Guess who said this (clue: he is no friend of Arvind Kejriwal)—“Criminal defamation means the accused could go to jail for expressing his views. This is unacceptable and against freedom of expression as laid down in the Constitution. It also violates international protocol on civil and political rights …The USA, England and other countries have removed criminal defamation. We need to do it in India as well.”
These words are of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy at an interaction with journalists in Bhubaneswar last year. However, another BJP leader Nitin Gadkari has used precisely this law against Arvind Kejriwal after the latter accused him of corruption in public. This is a law that the media at least has for long wanted scrapped because even truth is not a defence. When it comes to politicians, there is even less reason to use this because it is in the nature of the profession to accuse each other. It will be hard to find a politician in India who has not said something that could be termed ‘defamatory’ about an opponent.
But whereas criminal defamation scares the media because most people don’t like jail, to politicians it is actually not such a bad thing because imprisonment—a short stint preferably—is a shot of energy to their career. That includes politicians of all colours and periods. As far back as 1913, Mahatma Gandhi went to jail after refusing to pay a fine in South Africa. Almost all those who were jailed during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi emerged as national leaders. Imprisonment, and the spin he put on it, is one element of why Lalu Prasad Yadav actually made a comeback of sorts in Bihar after his recent stint behind bars. To Kejriwal, battered after the General Election and with Delhi having slipped away on account of a misreading, it was an easy choice to make when asked to furnish a bail bond.
It is hard not to notice Kejriwal’s evolution despite his many blunders. It was just a year or so ago when there was consensus that he is a ‘media creation’ who conducts his politics through press conferences. And now, when he is actually going by the regular rules of the game by creating a public fuss, he is being called someone who has no respect for institutions. When he took on the Delhi chief ministership with Congress support, he was accused of compromising his principles. When he quit, he was accused of being irresponsible.
But with every political statement that he makes (like contesting in Varanasi), there seems to be an undercurrent building which no one, not even him, is very clear about. His party keeps throwing unexpected surprises. Otherwise, how does one explain the success of AAP in Punjab? In Delhi, it is the second largest party in every single constituency. It is hardly an experiment that failed.
It will be interesting to see how his jail innings will end. Possibly he might furnish the requisite bond after having made his point, and again there will be jokes on Twitter about him. He will return to singing songs on stage and giving speeches that reek of unabashedly cheesy Hindi film dialogues. It won’t help in the Delhi polls, which are probably lost no matter how many times he goes to jail. But we can count on the man being there in our drawing rooms for some time to come.