Arvind Kejriwal is a man with a mission. Right from his IAC days, when he sponged off Anna Hazare and actually took over his movement, he has been something of a freeloader. It is little surprise therefore that he has been offering freebies on taxpayer account in return for votes ever since he stepped into politics.
Not to belittle his activist credentials which he burnished with his credible RTI work in Delhi along with Aruna Roy, those in the know say Kejriwal was a politician in the making from his government service days. When he decided to join the IAC movement, he enjoyed instant visibility and popularity as Anna’s like-minded companion. Clueless about him, Anna’s supporters accepted him with the simple-mindedness — and, perhaps, the vulnerable gullibility — of their mentor. Over time, they began complaining of his controlling nature and ambition — how he controlled access to Anna, how he refused to let Anna call off his fast after brainwashing him into it, how he had all but taken over the reins of the movement which had hence gone haywire.
Kejriwal declared he would never join politics. Shortly afterward, he did, dumping Anna and everyone else whose ample body of work had given him a leg up. Before fighting his first elections in 2013, he swore he would never join hands with the Congress. After the elections, the first thing he did was form the government with the Congress. Once he did, he declared that the next target was Gujarat. It was baffling. Political growth is generally anticipated and planned along the lines of geographical proximity or popular support. Gujarat was at least two states away and had no demonstrated affinity for Kejriwal.
The only fact about Gujarat that could possibly interest him was its third-term CM, Narendra Modi. That spiked rumours about him being a Congress mole. Soon enough, his fledgling party faced dissent and he began kicking his own people out, a trend he follows scrupulously to this day, leaving Manish Sisodia as his sole commander and sole soldier. He is a rare politician who has fallen out with almost everyone he has ever worked with, from Aruna Roy and Anna Hazare and co-founders of his various outfits to key aides such as Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Ilyas Azmi, Shazia Ilmi, Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan, Kumar Vishwas and some more.
One of his former aides openly talked of his many questionable acts including a trip to Germany (which is near Switzerland) around the same time as that of a trusted secretary of Sonia Gandhi. The truth will never be out as neither he nor his rivals are interested in digging up skeletons that speak.
As first-time chief minister of Delhi, one of his first memorable acts was sitting in dharna against the Centre. In some time, the dissonance inherent in the act of the chief minister indulging in activism instead of attending to matters of state hit him. The itch to protest lay contained for some time. His last sit-in was in 2018 against the then lieutenant governor of Delhi, Anil Baijal.
In government, he floundered for long, not knowing his way around the slippery corridors of Delhi bureaucracy. Feeding on the heady rush of power, his newly minted ministers went around demonstrating intolerance and enforcing compliance in aggressive and even violent ways. The sobriquet ‘slap lads’ was hard earned.
To his credit, Kejriwal launched an all-out war to work up ingenious ways to connect with his potential voters. Freebies in power and water took care of the bulk of his voter base. A multi-pronged outreach in health, education, and even railways — youths employed to fine ticketless travellers on trains — managed to cover most sections of the population. Most schools had one AAP representative attending parent-teacher meetings, encouraging the parents to share their problems with them and ensuring the problem was resolved. It was a classic management lesson in building brand loyalty. Each resident was wooed in such a way that he could not escape an AAP worker. The celebrated mohalla clinic model of health care was launched before him but gained currency after he assumed office.
Kejriwal’s biggest drawback is his untrustworthiness. He has turned back on many of his promises and statements, has an ever-thinning circle of confidants — the AAP cadres comprise people who don’t really know him but are motivated by his manicured persona — has proved to be highly irresponsible as a public functionary who has never bothered about the actual costs of his reckless doles, and has evolved into an opportunistic salesman in his politician avatar.
At heart, he remains a reactionary who would rather oppose the system and everything outside it than be in it. In his chase after the topmost position in the country, he will woo the baseline voter feverishly, jump camps, steer unlikely forces to align with him, break ranks with his sponsors, and break bread with enemies. Whatever gets him there. The man initially celebrated as a politician with a difference stands out primarily for his intelligent use of the system and resources available to him, unlike his contemporaries.
The nation, meanwhile, takes the backseat to personal ambition, yet again.
Seema Kamdar is a senior journalist and communications consultant based in Mumbai.