Morality party: Sandeep Kumar, Tarun Sagar and the AAP's failure to create a new political culture

Eager to expand its political base, the AAP is giving into popular prejudice and straying from its promise of reinventing politics.
Morality party: Sandeep Kumar, Tarun Sagar and the AAP's failure to create a new political culture
Morality party: Sandeep Kumar, Tarun Sagar and the AAP's failure to create a new political culture
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The AAP finds its back to the wall again as the BJP, Congress and large sections of the media have gone to town over images and a video of ex-minister Sandeep Kumar apparently in an “objectionable position” with two different women. Gleeful declarations that the AAP is turning out to be just like any other party, are being made across social media and on news outlets.

The AAP, meanwhile, is claiming the high road for itself based on its quick reaction to the entire episode, and arguing that it does not sweep issues under the carpet like other parties.

Let’s make no mistake about it: the earlier instances of AAP ministers Asim Ahmed Khan and Jitendar Singh Tomar being sacked for allegedly demanding a bribe and forging a degree respectively did put a serious dent on the AAP’s claim of providing a newer, cleaner politics. However, one could appreciate AAP Chief Arvind Kejriwal’s argument that the AAP cleans house faster than other parties, which have not taken action against their ministers and leaders who have been accused of corruption.

What disappoints with the Sandeep Kumar episode, though, is that the AAP has proven that it’s claims of a newer politics ring hollow, but not in the way the BJP and the Congress claim. Instead, it seems that in its desire to expand quickly and stake its claims outside Delhi, the party seems to be following the language of popular prejudice rather than articulating a new language of politics.

After all, amid the din of condemnation of the former Women and Child Development Minister, a few news portals (see, for instance, here,here and here) have pointed out that the particulars of the video are yet to be established, and the video may indeed be from Sandeep’s college days. In such a case, these reports point out, the question arises of whether a crime has at all been committed.

But it seems the AAP and Kejriwal have little patience for such questions of procedure and legality. They have a reputation to defend. Particularly telling was Kejriwal’s video statement in which the CM equated the Sandeep Kumar case with other instances of corruption. When it is yet unclear if the sexual acts were or were not the result of rape or abuse of power, or even if they were adulterous, to summarily dismiss a minister without giving him a chance to clear his name resembles more a lynch mob than a principled party.

And to equate sexual morality with corruption is to confuse and obfuscate categories dangerously. Unless proven to be the result of coercion, or an act of adultery, sex is an entirely private matter between consenting adults. Barring abuse of power or money to obtain sex, it is not a matter of public concern. Equating it with corruption is bringing in categories of “moral turpitude” that obfuscate what we mean by corruption. After all, it is entirely possible that our politicians are paragons of private virtue but enriching themselves from the public coffers. Or alternatively, that they possess sexual standards different from the mainstream but are yet devoted public servants.

The problem with the AAP, however, is that in its expansionist mode, the party is unwilling to stand by unpopular, principled positions. This was nowhere more visible than in the recent unceremonious parting of ways with composer Vishal Dadlani. After the Jain monk Tarun Sagar’s speech at the Haryana Legislative Assembly, Dadlani, in a series of tweets, mocked the mixing of religion and politics, also prominently making fun of the monk’s nakedness.

Unfortunately for Dadlani, his comments fell on the wrong side of the “religious sentiment” laxman rekha and police complaints and public condemnation followed. What was disheartening about the AAP and Kejriwal response to the issue was its pandering to popular sentiment.

Admittedly, if the party felt that Dadlani had crossed a line in exercising freedom of speech, it could have censured him and taken him to task for offensive speech or bad taste. But Kejriwal went much beyond this, calling “Tarun Sagar ji Maharaj” a “very revered saint, not just for Jains but everyone”. He also tweeted that, “Our family regularly listens to his discourses on TV. We deeply respect him and his thoughts.”

This, soon after the monk had delivered a misogynistic speech in the Assembly, in which he claimed that female foeticide had to be stopped because the skewed sex ratio was leaving men unmarried and without access to sex, who then committed rapes as a result! And representatives of the AAP also took the trouble to meet the monk in person to assure him and his followers that the AAP had nothing against the Jain community.

As more than one article has pointed out, this remarkable piety from Kejriwal comes at a time when the AAP is seeking a proper foothold in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where the Jain community is a strong electoral segment.

And this is why AAP cannot deny that it is like every other party. It may claim for itself, a stronger institutional honesty. But it has failed to re-articulate public prejudice and political commonsense in a way that could make any real difference to Indian politics today.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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