Arvind Kejriwal is here to provoke. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader hasn’t shied away from using provocation as a tool against his political opponents and to his own advantage.
Remember his “Yes, I am an anarchist” statement or that pointed jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying “[Narendra] Modi is a coward and psychopath”?
Both the statements made headlines and triggered animated debates on prime time television. Nonetheless, the AAP leader managed to reap benefits on both accounts.
While the opponents attacked Kejriwal as a self-proclaimed ‘anarchist’ in Delhi, it only consolidated his support base as evident in the election results.
In the second case, while Kejriwal came under fire for using such derogatory words against the PM, in political circles and in the media, the two adjectives, in fact, have stuck firmly on Modi and his autocratic ways.
A party that is born out of a popular anti-graft movement with a stated mission of challenging the political status quo and, with it, the current system of governance, is bound to make constant vociferous noise (and perhaps create a bit of anarchy even) against the establishment and those in power.
It is a given then that Kejriwal, and by extension AAP, will not speak in the same language that is spoken by the other, more traditional, political parties and their leaders.
We need to find out if there’s a method to Kejriwal’s provocations.
EC vs Kejriwal
In this context, the current squabble between the Election Commission and the AAP leader vis-à-vis his election speeches in Goa is quite intriguing.
The EC has censured Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor for violating the model code of conduct by allegedly ‘promoting bribery’ during his election campaign.
In a strongly worded statement, the EC said that if Kejriwal continued to violate the model code, stern action would be taken against him and his party, including suspension or withdrawal of recognition to AAP.
True to his defiant and provocative style, a peeved Kejriwal first took to Twitter to dismiss the decision as ‘completely wrong’ saying he will challenge the order in a court of law.
Then subsequently, he wrote a letter to the EC in which he argues that his speeches, in fact, are to discourage bribery. In the same letter, Kejriwal made a rather ‘provocative’ and some would say a ‘preposterous’ suggestion: “Election Commission should make me its brand ambassador.”
What did Kejriwal say in his speech?
During his speech on 8 January in Goa, Kejriwal had asked the voters to take money if offered by the Congress and the BJP, “but vote only for AAP”.
“If Congress or BJP candidates offer money, do not refuse it. Accept it as it is your own money and there is nothing wrong in getting it back. If they do not offer money, go to their offices and ask for it. But, when it comes to voting, press the button against the name of the AAP candidate,” Kejriwal had said while addressing an election rally in Benaulim constituency in Goa.
But this is not the first time Kejriwal has made such a speech. In fact, this has been a constant theme in nearly all his campaign speeches since he formed Aam Aadmi Party as a new political entity.
History repeats itself?
It is worth noting that even during the 2015 Delhi assembly election campaign, the EC had censured Kejriwal for ‘bribe remarks’ following a complaint from the then BJP Delhi chief Satish Upadhyay.
However, Kejriwal continued in the same vein despite the EC order. Eventually the matter reached the court. After nearly a year-long legal battle that ended in January 2016, the Delhi court dismissed the criminal complaint against Kejriwal, saying he had not offered any gratification to voters in the assembly elections in 2015 and no offence of bribery was made out against him.
“In the given case, the accused (Kejriwal) has not offered any gratification to voters for casting votes in favour of his party. He has merely stated that allurements are generally offered by some parties and if offered this time, do not refuse it but cast votes in favour of his party. He himself has not offered any gratification in lieu of casting votes in favour of his party,” said Metropolitan Magistrate Babru Bhan.
“In my considered opinion, no offence is made out against the accused. Hence, the application of the complainant under Section 156(3) of the CrPC and the complaint is hereby dismissed,” the magistrate added.
Kejriwal has blamed the EC of ignoring the 2016 court order. He has also threatened to challenge the latest EC order against his speech in court. Do we see a case of history repeating itself here?
Definition of bribery
Referring to the definition of bribery in relation to elections under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the 2016 court order said: “Section 171 B IPC says that accepting either for himself or for any other person any gratification as a reward for exercising any electoral right is an offence of bribery under this provision. For abetment of this offence, a person must instigate a voter to accept the gratification for exercising his electoral right.”
One would wonder why the EC hasn’t learnt from judicial precedent and charged Kejriwal again with ‘promoting bribery’, when the 2016 court order has clearly exonerated the AAP leader in a near-identical matter.
The only reasons could be that either the EC is under pressure or it doesn’t have a good legal dictionary to look for the meaning of ‘bribery’. The EC, in any case, must invest in the latter to avoid such indiscretion.
Anti-bribery brand ambassador
Kejriwal asserts that by asking people to not vote for those political parties that distribute money, he is discouraging bribery. “Through this comment, I am trying to stop bribery. In fact, the Election Commission should make me its brand ambassador,” he writes in his letter to Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi.
“If the Election Commission uses my statement and propagates it then in two years, political parties will stop distributing notes,” he adds.
No matter how provocative that sounds, Kejriwal has a point.
It’s a known fact that nearly all political parties use black money to finance their campaigns and to bribe voters. There are reports abound during every election of cash and liquor seizures. Earlier this week, the EC has seized Rupees 83 crores in cash and some 7 lakh litre of liquor from poll-bound states.
While the EC routinely expresses concerns about the black money circulating within the political parties, it has completely failed in tackling the menace of bribery during elections.
Imagine what would happen if all parties and leaders make appeals similar to what Kejriwal has been making? “Take cash offered by candidates and parties but do not vote for them. Vote for the ones that do not attempt to bribe you.”
This will negate the incentive that ‘bribing’ political parties and candidates have, as they will never be sure of their ‘return on investment’.
Well, EC certainly can’t practically opt for a political leader, such as Kejriwal, to be its brand ambassador. But it won’t be a bad idea to engage prominent celebrities to put this message – “Do not vote for cash” – across to the voters ahead of the polls, in public interest. It wouldn’t be a bad idea, I bet.
(The author is a Gulf-based Indian journalist. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of JantaKaReporter)