Is Arvind Kejriwal Niccolo Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’?

Among the many political thinkers that I read as a student of political science, like Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Aristotle, Plato, Marx, I also read Niccolo Machiavelli whose treatise ‘The Prince’, published in 1532 in Italy, came to my mind as I witnessed Aam Aadmi Party convener, Arvind Kejriwal, tender his resignation as the Delhi Chief Minister on February 14, 2014, 49 days after he assumed office with much hype and drama.

One of the important essences of the book, which has long been a point of debate for critics, and which many say is relevant in today’s politics too, is that the end justifies the means. Among other things, Machiavelli also wrote about the importance of being a realist than an idealist and talked about the need for leaders, given the situation, to mask their true intentions. His observation that the appearance of virtue was more important than virtue itself is another tenet enumerated in the ‘The Prince’.

The supporters of AAP would be aghast at their ‘Prince’ Kejriwal possessing any of the above qualities. Their consternation would also emanate from the fact that what Machiavelli espoused in ‘The Prince’ has been considered amoral to a large extent by many thinkers of politics and philosophy, though there have been some who have said that the man’s real aim was to let people know what ploys or tricks rulers resorted to, to remain in power. So, I must make it clear that I am not saying that Kejriwal is immoral or unethical but nonetheless, some of the above does hold true as far as his style of politics is concerned, if not in whole then definitely in parts.

Arvind Kejriwal occupied centrestage in 2011 when he joined hands with social activist Anna Hazare to fight for an anti-graft movement. Though it cannot be confirmed, it is said that it was Kejriwal’s idea to persuade Anna to come down to Delhi and fight for the cause. He probably knew that Anna would help them get media and the government’s attention. And that’s precisely what happened. Do we see a realist here rather than an idealist?

Kejriwal became a household name, thanks to the round-the-clock coverage by the media and later on parted ways with Anna to form a political party. It is said and there may be some truth in it, that Kejriwal used the Gandhian to launch himself politically. After all, in a country where NGOs exist in abundance, how many go on to become the chief minister of a state?

However, Kejriwal’s big moment came when his party won 28 seats in the 70-member House and became the toast of national television. They were eight seats short of majority, but went on to form the government in Delhi with outside support of the Congress — the same Congress that Kejriwal had dubbed as corrupt and sworn on his children that he would not take support from.

In order to justify the act, he went to the people and sought referendum of sorts on whether he should do business with the Congress and later said that the people had wanted him to form the government in Delhi. Isn’t this an example of end justifying the means? It’s another matter that when he quit the CM`s post he did not bother to seek people’s opinion and conveniently made the Jan Lokpal Bill his escape route. Again a realist.

I am not a cynic and I, like millions of others in this country, would welcome a new party which promises to bring clean and transparent governance, and which aims to fight crony capitalism. But after promising much, what the AAP has done in the past month or so has only been disappointing. They project themselves as holier-than-thou and self-righteous, which can get unnerving at times. They talk about democratic means but appear intolerant to any criticism. And they are more and more looking like a party with scant respect for laws of the land. If they are the best as they claim they are, they have to give proof of it first and one way of doing it would have been by governing Delhi well.

In a scenario like this, it becomes a little difficult to digest when Kejriwal says he does not hanker after power or position. If not, then why did he quit as the Delhi CM on the first chance that he got. Did he not do it to focus attention on the Lok Sabha polls, as he and his party feel that there is a major wave in their favour? He has said time and again that the people will teach the Congress and the BJP a lesson and maybe he feels that if what happened in Delhi happens in the Lok Sabha polls, then it will help the party catapult to the national stage. AAP had made their intentions clear of fighting 400 Lok Sabha seats as soon as they assumed office in Delhi. Talk about masking the truth.

Kejriwal also masked the truth when he had told the media that the two bungalows that had been allotted to him on Bhagwan Das Road, when in reality he had asked for them. He also masked the truth when his government did not reply to an RTI query as to how much was spent on his oath ceremony at the Ramlila Maidan. These may be small issues, but when you are constantly projecting yourself above others and with greater values, then they are not.

It’s alright to be ambitious and it’s also alright to work towards your goal, but it’s not alright to indulge in posturing and rhetoric at all times. If the LG had raised objections to the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill by the Delhi Assembly without the consent of the Centre, then Kejriwal could have gone to the courts, like others do. What will happen to governance in this country if all CMs & the PM start resigning at the drop of a hat?

It is also said that Kejriwal and his men wriggled out of governing Delhi when they realised that it was getting difficult to deliver on their promises. The issue of subsidy, the fight with the discoms and the revolt within the party, was probably getting a bit too much for them to handle. So, it again becomes a little difficult to digest when Kejriwal says that he made a huge sacrifice by quitting as CM. He forgot to answer about what will happen to the hospitals and schools that AAP had promised in its manifesto. After all, the Congress did not withdraw support and topple the AAP government. In all likelihood they are assuming that they will come back with a majority if there are re-elections in Delhi. Thus, as Tim Parks wrote in his translation of Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’- “A leader doesn’t have to possess all the virtuous qualities, but it’s absolutely imperative that he seem to possess them.”

The decision to sit on dharna by Arvind Kejriwal at Rail Bhavan just to get some policemen suspended, the refusal to rein in his Law Minister Somnath Bharti, who was seen and arrogant and indulging in vigilantism and the arrogance of some of the AAP leaders has only dented the image of the party and its leaders. Also, the quest to be in news and the need to whip up a frenzy to occupy people’s mindspace only showcases the fact that Kejriwal and his company are in a hurry to rule India. Again to quote Tim Park’s translation of Machiavelli treatise - “The crowd is won over by appearances and final results.”

Has the compulsion of electoral politics taken over Kejriwal and does he really think that he can win over India on the plank of Jan Lokpal Bill and corruption? At the moment it seems like an arduous task; and it is also difficult to predict as to how the AAP will do nationally, though most of the opinion polls have given them 10 to 15 seats in Parliament.

Well, Kejriwal may be working according to a script that he has written and he may be taking some chances as per the script. But the ex-CM of Delhi would do well to remember that sometimes the best written scripts go awry and sometimes the best made plans backfire. He would also do well to remember one of Machiavelli’s lines as quoted from Tim Park’s book – “You’ll be held in contempt, if you are seen as changeable, superficial or indecisive.”