The rise and rise of Arvind Kejriwal

(This article by me first appeared in The Express Tribune on 26 December 2013.)

Arvind Kejriwal is the new Sachin Tendulkar. You throw him the most difficult googly and he sweeps it to add runs for his century. In 2011, he started a national anti-corruption movement with the specific aim of setting up an anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal. The movement’s public face and leader was Anna Hazare, a respected social leader, who like Gandhi, believes in fasting for politics. The critics said Anna is just a puppet and it’s Kejriwal’s movement, and that such sophistry showed Kejriwal (who takes oath as chief minister of Delhi tomorrow) had sinister motives.

Kejriwal’s critics said that fasting unto death was a blackmail strategy not suited to a democracy. Kejriwal can’t have a Lokpal just because he wants it. His popular support is just media hype. If he really wants a Lokpal, why doesn’t he form a political party and contest elections?

Kejriwal’s critics said he was supported by the RSS and the BJP, that he is a BJP stooge, that the Lokpal movement was a right-wing conspiracy to remove pristine, super-secular, people-loving, chosen-by-god Congress party from power.

Every such googly, Kejriwal has replied with a sixer. He formed a political party. Anna didn’t like the idea and left. The more right-wing elements left with Anna. The BJP became an enemy as much as the Congress. The critics said his party could barely win a seat or two in the Delhi state elections. It won 28 of 70 and is forming a government this week. It is doing so with outside support from the Congress — but we thought he was a BJP stooge!

The critics said he was exposing only the Congress corruption and not the BJP corruption, so he took on the sitting BJP President, Nitin Gadkari, accusing him of a scam. Gadkari was forced to resign.

The critics said Kejriwal can’t hit where it hurts: what about corporate corruption, asked the left. What about the Gandhi family, asked the right. Kejriwal took on the holy cows of India, the Ambani empire and the Gandhi family.

The critics said it was impossible to win an election without becoming corrupt, because elections needed big money. Kejriwal showed that if people believed in your movement, they would donate. He contested an election on white money and won. Raising money from the public also raised the voter’s sense of participation and enthusiasm in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The critics said it was a middle class movement and did not take everybody along. Where are the Dalits? Where are the Muslims? The AAP got the broom as the election symbol. The middle-class critics laughed and the Dalit Valmiki community, whose caste profession is cleaning, said they would wholeheartedly support the AAP.

The critics said we don’t need a Lokpal because corruption is who we are, what we are. An anti-corruption agenda is vigilantism, authoritarianism and fascism. These critics were, back then, not worrying about the rise of Narendra Modi, but Kejriwal was producing endless derision in them. Today, the Congress and the BJP both want to appropriate the anti-corruption agenda. They have passed the Lokpal law, which may not be the best law but, at least, it can be said that Kejriwal managed to put enough public pressure on the Congress and the BJP that he got the Lokpal.

The critics said that Kejriwal is a BJP conspiracy but today, his party prevented the BJP from coming to power in Delhi. BJP critics say Kejriwal is a Congress conspiracy and look, he’s now breaking bread with the Congress. So, Kejriwal asked for a public response to whether he should form government with unconditional and outside support from the Congress. The response was an overwhelming yes. Kejriwal said he’ll open the files to estimate Congress corruption. The Congress is still supporting him. Because he’s the new cool guy in town everybody wants to be friends with. Suddenly, good is cool.

The critics try to label the AAP as left or right, secular or communal. Kejriwal defies labels as they distract from his governance agenda. The critics are now hoping that Kejriwal won’t be able to keep his tall promises about water and electricity. I am also sceptical. But we’re dealing with an unstoppable master-blaster here.

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