Arvind Kejriwal and AAP’s dream run continues relentlessly. Despite a few hitches, the juggernaut advances. Now there are reports that the party will contest 400 Lok Sabha seats. I suppose when you are on a roll, a daily upward revision of targets is unsurprising. The sceptics have been silenced largely. They are just waiting for a major fiasco (like not being able to deliver on the power tariff cut) to derail the toofan mail.
Meanwhile, criticism of the media mounts. It is not playing its role as watchdog; in fact it has become a lapdog. The criticism is not entirely without merit. Every new government, whether in India or overseas, gets a 100-day honeymoon period, especially one which has come in with such stunning public endorsement. Nevertheless, I fear AAP is stretching itself too thin. While AAP has other luminaries, the party’s core strength comes from Arvind Kejriwal. He is the pivot. If he is pulled in a hundred different directions, it can only harm AAP.
Thus, I am slightly alarmed by AAP’s national ambition. If Kejriwal is going to be the party’s PM nominee, who will mind the shop in Delhi? My advice, totally gratuitous, would be to scale down the Lok Sabha ambition to a manageable 100 urban seats this time. Kejriwal must be left to give an efficient, clean, responsive government in the capital, and use that as a springboard to make a mark on the national scene. After all, in five years, if not earlier, another general election is scheduled. That is the one AAP should prepare for. I can understand the haste of some party cadre who want to strike while the iron is hot. Believe me, the iron will stay hot if they perform in Delhi.
That said, what extraordinary times we are living in! The way the people are responding to the winds of change sometimes appears incredible. Not since 1977 has the nation experienced such a self-generated wave of optimism.
For poor Rahul to take up the leadership at this time is going to be a Herculean task. What can he do in three months to reverse the fortunes of the Congress? Incidentally, I would like to meet the genius who designed the election posters for the Congress. To proclaim Rahul as a crusader against corruption, given the record of UPA-II, is either a bad joke or monumental ignorance.
Out of Print
“So, when are you joining the Aam Aadmi Party,” enquired a half-friend, half-enemy? Given the avalanche of mediapersons queuing up, it was a good question. Fortunately, for me, the question does not arise. All my working life, I have been a print journalist and when I go up to meet the Editor-in-Chief at the Pearly Gates, I hope He will welcome me in as a print journalist. The magic of the written word still hypnotises me. I consider being a journalist as a privilege and honour. And journalism for me is the highest calling; much higher than politics. Also, I operate on the Groucho Marx principle: I refuse to join a political party which will accept me as a member!
If there is one journalist I tried to copy shamelessly, it was Simon Hoggart of The Guardian, who passed away two weeks ago. Simon wrote the parliamentary sketch for the paper, a genre unknown in Indian journalism, and also the Saturday Diary. (The jokes in this column were usually pinched from Mr Hoggart’s Saturday Diary.) Both made for compulsive reading.
The parliamentary sketch takes a sardonic look at the day’s proceedings in the House. In other words, the sketch writer’s mandate is to take the piss out of MPs and simultaneously convey the mood in parliament on a particular day. It has to be at once factual and farcical—an impossible assignment which Simon Hoggart performed superbly for over a decade. He described Prime Minister David Cameron as “smiling like a Cheshire cat after a large sherry”. And this masterly description: “The formal Washington dinner party has all the spontaneity of a Japanese imperial funeral.”
Once, Simon was travelling in the same train compartment as the ultra-serious London Times columnist, Peter Riddell, who hated sketch writers. “I read your sketch from start to finish today, Simon, and found nothing to smile.” Hoggart replied, “Oh, and I read your column and fell about laughing all the way through.”
When I appear on one of TV’s hour-long debates, I usually sip a glass of single malt. If I happen to be on Arnab Goswami’s heated shows, I consider myself lucky if I manage to get three sentences in—although Arnab periodically reassures me, “Just coming to you, Vinod Mehta”. Therefore, my reputation in the social media as a ‘drunkard’ on TV is undeserved. The single malt, of which I consume just one chhota peg, is my ‘time pass’.
Thanks to the bitter cold, I did nothing useful except play with Editor.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com