Columns/Op-Eds, In the News, Politics / Globalisation

Why Kejriwal is now India’s Mr 5%

Published: 21:51 GMT, 16 April 2014 , Mail Online India, Mail Today

Original link is here

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal cannot succeed in politics if India thrives

Borrowing the term for former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, India now has its own 5% man – Arvind Kejriwal.

While both are products of abysmal government failure, this is where the similarity ends. Zardari was nicknamed Mr 10% for the percentage of (alleged) kickbacks he received on government deals. In that sense he was a mirror who reflected the reality of the failure of governance in Pakistan.

Kejriwal is Mr 5% for completely different reasons. He is the intersection of hysteria and despair, born of a less than 5% Indian GDP growth rate in recent times.

If the irresponsible economics he so loves is the cause of India’s failures, his popularity and agitprop politics is the effect of that failure. He is the cause and effect – the ultimate symbol of the patriarchy that permeates existing models of development, and the concomitant despair that epitomises the failure of the social contract between India’s citizens and their government.


India’s economic growth rate over the last year and more has dipped sharply. With a fast-growing and largely poor population, growth below 5% is punishing. It means that job creation cannot match demand. It means government revenues dry up and even basic public services become difficult to deliver.

Indeed the effects of each percentage point decline in India’s growth are felt the most by those who are at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, an effect of two decades of highly skewed growth.

Over the last decade, revenue spending based initiatives of the UPA such as the MNREGA kept the aspirations of those at the bottom of the pyramid on hold. However, such schemes have not delivered real jobs, real skills, real productivity or even a robust form of social security that enhances livelihood prospects.

A burgeoning fiscal deficit has necessitated spending cuts across various arms of the Government, and has resulted in even slower capital creation within the Indian economy. The net effect is now hopelessness of a new kind, one that stems from being denied all that was within reach.

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Fuelled by this sense of loss and vulnerability, high levels of social discontent have given rise to Arvind Kejriwal and his motley crew of social engineers, lawyers, journalists, bankers and others, each a product of the times of 8% plus GDP growth rate, who have capitalised on the anger and restlessness of the masses to create a political platform.

Mr 5% and his party are products of the misrule rather than any organic political impulse. While the failures of the Congress-led UPA, has allowed Kejriwal to find numbers for his rallies, the lack of political leadership and understanding of the cross-cutting social ferment, has become his party’s Achilles heel.

The UPA Government’s falling back upon small, non-executive bodies and individuals that controlled the actions of the Prime Minister’s Office and other functionaries should have provided Kejriwal with a good lesson on the effects of a dissipated leadership.

The National Advisory Council (NAC), set up in 2004 to implement the National Common Minimum Program became the rather nebulous command and control centre of the Government of India.


The NAC failed miserably on two counts – first it was fiscally irresponsible and did not create sustainable programmes, instead depending on perpetual handouts by the government.

On the other hand, its rights-based agenda, completely ignored the acute enforcement and delivery deficit that plagues India.

Is it any surprise then that fringes of the same cast, who pushed 10 years of failed policies, completely divorced from fiscal responsibility or pragmatism, have now migrated to a political movement that brooks no criticism, stifles any opposition, provides no solutions except blaming everybody else and refuses to take responsibility for its own actions?

While some of Kejriwal’s former mentors are left sulking – Anna Hazare, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander – others like Yogendra Yadav have found a new lease of life.

Riding on a wave of failure and despair, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has found support without ever feeling the need to articulate an agenda beyond fighting corruption and running a movement where conspiracy theories, slander and an acute persecution complex substitute for any meaningful governance agenda.


Riding failure however comes at a price. If the BJP riding the religion wave has to target minorities, the BSP riding the Dalit wave has to target other castes. Riding the failure wave means you have to target success in its entirety, any manifestation of prosperity and wellbeing have to be brought in the crosshairs and shot down – after all misery loves company.

Here Mr 5% plays identity politics of a particularly insidious kind, pitting the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ One need not be a great proponent of psephology or sociology to know that in such stark circumstances, anger and restiveness can very easily be targeted against those who are part of the mainstream economic growth.

If the economic right talks of expanding the “pie”, socialists talk of distributing the “pie” equitably. The response of Kejriwal and his aides is to do neither – they attack ‘pie’ expansion and refuse to give any practical solutions for ‘pie’ distribution. They state the obvious but offer no practical solutions.

How can they? After all AAP and failure have a deeply symbiotic relationship. That Kerjiwal’s 5% revolution is structurally weak, is evident from the weekly swings in its (perceived) popular support. These swings also reflect the current volatility of the Indian economy. All he has done is link his political fortunes inversely to India’s fortunes.

For Kejriwal to succeed, India must fail, for India to succeed, Kejriwal must fail. Should India achieve a 7% growth rate Kejriwal becomes a paragraph, at 8% a footnote and at 9% not even a comma in a history book.

The writer is Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.


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