THE CHAL­LENGER

A small non­de­script man in­vari­ably at­tired in baggy shirt­sleeves, plain trousers and over­sized san­dals, the easy-to-miss Ke­jri­wal has emerged as AAP’s only pub­lic face.

India Today - - BATTLE GROUND - Text by ASIT JOLLY Photographs by RO­HIT CHAWLA

Arvind Ke­jri­wal’s ag­gres­sive cam­paign in the Delhi As­sem­bly elec­tions is turn­ing con­ven­tional pol­i­tics on its head

You are mis­guid­ing the peo­ple.” Sheila Dik­shit’s mid-morn­ing tele­phone call on Oc­to­ber 12 took the Aam Aadmi Party’s ( AAP) con­stituency in-charge in New Delhi, Gopal Mo­han, 28, by sur­prise. But it also con­veyed to him the Delhi Chief Min­is­ter’s ev­i­dent angst at the in­creas­ingly tan­gi­ble prospect of los­ing her job af­ter 15 event­ful years in of­fice.

The chal­lenger to the throne, AAP’s chief min­is­te­rial face Arvind Ke­jri­wal, 45, is tak­ing a brief break from elec­tion­eer­ing at the party’s bustling of­fice on Hanu­man Road. He lis­tens in as Mo­han puts his Black­berry on speak­er­phone: Dik­shit ob­jects ve­he­mently to AAP’s poll prom­ise of es­tab­lish­ing a Lok­pal in the Cap­i­tal. “Delhi al­ready has a good Lokayukta,” she in­sists. “Yeh tum theek nahi kar rahe ho (this is not right),” she com­plains, when the young AAP vol­un­teer po­litely points out that the ex­ist­ing Lokayukta “lacks any real teeth”. Ke­jri­wal quickly loses in­ter­est in the cu­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion and heads off to his next elec­tion meet­ing in Rithala (north­west Delhi). A day later, he tweets: “Sheilaji called Gopal, my cam­paign man­ager in ND const, yes­ter­day. She wants him to come and ex­plain Lok­pal to her. Why now? Ab yaad ayee?”

Ke­jri­wal, the eter­nal an­ar­chist with a long his­tory of de­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal au­thor­ity, is spear­head­ing an in­cred­i­ble cam­paign in­tent on edg­ing the Congress and BJP into po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness. He wants to change the very face of pol­i­tics in In­dia.

Shun­ning tra­di­tional means, his cam­paign re­lies on more than 7,000 ded­i­cated vol­un­teers—stu­dents, fac­tory work­ers, young women and men on sab­bat­i­cal from their jobs, cab driv­ers, re­tired civil ser­vants—who go from house to house telling peo­ple why change is not only im­por­tant but im­mi­nent. The ef­fort is lib­er­ally funded, al­beit far less than what main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties are known to spend on elec­tions, by a swelling le­gion of nearly 50,000 con­trib­u­tors who pooled in al­most Rs 11 crore be­tween Jan­uary and Oc­to­ber 16.

“We have listed each and ev­ery con­tri­bu­tion to the last ru­pee,” says Ke­jri­wal, cit­ing AAP’S web por­tal, which up­dates the list of donors in real time, to un­der­score his com­mit­ment to real trans­parency while snuff­ing al­le­ga­tions of “du­bi­ous for­eign fund­ing”. De­scribed by his col­league and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan as “one tiny fel­low speak­ing the truth”, Ke­jri­wal pre­dicts no less than 47 seats—four more than the Congress’s over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity in Delhi’s in­cum­bent As­sem­bly—for AAP in the De­cem­ber 4 polls. Ninety per cent of AAP’S can­di­dates are rel­a­tively young, first time politi­cians—a mithai­wal­lah from Janakpuri, a pe­hal­waan from Chhatarpur, a highly re­spected sculp­tor of re­li­gious idols from Gokulpur, an ar­chi­tect in Shakur­basti—each one sent up by lo­cal peo­ple. Ke­jri­wal also in­sists that all nom­i­nees sign writ­ten un­der­tak­ings that they will re­main trans­par­ent and ac­count­able to their con­stituents.

He can smell suc­cess. “Some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary is about to hap­pen in Delhi on De­cem­ber 4,” the aam aadmi-turned-politi­cian prom­ises a swelling mix of lower-rung gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, stu­dents and petty shop­keep­ers in Saro­jini Na­gar. Ke­jri­wal is con­fi­dent. The phool­wal­lah (flower seller) at Khan Mar­ket in­formed him how nearly eight out of ev­ery 10 of his cus­tomers are say­ing they will vote for AAP. “It’s true,” he says, “just go out onto the street and ask the first 10 peo­ple you en­counter.”

The con­fi­dence he ex­udes may just be more than the usual rhetoric one hears from politi­cians even when the cards are im­pos­si­bly stacked against them. Suc­ces­sively polling the rapidly chang­ing mood of Delhi’s vot­ers since Fe­bru­ary this year, with the as­sis­tance of for­mer stu­dents at the Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties ( CSDS), Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and AAP’s most vis­i­ble ide­o­logue, says the find­ings are noth­ing less than as­ton­ish­ing. When

team Ke­jri­wal parted ways with Anna Hazare to launch the Aam Aadmi Party on Novem­ber 26, 2012, they ex­pected to be in for the long haul. Ya­dav says AAP saw its fu­ture course along the lines of Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party ( BSP) pa­tri­arch and men­tor Kan­shi Ram’s of­ten cited adage: “Pehla chu­naav haarne ke liye. Doosra chu­naav haraane ke liye. Aur teesra chu­naav

AAP’s cam­paign is lib­er­ally funded by nearly 50,000 con­trib­u­tors who pooled in al­most Rs 11 crore be­tween Jan­uary and Oc­to­ber 16. It has 7,000 vol­un­teers who can­vass door-to-door.

jeetne ke liye (The first elec­tion is for los­ing. The sec­ond is for de­feat­ing. And the third is for win­ning).”

But an early Oc­to­ber poll con­ducted for AAP by Delhi-based Cicero As­so­ci­ates places the party’s pro­jected vote share at 32 per cent, at least three per­cent­age points ahead of the

Congress. This, Ya­dav says, is a dra­matic shift since Fe­bru­ary when AAP, at 14 per cent, trailed be­hind both Congress and BJP, which were tied at 35 per cent. “We are sud­denly faced with the very real prospect of be­ing called upon to form the next state gov­ern­ment in Delhi,” he says. He, how­ever, ad­mits that the sur­vey does not ac­count for “im­mea­sur­ables” like bogus votes or the in­flu­ence of liquor and money. The party was no­tably at ‘num­ber three’ be­hind Congress and BJP in the In­dia To­day-CVoter Mood of the Na­tion Poll, con­ducted just over a month ahead of AAP’S in-house sur­vey. The find­ings how­ever showed Ke­jri­wal as Delhi’s sec­ond most pop­u­lar chief min­is­te­rial choice re­flect­ing sig­nif­i­cant voter in­ter­est in the AAP con­vener.

Per­haps the only se­nior mem­ber of the fledg­ling party who is not sur­prised by the num­bers, Ke­jri­wal pre­dicts that “AAP’s ad­van­tage will swell to de­ci­sive pro­por­tions by the time Delhi’s vot­ers line up out­side polling booths on De­cem­ber 4”. He points to the ze­ro­tol­er­ance stance adopted by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion in or­der­ing the can­cel­la­tion of nearly 1.4 mil­lion bogus vot­ers. Also, peo­ple in the poor­est quar­ters, who are per­haps the most vul­ner­a­ble to al­lure­ments of al­co­hol and cash, are wiser this time, he says. “They are telling us, ‘ hum lenge toh dono se, lekin thhappa jhadoo pe la­gayenge (We will take from both BJP and Congress but will vote for AAP)’.” Ke­jri­wal is con­vinced his party’s sus­tained cam­paign in Delhi’s nu­mer­ous jhuggi set­tle­ments “has made peo­ple wise up to the fact that bribes of­fered for votes is noth­ing but pub­lic money looted by big par­ties”.

“This elec­tion will be a con­test be­tween hon­esty and cor­rup­tion. The BJP has been in power in the Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion of Delhi ( MCD) for the past seven years and Congress in the state gov­ern­ment for 15 years. Both have been un­abashedly dis­hon­est. Peo­ple have been watch­ing and this time they have an hon­est al­ter­na­tive,” Ke­jri­wal says. His poll strat­egy is premised on his early ex­pe­ri­ences with Pari­var­tan, a vol­un­tary group he founded in 1999, and more re­cently, Anna Hazare’s Jan Lok­pal move­ment. The cam­paign is crafted to en­gage with in­di­vid­ual vot­ers via nukkad sab­has (street cor­ner meet­ings), con­stituency-wise man­i­festo meet­ings where vot­ers are in­vited to sub­mit sug­ges­tions on ways to im­prove gov­er­nance in their lo­cal ar­eas, and sus­tained door-to-door vis­its. “Peo­ple want an­swers to their ques­tions and

there is no way you can do this from a 12-ft-high stage with bar­ri­cades sep­a­rat­ing them from you,” he says. It

had ini­tially amused on­look­ers. His ri­vals col­lapsed with mirth. But the im­age of AAP’s best-known face ac­tu­ally lis­ten­ing while con­stituents tell him their lo­cal area needs is now rapidly en­dear­ing Ke­jri­wal to men and women who will elect Delhi’s next gov­ern­ment. Amidst a clus­ter of lower pay-scale gov­ern­ment houses in An­sari Na­gar on Oc­to­ber 13, Ke­jri­wal takes notes as en­thused res­i­dents list their trou­bles: The houses are old, not main­tained and fall­ing apart, a serv­ing New Delhi Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion em­ployee tells him. There ought to be ac­tive po­lice pa­trolling af­ter dark, says a wor­ried mother. Another young woman wants CCTV cam­eras in­stalled in the colony to de­ter un­ruly out­siders. The pro­pos­als will be in­cluded in AAP’s poll man­i­festo for the New Delhi Con­stituency—one of the 70 in­di­vid­ual man­i­festos be­ing pre­pared for each As­sem­bly seg­ment. Ke­jri­wal says, “The man­i­festos will be an un­prece­dented ex­pose of the rot across Delhi.”

Sens­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ac­tu­ally form­ing the state gov­ern­ment, Ke­jri­wal has back­tracked from his con­tro­ver­sial ad­vo­cacy of ref­er­en­dums to for­mu­late state pol­icy: “You can­not run a state through ref­er­en­dums. What I am say­ing is that they must be peo­ples’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in gov­er­nance, which is very dif­fer­ent from a ref­er­en­dum.”

He is con­vinced that AAP’s highly per­son­alised drive will re­sult in a sig­nif­i­cantly higher con­ver­sion into ac­tual votes than Sheila Dik­shit’s Congress and the se­ri­ously di­vided BJP led by Vi­jay Goel can achieve through big ral­lies and star cam­paign­ers. “Peo­ple go to big ral­lies only for the free food and en­ter­tain­ment—the celebrity value,” Ke­jri­wal says.

If this is even par­tially true in Delhi this time, there could be big trou­ble ahead for Chief Min­is­ter Sheila Dik­shit. Bib­hav Ku­mar, 32, who quit his job as a reporter at NDTV to join AAP as Ke­jri­wal’s me­dia man­ager, says party vol­un­teers have al­ready vis­ited 24,000 of New Delhi con­stituency’s 30,000 house­holds. More than 12,000

AAP’s vi­sion state­ment pre­scribes Swaraj. Ke­jri­wal is con­vinced that em­pow­er­ing peo­ple at the mi­cro level with pro­voke unimag­in­able macro changes.

house­hold­ers, he says, have con­trib­uted be­tween one ru­pee and Rs 10,000 to AAP’s cause. The party’s doorto-door cam­paign is close to achiev­ing sim­i­lar num­bers in other con­stituen­cies, Ku­mar claims.

Much of Ke­jri­wal’s own con­fi­dence as well as the early sense of eu­pho­ria within AAP’s ranks springs from the pres­ence of peo­ple such as Ku­mar. More than 7,000 men and women, he says, have taken leave, quit their jobs or come out of re­tire­ment to work for the party’s de­but elec­tion. Twen­ty­seven-year-old Ab­hishek Ban­thia quit his job as a process man­ager at Mon­ster.com in Puducherry when his bosses de­nied him leave to join AAP’s elec­tion ef­fort in Delhi. “I can get another job when­ever I want. But this could be my only chance to be­come a mean­ing­ful part of In­dia’s his­tory,” he says. Ban­thia is work­ing as cam­paign man­ager in Shakur­basti.

Forty-eight-year-old Ashok Ya­dav, a for­mer Mother Dairy em­ployee who was forced to quit fol­low­ing some fam­ily prob­lems, is also ‘back at work’ in the AAP’s elec­tion of­fice at 41, Hanu­man Road. “I was the first to wear the aam aadmi topi on April 4, 2011,” he says with vis­i­ble pride. Still sport­ing the sig­na­ture side cap, Ya­dav now as­sists visi­tors, in­clud­ing the con­stant trickle of peo­ple want­ing to sign up as mem­bers. The wall be­hind him bears a large ban­ner de­pict­ing an an­gry, rain-soaked Ke­jri­wal beck­on­ing Delhi’s vot­ers: “Yeh desh ke liye tan, man aur dhan nyuch­hawar karne ka avsar hai… .” (“This is the time to give body, mind and money for the coun­try.”)

Ke­jri­wal says, “Th­ese peo­ple are not here be­cause they idolise Arvind Ke­jri­wal. They only come be­cause they can sense a never-be­fore op­por­tu­nity to

Ke­jri­wal says the party will sit in the Op­po­si­tion if it isn’t elected. Be­ing part of any coali­tion with Congress or BJP, he says, would mean cheat­ing their vot­ers.

clean up the coun­try they all care for.” But there is lit­tle doubt that the young party is bank­ing on the for­mer In­dian Rev­enue Ser­vice of­fi­cer for suc­cess. A small non­de­script man in­vari­ably at­tired in baggy shirt­sleeves, plain trousers and over­sized san­dals, who would nor­mally not even be no­ticed on the street, Ke­jri­wal has emerged as AAP’s only pub­lic face. Re­spond­ing to the crit­i­cism this has drawn, Ke­jri­wal in­sists that the per­cep­tion has essen­tially been cre­ated by the me­dia. Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav, how­ever, sees no con­tra­dic­tion in pro­ject­ing a leader. Ke­jri­wal’s “or­di­nar­i­ness”, he says, makes an in- stant con­nect with the aam aadmi. Vis­i­bil­ity is the es­sen­tial cur­rency of AAP’S po­lit­i­cal strat­egy and is suc­cess­fully de­fy­ing the money and mus­cle power of main­stream par­ties.

Ke­jri­wal in­sists that noth­ing short of a “rev­o­lu­tion” can res­cue In­dia from the sys­temic cor­rup­tion that has in­vaded ev­ery nook of gov­ern­ment. He says, “Un­der our present po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, even a well-mean­ing set of peo­ple can­not pro­vide good gov­er­nance.” AAP’s vi­sion state­ment pre­scribes swaraj or the rad­i­cal de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of po­lit­i­cal power to “give peo­ple the right to in­flu­ence poli­cies that af­fect their lo­cal area”, as the es­sen­tial cure-all so­lu­tion. Ke­jri­wal is con­vinced that em­pow­er­ing peo­ple at the mi­cro level will pro­voke “unimag­in­able” macro changes. “Sarkaron ka char­ac­ter hi badal jeyega,” he says promis­ing “to ac­cord swaraj the sta­tus of a leg­is­la­tion within three months of form­ing the gov­ern­ment in Delhi”.

In­tent on break­ing the cy­cle of cor­rup­tion that fu­els elec­tions in In­dia, Ke­jri­wal says, “The changes we bring in will make leg­isla­tive power com­pletely unattrac­tive for cor­rupt politi­cians.” Among the first ac­tions, if AAP comes to power, will be the en­act­ment of a Jan Lok­pal Bill for Delhi culled from the draft for­mu­lated un­der Anna Hazare’s lead­er­ship in 2011.

Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav is work­ing hard to ar­tic­u­late the rest of AAP’s still am­bigu­ous agenda. “Thirty-one pol­icy com­mit-

tees are close to com­pil­ing their work on key ar­eas like for­eign pol­icy, na­tional se­cu­rity, and eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy,” he says. “The draft pol­icy doc­u­ment is ready and will soon be avail­able for pub­lic de­bate.” Ke­jri­wal

is more forth­com­ing: “We are not wed­ded to any ide­ol­ogy and would hap­pily bor­row so­lu­tions from both the left and the right.” He also talks of pro­vid­ing an hon­est en­vi­ron­ment to do busi­ness. “We need to en­cour­age busi­ness for cre­at­ing wealth and em­ploy­ment,” he says, ad­vo­cat­ing “lesser gov­ern­men­tal in­ter­ven­tions” bar­ring in vi­tal sec­tors like health­care, ed­u­ca­tion and the reg­u­la­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. On for­eign pol­icy he says AAP would work to­wards “peace­ful re­la­tions with all coun­tries while pro­tect­ing In­dia’s strate­gic and eco­nomic in­ter­ests”.

While Ke­jri­wal com­mands the cam­paign in Delhi, Ya­dav and his col­leagues in AAP’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive are al­ready plan­ning fu­ture strate­gies. “Space for a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the Congress and BJP is grow­ing while choices for a third al­ter­na­tive have sig­nif­i­cantly shrunk,” Ya­dav says sig­nalling AAP’s in­tent to usurp that space. The party is look­ing to make a sig­nif­i­cant en­try into Par­lia­ment in 2014 via key states in­clud­ing Haryana, Ma­ha­rash­tra, Tamil Nadu and Kar­nataka. And be­sides its finely tuned or­gan­isa- tional struc­ture in Delhi, the party has es­tab­lished nearly 400 dis­trict level units in place in the states.

Ad­dress­ing AAP’s first mahila sam­me­lan (women’s con­fer­ence) at the Con­sti­tu­tion Club on Rafi Marg on Oc­to­ber 12, Ke­jri­wal is vis­i­bly up­beat at see­ing the crush of en­thused women work­ers. “Mein lo­gon se ke­hta hoon ke ye aapko sochna hai ke hum chu­naav haar gaye to aap kya karoge (I tell peo­ple that it is for them to think what they will do if we lose the elec­tions?),” he says. He is more cir­cum­spect when IN­DIA TO­DAY asks him what AAP will do if it loses. “We have no Plan B,” he ad­mits. “Aam Aadmi Party will sit in the Op­po­si­tion if the peo­ple don’t elect enough of us.” Be­ing part of a coali­tion with ei­ther Congress or BJP, he says, “would be tan­ta­mount to cheat­ing our vot­ers”.

Three years ago, Arvind Ke­jri­wal de­clared he would con­tinue the fight till it fin­ishes. Tak­ing a breather from the fre­netic cam­paign for Delhi in his two-bed­room flat in Kaushambi on Oc­to­ber 13, he says, “This fight is far from over.”

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @Asitjolly

KEJRIWALTAKES A BREAK AF­TER A MAN­I­FESTO MEET­ING IN HIS CON­STITUENCY

(FROM RIGHT) KEJRIWALWITH AAP COL­LEAGUES PRASHANT BHUSHAN AND YOGENDRAYADAV

KE­JRI­WAL ON THE CAM­PAIGN TRAIL IN DELHI

For full text of Arvind Ke­jri­wal’s in­ter­view, go to .in/ke­jri­wal To read pre­vi­ous sto­ries on Ke­jri­wal, go to www.indiatoday.in/ak-cov­er­age For more pho­tos, go to www.indiatoday.in/akpics

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