India Today - - FRONT PAGE - (Aroon Purie)

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.


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