Arvind Kejriwal's agitation in Delhi has woken up the opposition from its slumber, says Sreelatha Menon
Is Arvind Kejriwal going too fast, on the fast, that is? Or, will his strategy pay off? The last question needs to be supplemented with the question -- who will gain from the fast?
Take the number of people who used fast as a tool to motivate masses and to register protests. It has come at the tail end of dedicated work for these people. Mahatma Gandhi did not undertake a fast in South Africa. His fasts came much later.
Jayaprakash Narayan fasted in Gandhi maidan in Patna, as old timers recall, after a long history of struggle to take his point home.
And Anna Hazare, the man with whose help he launched himself into the reality theatre of televised mass movement, has a history of work in his village that predates his fasts. Kejriwal also can claim that Sunder Nagri, where he has been fasting for the past one week, is his answer to Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi.
If the people in Sunder Nagri are convinced that a decade of work he did there as part of his non-governmental organisation Parivartan touched the life of each resident, then probably his fast cannot be faulted.
To be fair to Kejriwal, Sunder Nagri or any urban block cannot be compared to a village or to pre-independence India. In urban blocks, especially in migrant hubs like Delhi, it is not easy to touch the lives of every citizen the way it can be done in a village.
This is especially true for an NGO whose work is constrained by the funds it gets and the agendas dictated by the funders. An NGO is no comparison to Gandhi or Narayan, who could not be bound by agendas of any benefactor.
Graduating into a political party has enabled Kejriwal to be directly accountable to the people. The voters to a large extent have replaced the funders. The backtracking of many industry houses from funding Kejriwal after his entry into politics makes him that much less indebted to the funders.
The current fight he is engaged in is against the privatisation of electricity and water supply in Delhi, which makes him confront big companies accused often of being hand-in-glove with the ruling class.
He has painstakingly brought out facts regarding how the private power companies and the electricity regulatory authority have compromised the interests of consumers to ensure better gains for companies.
The expenses claimed by distribution companies over the years since privatisation have never once been verified by the authority, according to evidence produced by NGOs and Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, though the regulatory authority has denied this charge.
In the case of water, Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan recently exposed how the Delhi Jal Board has been claiming that half the water it gets is wasted or lost, and how it has been generating false reports of water being treated by its Sonia Vihar treatment plant much beyond what is actually being supplied into the plant by Uttar Pradesh.
These are based on documents from that state available through the Right to Information Act.
So, these are indeed matters that are serious and the least the government of Delhi could have done was to allow audit of its power and water projects, say the activists.
The fast may not help Kejriwal. But it will benefit the people of Delhi. In fact, it has already begun to benefit Delhi as its opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has now woken up to these issues after sleeping for the last 10 years. The BJP has been taking up the matter of power bills almost every day after the fast began.
As for Delhiites, they can only be grateful that in the absence of an opposition, someone is taking up their cause. For, the only option they otherwise had was to bang their heads on the walls.