These powerful victims

India's political elites present a dismal spectacle. Like elites in denial, they pity the plumage, but forget the dying bird, to borrow Thomas Paine's immortal words. They fret at the symptoms, but do not address the causes; they blame the messenger but do not go after the culprits; they worry about being declared guilty without a fair hearing, without introspection on why their credibility is so low. It is an elite now so estranged from reality, that it simply does not recognise how the world has changed. It is not a world that can be managed by old rules. India is on an astonishing cusp; the tragedy is that politicians, for the most part, are not running with the winds of change. But they still complain about the dust that is blinding them.

Delhi's corridors of power are now echo chambers of whining. Arvind Kejriwal is running a lynch mob, the CAG is taking over the country, environmental NGOs have stopped all development, the RTI is vexatious and so forth. It is as if a vast conspiracy of non-political actors has hamstrung a virtuous political class. But the truth is the opposite: it serves the interest of this political class to present itself as victim, now that it has no authority to do business as usual.

Arvind Kejriwal's methods should cause disquiet. He does give the impression of a closed circle of certitude: guilt is pronounced with unbreachable confidence. Sometimes the lines between political accountability and an inquisition are blurred, and often the attacks seem too personalised. But whatever the infirmities of the movement, we should not be blindsided by the fact that this mode of seeking accountability is an inevitable consequence of the decimation of institutions. You have to feel for Salman Khurshid. In a functioning democracy he should not have been subject to a public inquisition. Khurshid is a victim. But he is not a victim of Kejriwal; he is a victim of his own government's decimation of institutions. It is very difficult to trust any institution at the moment. The credibility of most commissions of inquiry is low; the CBI does not inspire public confidence. In a functioning democracy, Salman Khurshid would not have had to answer charges in the way he did. The grant was made by a ministry; it should have been up to that ministry to assure Parliament that due diligence was being exercised. When institutions are decimated, the lines between innocence and guilt will be blurred. But has any party given the slightest hint it wants to restore credibility to institutions?

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