India celebrated its 70th Independence Day on 15 August, 2016. A lot has happened since the year 2014, when the BJP government took power at the Centre and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal left the political establishment stunned by winning with a thumping majority in the national capital, Delhi.
While Kejriwal may not care about what Modi has to say, the nation does.
Since then, the fireworks have rarely ceased and regular conflagrations between Kejriwal's government and the Prime Minister's Office have become par for the course. But Kejriwal's latest stunt of appearing to sleep during Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech was a particularly low blow.
Now, granted, this speech was rather long – a mammoth 94 minutes. In fact, it was the longest Independence Day address in the history of India, with the PM breaking his own record that he had set in the previous year. But even taking that account it was in very poor form for Kejriwal to nod off in full view of media and public. While Kejriwal may not care about what Modi has to say, the nation does. Also, however long or even dull a speech may be, a sense of decorum has to be maintained during an event as important as this. The insult was not so much to the PM as much as to Independence Day. Its sanctity was not respected.
With power comes responsibility. And this responsibility precludes cheap publicity stunts or negligence of proper protocol. Kejriwal's conduct makes India look bad. It makes the system appear vulnerable. The PM's speech involved a statistics-backed exposition of the achievements of India, a call to eliminate discrimination and a strong reply to Pakistan. When a top leader nods off during such a speech, what message does it send to the rest of the world? What unity and commonality of purpose does it show?
Everyone is aware of the turf war that Kejriwal has been waging. Both in court and outside of it, he has accused the PM of snatching basic powers from the Delhi government. Early this month, the Delhi High Court ruled against Mr Kejriwal, reinforcing the powers of the lieutenant governor (the representative of the Centre), but the CM's passive-aggressive posturing continues.
The insult was not so much to the PM as much as to Independence Day. Its sanctity was not respected.
As images of a napping Kejriwal did the rounds on social media, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and AAP spokesperson Ashutosh called the speech boring, uninspiring and directionless. The same might be perhaps said of their political gimmickry.
If they feel that the speech was not worth listening to, they shouldn't have attended the Independence Day ceremony. If they went only for courtesy's sake, they ended up being the very opposite of courteous by not even bothering to stay awake. They could have engaged with and critiqued the points made by the PM, but instead opted to engage in conduct that was juvenile and an embarrassment to our country.
My fervent request to all political leaders would be to focus sincerely on the growth of India as a whole rather than wasting their power and visibility on tawdry gimmicks.