Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Great Undeceiving

Had they deceived us,
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

T.S. Eliot | Burnt Norton

I am one who doubted AAP all the way to its crowning. Still, I couldn't help smiling when it won.

There is nothing about Mr Kejriwal's populism that appeals to me. I believe in the conservatism of doubt. When I hear the phrase "this time it's different", I usually head for the hills.

But, I must confess, this time does feel different.

By merely winning, Mr Kejriwal has arguably achieved more than his larger political rivals would have were they to complete entire terms in office.

He has shown a path to power that is not laced with the usual cynicism. Middle class India can see for the first time that it can participate in politics in a real way - not as acolytes of a strong man or by complicity in India's patronage system, not by division or corruption, but by activism.

If, as a consequence, good people consider politics as a career choice, that's a huge win right there.

In a country where as much as a third of the national parliament has been criminally charged, what could be more important than this?


Sometimes we are too cynical. We dismiss idealism as inexperience. We parse ideology as though its an astral chart. Let me raise my own hand as being guilty on this.

How does one talk of ideology, though, in a country that's been systematically impoverished by corruption, divided by politics of caste, faith, & superstition, and routinely terrorized by the State?

If ideology were to be the shibboleth, few Indian politicians would pass muster. Their only ideology is rent-seeking patronage. Their only difference is who they extract these rents from and who they patronize.

So what if Mr Kejriwal's economic ideas are absurd? One of our leading parties stands with quacks who peddle superstition. Another bans literature for fear of offending those who will never read it. Yet another watches young children freeze to death because apparently "no one dies of cold". And everybody snoops on everybody else.

Is Mr Kejriwal's populism any worse than their superstition or narrow mindedness or callousness? And their all-corrosive cynicism?


Mr Kejriwal is likely to fail in delivering his populist promises. Most of these are not affordable or practical. His opponents are gleefully waiting for him to fail.

This is where this time it's different. Many in the middle class are desperately rooting for him to succeed.

They are unlikely to blame him for his failure. He will point to cynical opponents and obstructionist bureaucrats as the villains preventing him from doing what he intends. My bet is that he will succeed in this and voters will stand by him.

The more his cynical opponents fight him, the more heroic he will appear.


I believe in the conservatism of doubt. Doubt illuminates understanding. The conservative wants to understand.

When doubt is finally dispelled, however, and a new narrative becomes necessary through the force of moral truth, historical inevitability, or social acceptance, the conservative adopts it with dignity.

Indians have long been deceived into thinking they exercise political choice. In reality, they merely choose a different variant of the same toxicity each time. Perhaps there are good people in this maelstrom but they too have deceived themselves about the merit of unquestioning obeisance to the powers that be.

Deception cannot be the sustainable state of being. A new narrative is necessary through the force of moral truth and historical inevitability.

What happened in Delhi shows this narrative is breaking through into social acceptance.

The great undeceiving has finally begun.

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