Most Indians would have forgotten, forgivably, the powerful anti-corruption and cleansing politics plank that brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power in 2014 elections. The slogan, "na khaunga, na khane doonga (I won’t take bribes, won’t let anyone else take them)" was a powerful reiteration of an older "party with a difference" theme, but got personified as part of Mr Modi’s unimpeachable integrity and persona.
Rahul Gandhi faced its power when he raised the issue of possible corruption in defence deals, especially over the acquisition of Rafale fighter jets, when the "Chowkidar chor hain" boomeranged on the Congress Party before 2019 elections.
In today’s political narrative, family-run political parties, be it the Congress or the regional parties, are synonymous with corruption. If nepotism itself is a form of corruption that Mr Modi and the BJP are fighting, is it any surprise that the Congress and the regional parties have hardly ever tried to even raise the issue of corruption against the BJP? This has given it an uncontested and unchallenged halo of honesty.
But it could change for the 2024 elections with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — which shares several traits of the BJP — being subaltern in its DNA, its leaders coming from humble ranks, honesty and zero tolerance to corruption being part of its standard offerings to the electorate — upping its ante.
Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann has just scored over Prime Minister Modi and even Delhi chief minister and party boss Arvind Kejriwal. A sting operation was done on his own cabinet colleague and health minister Dr Vijay Singla, who was immediately dismissed, and subsequently arrested.
In publicly demonstrating that Singla was dismissed for demanding a commission of one per cent (as a joke, most corrupt folks won’t even laugh about the number), Mr Mann has proven that he is honest beyond peers, and his intolerance to even one rupee worth of corruption is above suspicion.
Mr Mann has set a new benchmark and the BJP will have to worry about it — because unlike the Congress or regional parties, the AAP can effectively weaponise charges of corruption. It has earned the rights.
And Caesar might smile at the creative ways his wife is being cast in the Indian political theatre.