Kejriwal's Simplicity - Mountain Or Molehill?
Arvind Kejriwal's Gandhian simplicity is making waves.
Gestures like jettisoning the Z-Plus "security" detail, the removal of the red dome light atop his car, giving his phone number publicly to the public and the symbolic trip by the New Delhi Metro [something far, far superior to any public transport I have seen anywhere in India, but not a patch on – say – London's Underground] are very welcome.
I would say all that is indeed good.
But, in my opinion, however, they are mere gestures.
Let me cite two events about simplicity from the past from personal knowledge.
In 1984, I was wandering in the Sachivalaya – or the Bombay secretariat as the elections to Parliament were underway after the gruesome assassination of Indira Gandhi.
Security had become a fetish.
The legend on a door said, Chief Minister Vasant Dada Patil, CM.
I knocked and entered thinking I would encounter a secretary or a security chap.
I was shocked to find the 'Dada' seated behind a large desk with a motley crowd of some 20 chaps standing in a queue.
A suited gentleman, Kini – then CMD of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd – and his assistants were seated in front of Patil.
One seat was vacant and I plunked my behind on it.
One of the 'favour seekers' was telling Patil thus:
"I am from your hometown Sangli and a Congressman from 1960."
"I am in the party since the thirties. So what is great?"
Patil seemed irritated and was snapping at him.
The chap gave the CM a bunch of papers and wanted the Patil to endorse something.
"You have come to me for this? You … [expletive] fraud! Get out!"
Despite Patil's command being just a little more than a hoarse whisper – the man had to make a hasty exit.
Patil then spotted me.
"Who are you?"
A journalist from Madras, I told him.
"So how do you speak such good Marathi?"
"I was born in Bombay," I said.
He asked me to come at 5 pm for the interview.
When the interview began, Patil's secretary Kale breezed in and told his boss that a message from the Governor Air Chief Marshal [retired] IH Latif had just come and that he wanted the CM at the Raj Bhavan in a jiffy.
So the CM began moving.
I broached the subject of my interview weakly.
"Are you going to sweep the floors of the secretariat or what? Haul your behind and come with me," the CM said with a guffaw.
"But, you are going to the Governor's bungalow," I pointed out, keeping protocol, security etc in mind.
"Is the Raj Bhavan in Pakistan or what? When I do not have a problem, why should anyone else have one?"
Patil did not have a red dome light on his vehicle. It was a single, white, official Ambassador car with a nondescript number plate with the yellow-coloured 'g' letter in the middle. There was no cavalcade or convoy. It was an ordinary white official Ambassador car on the road.
It was a somewhat ungainly trip.
Seated beside the chauffeur – front left – was a police constable with a 303 rifle that partly jutted out of the car window – facing the Arabian Sea.
In the back, the CM sat on the extreme right seat, I was in the middle and his secretary Kale was seated to my left.
Worried about my feet touching those of the CM I was trying to wriggle.
"Take it easy, young man. Think of this as a Bombay local train, where everyone's feet touches every other person's feet," Patil said.
As the interview was underway and I was asking a question concerning his wife Shalini Tai and her brand of politics – I heard Kale telling the driver – "The Governor is called Latif and he chides anyone coming late as Late-Latifs. So switch on the siren and make it snappy."
The driver switched on the siren.
Patil knocked the poor chap on his head with his walking stick and growled, "Switch off that [expletive] thing, now! The Governor can wait. I am the CM, doing all the work. Governors only eat, sleep and attending ribbon cutting ceremonies."
At that precise moment, since the CM's vehicle had crossed the red light at the Vir Nariman Road intersection touching the Marine Drive, a sturdy station wagon zipped in and nearly collided with the CM's car. The driver dexterously took evasive action.
"Aren't you taking this simplicity thing too seriously? The PM was assassinated the other day. A vehicle just collided with your car now. You are the Chief Minister … the symbol of the state's well-being. Some silly terrorist could harm you if you continue in this fashion," I remarked.
My remark irritated Patil.
"You useless flatter-bug journalists pump up the ego of politicians by talking of this [expletive] security. You want me to copy an animal behind a steel cage in a zoo in the name of security, you idiot? As the CM, I am supposed to be the most popular chap here. So why should someone harm me? And if someone takes it upon himself or herself to do so, I must be doing something extremely wrong. I believe in Karma … and if it is ordained that I die a violent death, I will and nothing can stop it. And if I have to die like a dog on the road, so I will. Further, if I do not travel like an ordinary citizen on the roads, how will I know what are the problems of an ordinary Mumbaikar on the roads? So you journalists should stop this flattery nonsense pontification to politicians. The accursed security is nothing but a status symbol. We keep seeing American Presidents shaking hands with ordinary people despite Kennedy having been assassinated. And her own security personnel killed Indira Gandhi. So what are you fellows blabbering about? And do you know something? The red dome light is like a homing signal, someone told me. Someone can take an exact pot shot – and that can prove fatal to the occupants. In other words, I would be target practice to someone. After all, I am paying this security buffalo to tag along. Let him earn his salary. Why should I help him by sitting cooped up like some World War II prisoner in a cell, for God's sake?"
Since I was very highly impressed by what the Dada said, I remember his words almost verbatim and am quoting him from memory.
That was pure simplicity with a rustic touch and some very plain speaking.
Would Kejriwal be that simple?
Frankly, I do not know.
In 1985, when I was in Sweden's capital Stockholm, I was overawed by the sheer size of the massive NK department store.
It has only 4 floors but is the largest store I have ever seen – with a 800 square feet space reserved just for various varieties of potatoes.
Carelessly I bumped into a man with two big carry bags.
Both of us apologised and walked on.
One of the two burly chaps walking some 10 paces behind – almost twice my size in breadth angrily said, "Why don't you see where you are going?"
The remark got my goat.
"I apologised, the gentleman apologised … so is the colour of my skin your problem?"
"You guys will say this sort of thing to virtually anything. You had bumped into our Prime Minister Olof Palme … who is humble enough to even carry his purchase bags … think of your politicians back home, you stupid oaf!" The Swedes then hurried after their PM.
Well, that was simplicity too.
To know more about NK – visit https://www.nk.se/en/nk-stockholm/
While Patil died of natural causes in 1989, Palme had been shot dead by an unknown assassin in 1986.
Palme's murder is still a mystery … because … one Christer Pettersson … charged with the crime was acquitted on appeal. Recently, Peterson died a somewhat violent death.
One heard that Pettersson was itching to blow the lid off the suspense over the murder of Palme.
I had written about this on February 15 2013.
The relevant excerpt:
Palme was assassinated February 28 1986.
On the night of February 28, 1986, the Swedish Social Democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot and killed in Stockholm as he walked home from a cinema with his wife, Lisbet Palme.
Christer Pettersson was accused of Palme's murder after an extensive investigation by the Swedish police. He was picked out from a police line-up by Mrs. Palme.
The .357-caliber Magnum pistol used to kill Palme was never found.
Pettersson was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1988.
However, in 1989 he was freed after an appeal court cited lack of evidence, including the missing murder weapon.
During the appeal, the reliability of Mrs. Lisbet Palme's identification of the accused in a police line-up was seriously questioned.
Besides being acquitted, Pettersson was awarded about $50,000 in compensation for defamation by the police and for wrongful imprisonment.
He blew the money on alcohol and drugs.
In some of the television interviews that supplemented his income – particularly those telecast by TV3 – Pettersson admitted to killing Olof Palme subsequently, but his confession was not treated seriously.
In 1998, the Supreme Court rejected a prosecutor's appeal to retry Pettersson citing that evidence was not strong enough to place him at the scene of the shooting.
On September 29, 2004 Pettersson died at the Karolinska University Hospital after he supposedly fell and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.
He had been in a coma since September 16, 2004 when he underwent emergency surgery for unspecified head injuries.
Pettersson had reported being harassed by the police on September 15, the day before he was found with head injuries, with unsubstantiated rumours circulating that he was a victim of police violence.
Shortly before Pettersson was taken to hospital, he had contacted the son of Olof Palme, Mårten Palme, explaining he had something to tell the family. Palme said he was willing to meet Pettersson if he was ready to confess to the murder. But the meeting did not take place, and what Pettersson had to tell was never revealed.
According to a documentary aired on the Swedish television channel SVT in February 2006, associates of Pettersson claimed that he had confessed to them his role in Olof Palme's murder, but with the explanation that it was a case of mistaken identity.
In an op-ed in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter [Sweden's largest circulated newspaper] on February 28, 2006, two senior SVT reporters criticised the TV documentary severely, claiming that the filmmaker had fabricated a number of statements while omitting other contradictory evidence.
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The question to be asked: Is Kejriwal's simplicity and openness in avoiding the red dome light, the security detail, travel by metro etc – being praised to the skies by the media in India – too much?
One can take the Patil story and say, too much.
But, the Palme murder would force one to do a detailed rethink.