Kejriwal's Covid-19 Stand Proves He's Become Standard-Fare Politician

"Kejriwal is ill and has quarantined himself." I was worried when I heard this news. Fortunately, his Corona test is negative. I am not worried about his political future. Whether I like it or not, the fact is that he has joined the gang called politicians, most of whom are not greatly respected in this country but certainly feared. I have no idea how much Kejriwal is feared these days, but I certainly know he was once tremendously loved by the people of Delhi.

It is the tragedy of this country that a potential political mega star has been tamed in Delhi and reduced now to a side hero in national politics. Though I am aware that any prediction about any politician at any given point of time is not safe, I can vouch for the fact that he has learnt more tricks as a politician than many in the field. Being a fast learner, he knows how to survive in politics, and how to turn a crisis into an opportunity. He knows that to remain relevant in politics, one has to always be a step ahead of his rivals and not be imprisoned by moral shackles.

In his fight against the Corona virus, he started well. Before Modi could announce the national lockdown, Kejriwal imposed a lockdown in Delhi till March 31. He also created a task force of experts to advise him on the pandemic but somewhere down the line, he lost his nerve and now Delhi is facing an unprecedented crisis. And this follows from his latest order to disallow 'outsiders' any treatment in Delhi which was rightly overturned by the central government via Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. Kejriwal's decision to not test any asymptomatic people was similarly overruled.

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Two controversial decisions of the AAP government in Delhi on testing only those with coronavirus symptoms and blocking hospitals for residents have been overruled by the Lieutenant Governor (File)

The 'outsiders' logic is not only faulty, but is politically dishonest. Anybody who is an Indian national is constitutionally allowed to freely move to any part of the country and can get medical treatment in any hospital in India; no hospital can deny treatment on the basis of the domicile of the individual; no government can impose restrictions on this. I have no reason to believe that Kejriwal is not aware of this constitutional position. Still he did it. I can think of two reasons for this. 

One, it is a smart move to hide the failings of his government in future. He did not raise the bogey of 'outsiders' initially; this order was issued when he realised that the crisis was going to be unmanageable and he might face the brunt of public anger. So he created an excuse for the future knowing well that the centre would not let it go through. If in the future there are questions about enough beds and other medical facilities not being available for patients, he can claim that this is what he had tried to prevent. Anil Baijal fell into his trap and has done a great service to Kejriwal. 

Secondly, he has been trying to prove that it is only him and his party who are fighting for Delhi and other political parties - the BJP and the Congress - are only paying lip service and doing what they are told by the their high command, ignoring the interest of Delhi. In fact, he has been trying to create a new 'regional consciousness' which can be called 'Delhi Nationalism' - a kind of identity politics on the lines of other linguistic states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra and Telangana. He has been vociferously propagating that Delhi should be accorded full statehood, a central point of his campaign during the 2019 general election.

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According to Delhi government's estimates, there will be 5.5 lakh coronavirus cases by July 31 in the national capital

The order on no testing for asymptomatic individuals is devoid of any medical logic. The world over, the practice has been to test as many people as possible. Testing is the key to fighting Coronavirus. Testing is linked to contact tracing and quarantining those who are infected. Till the Coronavirus vaccine or medicine is available, identification and segregation are the only way forward. His government's move was dangerous as it allowed those infected with Corona but without any visible symptom to freely move and infect others. 

Why? Kejriwal has repeatedly proclaimed that Delhi has invested heavily in education and health. His government has increased the health budget by more than 40% compared to 2014 and he also has successfully sold the idea of Mohalla clinics and polyclinics. Health facilities have undoubtedly improved in Delhi but not to the level that he has projected. And if more tests are carried out, then the numbers will obviously increase exponentially as has happened nationally. The more Coronavirus patients that are clocked, the more blame he will get from the opposition and the media. So he wants to hide the real numbers of Coronavirus patients. It is similar to what the Gujarat government has pleaded in the High Court - when asked why enough testing was not being done, the Advocate General had the audacity to tell the court that if more testing was done, 70% people would test positive and that would scare the whole population.

To be fair to Kejriwal, he is not the only one trying to conceal numbers. The UP and Bihar governments also have shown no interest in increasing the number of tests. But Kejriwal has always been credited as different from the standard-fare politician. So, if he is doing what is expected not from him but others, it proves the argument that politics has appropriated him. He has become a typical politician. That is a big disappointment. 

(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)

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