Arindam Chaudhary on Arvind Kejriwal

Author: Arindam Chaudhury November 3, 2012


Many people believe that the anti-corruption activist is on a drive to expose people in high places to merely further his fledgling political career. But the India Against Corruption chief has shown daring in taking on the high and mighty

Arvind Kejriwal’s series of attacks reminds me of a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes, where two weavers design a new attire for the emperor that, they tell the emperor, will be only visible to those who are honest and loyal. The emperor subsequently dons the ‘attire’ to test his subjects’ loyalty, much to the amusement of his citizenry. Mr Kejriwal, like the child who laughed at the emperor and dared to shout that the emperor is actually parading naked, is ripping out the false masks from the faces of many such self-proclaimed political and corporate emperors, and he has dared to show their real faces to the world.

Mr Kejriwal’s storm of lethal revelations against the allegedly corrupt political parties, the Congress and the BJP, has upset the tricky equations between Government and industry, and their nexus that has been regularly facilitated by the incumbent parties. He has set the tone that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and scary for mainstream political parties, who could have earlier afforded to patch-up over such common vices. It all started with the most coveted Robert Vadra. For years now, people in the media and everyone else with an idea of things around, had been whispering about his deals. And it’s not just about DLF, but many other big, realty companies. However, inspite of almost all real-estate owners and politicians being conversant with the Vadra-DLF knot, none ever tried to question this fixture. Mr Kejriwal had the courage to come out with it in public and with proof. He reiterated that DLF granted favours to Mr Vadra wherein the latter used black money worth `500 crore to purchase properties. In return, DLF gave an interest-free loan of `65 crore to Vadra and Co. Given the fact that Mr Vadra is closely ‘related’ to the Congress, the party’s powers-that-be in Haryana gave land meant for public utilities (and from the green belt) to DLF, with easy clearances for an express-lane as well.

After the Vadra episode, Mr Kejriwal went out to less significant exposés concerning Salman Khurshid and Nitin Gadkari — though strangely, while the Vadra case was buried by the media in a couple of days, and Mr Khurshid’s in two more days, Mr Gadkari’s relatively less consequential business deals are something the media seems to have taken an excessive liking for. However, corruption is corruption. And the biggest storm that was unexpected in the corridors of crony capitalists came on October 31, 2012. At a Press conference, the activist-turned-politician Mr Kejriwal tagged the Reliance-politicians’ nexus as crony capitalism and pointed out how the entire political spectrum, not just Congress, extended undue favours to Reliance. The Press release by Mr Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption, published by many media houses, mentions, “RIL takes away more than 80 per cent of profits and the Government gets less than 20 per cent of profits.” Mr Kejriwal also adds that Reliance gained one lakh crore rupees by plundering the country’s resources. He also accused Reliance of placing students in the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas for their own benefits, and further accused RIL of selecting the Petroleum Minister.

Mr Kejriwal’s tricky and difficult questions are bringing out names that were beyond our wildest imagination, beyond suspicion, and names that were once sacrosanct. For example, Mr Manmohan Singh — who was always given a clean chit even by his ardent critics — has been accused by Mr Kejriwal of being overtly sympathetic and soft on Mr Mukesh Ambani. He further alleged that the Prime Minister referred Reliance’s demand for hiking the gas price midway through the contract to the Accountant General, when such freebies were not considered for even the state-owned NTPC. The contract for supplying gas to state-owned power plants in the Krishna Godavari Basin, which is allotted to Reliance, echoes of nepotism and corruption.

It all started with the NDA Government, where the price of gas was fixed at $2.5 per unit for the next 17 years to be supplied to the state-owned NTPC; but Reliance revised the rate — initially to $4.25 per unit in 2007 — and then showed its intent of charging $14.24 per unit. All this had the blessings of Mr Singh. Mr Kejriwal further exposed how the Prime Minister did not raise any concern even after Reliance broke the contract deal and stopped producing the required 80 mmscmd of gas.

The only person in the Ministry to raise objections to the guile of Reliance was the former Petroleum Minister, Jaipal Reddy, who was sacked from his office — for all the obvious reasons. Mr Reddy’s honesty and his act of slapping a notice penalising RIL with `7000 cost him his job. Mr Kejriwal has consistently maintained that the Prime Minister is complicit in this corruption see-saw. His allegations further state that, in a similar vein, Mr Mani Shankar Iyer was replaced by Mr Murli Deora in 2006, because the latter was cosier with Mr Ambani and had no qualms in raising the gas price from $2.34 per million metric British thermal units to $4.2 per mmBtu. Gradually, all voices against Mr Ambani were locked up in a closed room where the chairs were replaced with the ones who were aides of Ambani and Co.

The bigger issue — other than the big name-game that Mr Kejriwal has begun — is actually beyond Mr Ambani and Mr Vadra. It is this game of looting the nation that The Sunday Indian has been highlighting since inception without a break. It is about land acquisitions and special economic zones; it is about iron ore and coal mines; it is about mobile phone spectrums, power distribution and tariffs; it is about nuclear plants… It is about everything to do with natural resources and national interests. In each such case, the state is acting against the aam aadmi brazenly and in favour of the corporate class, giving rise to crony capitalism.

Mr Kejriwal’s rise with his organisation, India Against Corruption, is in real terms almost like an uprising and a wave of revolutions that has the potential to remake India; that is, if he can sustain this momentum. Many even think that by taking Mr Vadra and Mr Ambani head-on, the IAC chief has virtually sent a challenge: Kill me if you can! Against popular perception — that you will be finished if you take on such sacrosanct names — Mr Kejriwal has become a symbol of focussed and cool-headed bravery, speaking each time with compelling logic and supporting evidence, and that is where he scores. And he is using the media very intelligently indeed. Today, even getting rid of him has become a difficult option.

It is clearly the start of a long-drawn battle towards cleansing India. And by taking the corrupt head-on so bravely, Mr Kejriwal has shown that it just takes one committed individual to change the status quo. Sadly — as of now, it seems — there is only one.

(The author is a management guru and honorary director of IIPM Think Tank)

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