New Delhi: It will be long debated in political circles whether Arvind Kejriwal’s image as a political non-conformist was carefully co nstructed, or it was a product of his own dystopian reality. Possibly both, but Kejriwal’s real success lies in his ability to successfully get out of this straitjacket ‘anarchist’ groove, rise above the political stereotype and convince the cynical electorate that he was a beacon of hope and honesty. Ironically, in the process, he has come to be perceived as a ‘challenger’ to someone (PM Modi) who was himself seen as a harbinger of hope and change until recently.
When Arvind Kejriwal allowed himself to be co-opted by the political system, much against the wishes of Anna Hazare, he remained at heart a self-confessed ‘anarchist.’ It was the 49-day heartbreak in Delhi that acted as a catalyst and constrained the ‘pragmatic’ politician in Kejriwal to shed his ‘activist’ outlook. He had learnt his lesson: he now understood the difference between a pressure group, a political party and the government: a pressure group can afford to open the floodgates of agitational politics, but a government must govern.
So, it was a different Kejriwal in 2015: it was not the ‘anarchist’ but a conformist who realises that all governments are essentially represented by big interest groups and that elections are subsidised not by the State but by the corporates. Now, he would take affront if he was dubbed an anarchist; earlier, he would gloat in it.
Changing political gears with consummate ease, he apologised, time and again, to the electorate for squandering the opportunity Delhi gave him the first time. It was a very different and humble Kejriwal thereafter. Realising that PM Modi’s position was unassailable, he refused to be drawn into a verbal spat. Rather he used the invectives and the abuse showered on him in the BJP rallies to play the political victim and solicit public sympathy.
But even as Kejriwal avoided getting into a slanging match with Modi, he dared Kiran Bedi to engage in just one public debate so that he could establish his bonafides as a chief ministerial candidate who knew the city and its problems like the back of his hand. Ironically, Bedi, despite her lifelong track record as an administrator and social activist, refused to seize the opportunity, fearing that Kejriwal was trying to pin her down and that it would have a deleterious effect on her candidacy.
Even when the BJP, AAP fight turned ugly with allegations flying thick and fast, the AAP leader’s advise to his livid rank and file was to keep their wits in what was fast becoming a battle of nerves and public perception. So, even as Bedi was harping on Kejriwal’s negativity, something that the latter was studiously avoiding, it was the BJP that was playing ‘toxic’ mind games with AAP.
Finally, it was Kejriwal’s public rebuff to the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid on the eve of Delhi election which must have convinced the doubting skeptics that beneath the inverted snobbery of Kejriwal there lurks an astute politician. It is this persona that Kejriwal now has of a ‘pragmatic idealist’ that has touched a chord with voters who are utterly disenchanted with the political class.
In a way, Kejriwal and Modi are in the same boat now. The onus will be on both to deliver on the ground and both are staring at a similar timeline — four and five years, respectively. But this time the voter will not give them a long rope. One dreads to think about the cynicism that would seep into the system if they fail to deliver.