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Kejriwal: No Napoleon, but Robespierre

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
March 18, 2015 12:13 IST
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'Like Robespierre,' argues Syed Firdaus Ashraf, 'Kejriwal too talks of virtue, and the ones who speak out against him will encounter the terror of Kejriwal's wrath in the Aam Aadmi Party.'
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Ever since Arvind Kejirwal and his coterie ousted Aam Aadmi Party leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from prominent party positions, I have been dismayed to see how Kejriwal is turning into a ruthless dictator within his party.

Like many Indians, I felt Kejriwal was an honest man with honest intentions, but recent developments in his party convince me that he is no different from other Indian leaders who wants to dominate their parties like dictators do.

So is Arvind Kejriwal another Napoleon Bonaparte?

When he was undergoing treatment in Bengaluru last week, Kejriwal insisted he was no Napoleon. 'Everyone says now that we have won Delhi, we will win others (states) as well. Are we like Napoleon on a victory march? We have to change the system, so we will have to give good government and a good system in Delhi.'

'If Delhi changes, I have a belief that the whole country will change,' he added.

So who is the real Kejriwal?

The man who spoke of decentralising power, giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering the disempowered? Or the man who his detractors portray as a ruthless leader, centralising all power in himself and unwilling to brook criticism?

I was pondering this question when I saw a six-hour movie on the French Revolution and its consequences on French society.

The movie was all about 'Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!' the slogans that fired up the French masses in 1789.

After watching the film, I feel Kejriwal is no Napoleon. He is more like Maximilien Robespierre, the French revolutionary.

If Kejriwal had the support of Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan, Manish Sisoda and Sanjay Singh in taking the AAP to a historic triumph in Delhi, then Robespierre, along with Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Jean Paul Marat and many others, led ordinary people to overthrow the French monarchy and establish a people's government.

The French Revolution proved, for the first time in history, that the ruling class could not go on exploiting the masses, and if the rulers did not heed their demands the masses would change the system, if need be violently.

Like Robespierre, Kejriwal too proved that it is possible for an ordinary man to overthrow an established system through popular upheaval.

Just like the French Revolution where every leader tried to marginalise each other, Kejriwal too has started doing the same thing.

The film has a discussion between Robespierre and his rival Danton, where the latter asks Robespierre if he has ever taken a bribe. 'No,' says Robespierre.

Danton probes further. 'Never?'

Robespierre keeps silent.

Danton: You could have taken a bribe, Robespierre. How can I trust a man who doesn't want anything?'

Robespierre: 'You can trust me and tell the truth.'

Danton: 'That makes you more dangerous. You want what is right for all of us.'

In the same way, Kejriwal always claims, 'Humen satta ka laalach nahi hai (We have no lust for power).' But he still occupies the Delhi chief minister's chair. More dangerously, he has absolute command over his party.

And Kejriwal, like Robespierre, decides 'what is right for all of us.'

Kejriwal apparently encourages partymen spying on each other or tapping phones, just like after the French Revolution groups like the Jacobins, Hebertists and Girondists spied on each other or kept tabs on rivals, in their battle for supremacy.

AAP members have allegedly tapped phones and deployed spy cameras so that no one can speak out -- even informally -- against Kejriwal.

After Robespierre corners all power he surrounds himself with cronies, just like Kejriwal has done, and refuses to hear dissenting voices.

Camille argues with Robespierre that 'We are strangling liberty in its cradle.'

Robespierre: 'If we falter now, all that we build will crumble like a house of cards.'

Camille: 'Maybe we have built nothing but just dreams.'

Kejriwal too has not built anything but dreams until now. He has strangled liberty within the AAP so no one can speak out against him.

In the final segment of the film, when Danton is sentenced to death by Robespierre and his supporters, he says, 'You are not leading me to my death. I will live forever. The world will look at us and ask what sort of men we were.'

'Let them not say that we were no better than those we overthrew. We are all going to die. I know this court. I created it. This place has become the murderer of conscience.'

'We have cut the root of corruption. We have cut the tyranny of privilege. We ended the monopoly of birth and wealth in all the great offices of the State. We have declared the humble man is equal to the greatest. And we have offered to slaves the liberty that we won for ourselves.'

'We will have not lived in vain.'

I am sure Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav must have said similar things to Kejriwal and his cronies.

In Richard Bienvenu's book The Ninth of Thermidor, Robespierre says, 'Only a combination of virtue (a commitment to Republican ideals) and terror (coercion against those who fail to demonstrate such a commitment) could ensure the long-term salvation of the Republic, since it would always be faced with a crisis of secret enemies subverting it from within, even when its overt enemies had been subdued.'

Like Robespierre, Kejriwal too talks of virtue, and the ones who speak out against him will encounter the terror of Kejriwal's wrath in the Aam Aadmi Party.

If you check the AAP Web site, you will find a link to How are we different?

Among other things, it says: 'There is no central high command in the Aam Aadmi Party. The party structure follows a bottom to top approach where council members elect the executive body and also hold the power to recall it.'

Isn't it time to change 'There is no central high command' to 'There is only Arvind Kejriwal,' like Robespierre did more than 225 years ago?

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf /