I hope you see no sacrilege in the mix up of names in the title. Probably you resonate with what it signifies. Lots of Americans may feel likewise if they learn about Arvind Kejriwal and his antics just as they know about Donald Trump.
Kejriwal became Delhi’s chief minister, and re-captured that post, after bitter political battles and Trump will soon win Republican Party’s nomination for the Presidential contest after a torrid campaign. How do the two project themselves? Both are merrily quixotic, with a devil-may-care attitude. They say things which should never be talked about in public or even pursued seriously, and are downright brusque and senseless in their many public utterances. Anyone in their positions should know diplomacy and dignified stance are the tools of political leadership and state craft in a democracy, even as they may take hard decisions. But the language and pasture of Kejriwal and Trump remind us of a snorting bull on a rampage.
Trump has provoked UK’s sober Prime Minister David Cameroon to call the former’s idea stupid, and London mayor Sadiq Khan opined the American had “ignorant views on Islam”, when they were reacting to Trump’s call for a complete shutdown on Muslims entering the US. Kejriwal may not have earned such international recognition, but it is hard to distinguish Trump from Kejriwal. Here is one example. Trump had repeatedly called Democrat Hillary Clinton as ‘Crooked Hillary’. He had also called the Clintons ‘heartless hypocrites’ before gleefully adding “Somehow I like Crooked Hillary better”. If he had insulted her with the words ‘coward’ and ‘psychopath’ - and assuming chief minister Kejriwal never uttered those words against Prime Minister Modi – you would feel Trump was exactly sounding Trump.
Trump and Kejriwal could also be joking about or doing things which may happen in a comedy movie but least expected of them. During his campaign the American said, apparently intending a joke, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”. But this sounds more like a comment on the independent judging skills of his supporters than good humour coming from a future US President. In India, where guns are not so common, what Kejriwal actually did was this. As chief minister, he protested against the central government on an issue and sat on a 32-hour dharna on a busy public road with some of his colleagues, party MLA’s and supporters. The venue of his tamasha dharna was outside Delhi’s Rail Bhavan, a high security area close to Parliament House – which is a major public street space like Fifth Avenue in New York City - and he slept there at night in the open. While doing that he acknowledged he was ‘an anarchist’, which is no different from Trump.
Come to more serious things. You cannot show off differences of opinion in politics like it is done in street brawls. For political leaders at top levels, what they want to do, the way they wish to go about it, how much they talk about those things and the words they speak mark them out. Take the US, for instance. All Americans, Trump and Hillary included, will want America to be well guarded against any terrorist attack or threat. So if the US tightly screens visitors to the country, especially those coming from terrorist regions or those likely to have terrorist links, no American will oppose such measures whatever the religion of the visitor. But when Trump announced he was for a total ban on Muslim outsiders entering the US he dropped a bombshell. He has also said, “Islam hates us”. On the one hand he alienates Muslims living in the US and on the other he infuriates countless Muslims, good or bad, in other parts of the world. That would also cause disquiet among a whole lot of US residents fearing worse consequences. Religion, any religion, is a deeply personal thing for those who believe in it. They do not relish their religion or its believers being despised or talked against for any reason, though they would not mind or oppose action against extremists in their fold. Anything leaders may say or nations may do in this respect should be attended with caution and maturity. Trump did not display those qualities when speaking against Muslims and David Cameroon called a spade a spade gently.
After the 9/11 carnage at New York’s World Trade Centre, the US has taken stern preventive action against terror attacks on its soil, though a few minor instances happened which were soon controlled. At present internal security in America is not a major issue to be tackled from basics, and Trump need not at all have spoken on it with such a distinct anti-Muslim slant. I suspect Trump has nothing great to project about him as a candidate for US Presidency, and so he seized a dormant and false issue and blew it out of proportion, painting all Muslims black. What he hoped to gain was attention among American voters by scaring them, and he may have succeeded to some extent. In his own way, as is possible for a Delhi chief minister, Kejriwal did something recently with a similar motive. That was even funnier. He went to town screaming that Prime Minister Modi was fraudulently claiming to be a degree holder from Delhi University and that his degree certificate was a fake one. His close party colleagues also joined the cry, and he got all the juicy attention he wanted. Even after the Delhi University confirmed that the degree certificate was genuine, providing the candidate’s enrolment number and examination roll number, Kejriwal has not withdrawn his charge. For someone with an eye on the Prime Minister's chair he is out of focus too, which is like Trump.
Kejriwal has also quickly garnered attention among sections of college-goers when he supported students striking in campuses of the University of Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru University, who were misguided and part of anti-India sloganeering. Earlier someone in India endeared himself to students across India the hard way for right reasons, which is also enduring. But his mind was not set on grabbing quick attention of the student community and throwing limelight on himself. He was Dr. Abdul Kalam, and we can see the difference in the ways and objects of Kalam and Kejriwal aligning with students – and with what kind of students.
Arvind Kejriwal does not of course operate on a canvas as huge as the American scene, but his negative instincts are no less than Trump's. Large numbers of a country's population will have negative tendencies too. If the nation is lucky it will have leaders who do the very important things, appeal to the positive mind frame of its people, make them hold hands and help them move ahead. Else it is trapped with leaders who do grandiose unimportant things, fuel divisiveness among its people, sully their outlook and stall their progress. Either way a leader could remain popular, and so a leader's popularity is not always a measure of his true merit.
Keep aside India. Who knows, if Arvind Kejriwal were born in the US and a Republican Presidential aspirant now, he could be beating Trump at their game and surging ahead in the primaries.
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016
Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016