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Issue No.: 573 | March 2015

The Anti-Renaissance of Kiran Bedi

Firoze Hirjikaka
The person I feel most sorry for is simple, earnest Anna Hazare. Bedi, along with Arvind Kejrival, has deftly used him to piggyback to political power; and then cast him aside like a used towel.

Once upon a time, there was an upright and efficient police officer named Kiran Bedi. She was the first woman to break the glass ceiling for senior positions in the Indian Police Service (IPS). She almost single handedly reformed the 19th century prison system in Delhi and subsequently in the rest of India; and was awarded the prestigious Magsaysay award for her efforts. She was known for plain speaking and openly expressed her disdain and contempt for the political scenario in the country. She enthusiastically joined the Anna Hazare movement that abhorred the corruption and nepotism prevalent in all political parties of the day. That was once upon a time not so long ago. Whether it was coincidence or not, when the Aam Aadmi Pary (AAP) was soundly thrashed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections; Bedi underwent a sudden transformation.

Kiran Bedi is like a reverse phoenix. Instead of rising from the ashes, she has sunk into them. The erstwhile crusader who was an ardent supporter of the Anna Hazare movement that denounced the existing political system encompassing all parties, as corrupt and unfeeling has now become a primary member of the party in power. The one time champion of secularism has now joined a party that unashamedly claims affiliation with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and offers benevolent encouragement to its ideologues; the upright stalwart who stood on principles now blithely ignores them under the lure of political power. 

Kiran Bedi has been anointed as the official BJP candidate for Chief Minister of Delhi. Her high profile induction - by no less than the Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah - into the BJP should come as no surprise to those who have been following television debates over the past several months. The one time tell-it-like-it-is crusader has been exceptionally mellow where the BJP was concerned. She has refused to utter one word of criticism, even when some of the BJP’s actions were clearly questionable. During her sojourn as an ardent supporter of the Anna Hazare movement, she got along famously with Arvind Kejriwal; and later on when he formed the AAP, she had no problem with his assertion that the AAP was formed to provide a positive alternative to business-as-usual political parties which presumably included the BJP. She has now deftly executed a 180 degree turn without any qualms. It just goes to show that the lure of political power is so formidable that it supersedes beliefs and principles held over decades.

We get it, Ms. Bedi. We get that the lure of political power has proved irresistible. But do we have to suffer over-the-top platitudes like describing yourself and other BJP leaders as stars revolving around the Sun God Modi? This is exactly the kind of cloying sycophancy that the Congress has been routinely accused of: and which the BJP has vociferously criticised. It seems even the prospect of power corrupts absolutely. The person I feel most sorry for is simple, earnest Anna Hazare. Bedi, along with Arvind Kejriwal, has deftly used him to piggyback to political power; and then cast him aside like a used towel.

What personally irritates me about the reborn Bedi is her supercilious, school-marmy attitude towards the general public. She always gives the impression of a guru talking down to her less enlightened shiysas. Almost everything she says takes the form of platitudes and homilies; and if her intention is to inspire, it usually ends up as irritating and bordering on the hypocritical. During the Delhi election campaign, she is trying to connect with the masses but given her naturally authoritarian nature, it is not quite working. She considers herself above the common herd and it shows; a fact that was graphically illustrated by the resignation of her campaign manager, who referred to her as dictatorial. He later took it back, but only under pressure from the all-powerful Amit Shah.

As I write this, the election results for Delhi have not yet been announced. However, if the opinion polls are to be believed, the AAP will get more seats than the BJP, although perhaps not enough for an absolute majority. If this turns out to be the case, it will mark a watershed moment in the current political scenario in this country. Delhi will be India's El Alamein as it were; the place where the Modi juggernaut that has been bulldozing all opposition for the past year was stopped in its tracks. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it may not be the beginning of the end (for the BJP), but it will mark the end of the beginning. And what will Kiran didi’s fate be then? I cannot imagine someone of Bedi's imperious temperament to be content as a minor functionary in the BJP - and I suspect that many old hands of the party will be glad to see her get her comeuppance. Unless she gets a position that she considers deserving of her self-exalted status, she may well deduce that the AAP were right all along. A turncoat usually has no qualms about turning again when it is to her advantage.

After her nomination as the putative pretender to the throne of Delhi, Bedi’s campaigning style has been far from stellar. She gets animated mainly when she extols the virtues of her god-like PM. Apart from that, she has nothing new to offer. Ironically, while she constantly harps on her "40 years of experience”, her homilies and body language are not that of a go-getter. Her justification for shying away from a one-on-one debate with Kejriwal was tepid at best. One would have thought that a fighter like her would have relished the opportunity to have a go at her one time ally, who she now calls a charlatan. Instead, we got lofty sounding excuses which convinced no one. Then again, she ignored Kejriwal's challenge of a direct electoral contest and chose a "safe" seat in Delhi to avoid any possibility of an embarrassing defeat. The only moment of sincerity occurred during an interview with Barkha Dutt, when she unguardedly admitted that she was not a politician. We agree madam, but in that case what are you doing there?

 For all the outward bravado, I suspect it is beginning to dawn on the BJP top brass that perhaps Bedi's was not the inspired choice they first imagined. Could the master strategist Amit Shah have miscalculated for once? A piquant situation may arise if Bedi wins her seat, but her party fails to form the government. Will she then look to her munificent master to afford her a "suitable” position at the Centre? Modi likes winners and has no time for losers. He is not exactly known for compassion. La grande dame Bedi may have overplayed her hand.

MR. FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, and a freelance writer and a 
member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First





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