FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
On September 21, at the New Delhi edition of INDIA TODAY Mind Rocks Youth Summit 2013, it was fascinating to watch how the young men and women of the city responded to the inimitable Arvind Kejriwal. On a day when they had the opportunity to rub shoulders with pan-India stars such as actor Farhan Akhtar, cricketer Virat Kohli and tennis player Leander Paes, the chief of the Aam Aadmi Party emerged as a demi-god in his own right. After according him a rockstar welcome, the crowd cheered at every inflection of his interactive townhouse-style speech, making so much noise that the voices of his co-panelists, Congress MP Deepender Hooda and BJP spokesman Sanjay Kaul, were simply drowned out.
Kejriwal’s journey from an IRS officer to a brand new kind of politician has been as unexpected as it has been phenomenal. He had first appeared on the pages of this magazine nine years ago, when as a 35-year-old RTI activist (On the Info Highway, September 6, 2004) he had attempted to reform the Delhi administration. His movement had had many early successes, from streamlining of power connections and road connectivity to regulation of ration shops.
Kejriwal is now more than just a social reformer running his own silent crusade. His foray into politics in November last year was an extension of the 2011 anti-corruption movement in which he was one of Anna Hazare’s generals. He is to be lauded for his audacious step of starting a political party to bring about social change he believes in, rather than be an armchair or dharna revolutionary like many of his ilk. His sudden emergence as a possible game-changer in the forthcoming Delhi Assembly elections has made him a symbol of hope for the aam aadmi, who believes that he will deliver a land free from corruption and self-serving politicians.
Election results apart, he’s walking the talk of practising a different kind of politics with transparency and honesty in the two most important elements of any election: Candidate selection and funds. This is in sharp contrast to the nefarious machinations of most political parties. For a country which in recent times has been floating in a flotsam of corruption and scams, this is proving to be a huge attraction. It is also shaming other parties and having a salutary effect.
But there are some critical pitfalls to watch out for in his promise of political revolution. Though aggressive decentralisation is at the core of Kejriwal’s political agenda, the rest of his plan is still fuzzy, particularly in the domains of economic policy, foreign policy and internal security. His crusade against electricity tariffs, which encourages consumers to tear their electricity bills in a state where the pulse rate is among the lowest in India, raises dangerous visions of an anarchic mutiny in which the principles of justice are defined by the self-righteous and idealism which doesn’t match economic reality.
For our cover story, Associate Editor Asit Jolly went on the road with Kejriwal, spending more than 24 hours with him over a frenetic weekend to discover that the confidence he exudes may be more than the usual rhetoric one hears from politicians. Kejriwal’s influence may be limited to Delhi in his party’s first election but the rest of the country finds him riveting because of what he represents. He is a phenomenon the likes of which Independent India has scarcely seen before—the chief of a new party, purportedly above board, with no godfather or institutional support, harnessing the anger of the middle classes to create a political movement that is more substance than bluster.
If Kejriwal can swing Delhi, it will have an impact across the land as an uncommon victory for the common man. What his party does with power, if and when he can get it, may be a different story altogether.
OUR OCTOBER 2012 COVER