the question, be it in 1999, 2004, 2009 or 2014.

Let that happen in Punjab. Rather than political parties sticking labels on Kejriwal, let the people decide whether or not he is to be treated as an outsider.

First published on: 19-01-2017 at 12:02:11 am
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