A muffler, a Gandhi topi, dressing as simply as one can and a secular fundamentalist surrounded by a mix of NGO activists and old style socialists — that's Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for you. An IITian and a former IRS officer, Kejriwal's 'anti-establishment' image became an instant hit, when the former leading member of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption brigade decide to join politics.
The rest, as they say, is history.
There are no coincidences in politics and Kejriwal's timely entry into the arena of national politics certainly wasn't one. Kejriwal made his debut in national politics in 2012, after he had successfully unseated Anna Hazare as the face of the anti-corruption protests that demanded an independent Jan Lokpal between 2010 and 2011.
The time was just right. There was no worthy contender for the eloquent firebrand and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (now the prime minister), who tore through the dilapidated and outdated politics of the Congress government in the run-up to the General Election of 2014. Being in the right place at the right time coupled with an astute media sense, it did not take too long for Kejriwal to surpass political giants and become one of the biggest surprises that the Lok Sabha Elections of 2014 threw at the world.
When he formed the Aam Aadmi Party, this is what Kejriwal had said:
The politicians of this country challenged the aam aadmi to fight elections and come into the legislatures and frame laws. Those leaders forgot that the aam aadmi tills the land, netas don't. Aam aadmi goes to the moon, netas don't. Left with no option, aam aadmi decided that we will fight elections.
Kejriwal was a favoured, household name by the time his party (Aam Aadmi Party) won the Delhi Assembly election in December 2013 amid a blaze of national shock and euphoria. Yet the party’s term in office lasted just 49 days, a period wracked by successive scandals. After its stunning victory in the polls, the Kejriwal government had come in for heavy criticism over a series of stand-offs with the authorities — including law minister Somnath Bharti's 'vigilante' action against Africans and Kejriwal's own dharna demanding greater control over the police.
That's where it began. Political pundits, analysts and experts, opposition parties and of course the social media. Memes about Kejriwal took over social media as the former CM gave a stirring speech to the people of Delhi and said:
"I am a very small person. I have no aukaat. I am one of you. I didn't come here for power or for the chair. And that is why our government hereby resigns."
— Kejriwal memes (@Kejrumeme) May 29, 2014
we are missing you. prime time is missing u. 😉 pic.twitter.com/XgdqrotjMS
— Kejriwal memes (@Kejrumeme) May 28, 2014
But the former Delhi CM would not bow out of the fraught national political arena any time soon. Critics of Kejriwal and AAP termed his success in the Delhi Assembly polls as fluke. But as stated earlier, nothing in politics is coincidence. And Kejriwal came back with a bang.
Kejriwal's Bambi moment
Kejriwal insisted on record that it wasn't personal ambition that drove him in the elections, it was janta's will. But this controversy, prompted concerns about the longevity of the AAP as a political organisation. But soon after his 'whimsical' resignation, Kejriwal not only started preparing for his comeback, but he also appeared on national TV and apologised to the public for his decisions.
Watch him in action here:
This manoeuvre was so successful that it was recycled and reused by political stalwarts like Nitish Kumar. If politics is the art of communication and building perceptions, Kejriwal is the master of the dark arts of manipulating public perception. This is how a writer described him: "He is the proverbial Pied Piper, who almost leads the media to set his own agenda like a band-master with shrill decibel rhetoric."
The move worked and the 'pied-piper' returned as the Delhi chief minister with a mind-boggling mandate, that saw AAP win 67 of 70 constituencies in the 2015 Delhi Assembly Elections.
Conspiracies and Kejriwal
It is everyone's fault but Arvind Kejriwal's. The man's routine — blame the Delhi Police, then blame the Central government and if nothing works, protest or threaten to protest — has been the favourite of meme-generators across the country. Sample this one:
If anything goes wrong, trust Kejriwal to come up with a conspiracy theory that can be straightforwardly blamed on either Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung or Modi. Whether it's the issue of corruption allegations against principal secretary Rajendra Kumar — which were made by AAP, Congress and BJP members but the when the CBI raids took place, Kejriwal conveniently turned it into a conspiracy engineered by the prime minister.
"Why always me?" This is what Kejriwal seems to chant when he is not in front of the camera. Here's what Kejriwal had to say when eggs were flung at him.
"I am just thinking - why am i being repeatedly attacked? Who r the masterminds? What do they want? What do they achieve?"
His rhetoric that as the agent of change, he makes the existing political establishment insecure has stopped cutting ice with public at large. But it's true. Compared to Indian netas, who have been at the receiving end of all sort of abuse, Kejriwal has been the attacked the most. Apart from the latest ink attack, the Delhi CM has faced eggs and has even been slapped.
Here's a video of Kejriwal being slapped in Haryana during a road show:
The latest ink attack, which came when Kejriwal with his party members was participating in a "success" rally after the odd-even scheme in Delhi, was described as something done by the "forces" who had turned no-stone-unturned "to ensure the odd-even scheme failed".
The attacker, identified as Bhavna Arora, told the media that more than 100,000 CNG stickers had been sold to non-CNG vehicles so that they would be exempt from the odd-even road rationing scheme. This was Kejriwal's response to this claim:
"Leave her. She is referring to some scam... CNG scam. Take the papers from her," he said. "Whenever something good is attempted in the country or in Delhi some forces create all sorts of hurdles. As Gopal Rai said, many forces had tried to ensure the odd-even scheme failed."
And of course, it was the Delhi Police's failure and fault.
"I can see a BJP conspiracy. They want to take advantage of such a situation and attack Kejriwal and the entire Cabinet. They may also kill people because they cannot stand the success of the odd-even scheme and AAP's popularity among the masses. Delhi Police is a part of the conspiracy," deputy CM Manish Sisodia told India Today.
For the love of Twitter
Try going through Kejriwal's timeline on Twitter and you will know what we mean. The man is constantly trolling his opponents.
There was the suicide of Rohith Vemula of the University of Hyderabad:
It's not suicide. It's murder. It's murder of democracy, social justice n equality.Modi ji shd sack ministers n aplogoize to the nation(2/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 19, 2016
Modi ji trying evrything possible to create hurdles in Delhi govt. https://t.co/lSUyUn2w8v
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 17, 2016
?? ??? ?? ???? ??? ?? '??' ????? ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ?? ?????? ????? ?? ??? ??? ??? ?????? ??? ???? ???? https://t.co/lSUyUn2w8v
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 17, 2016
???? ?? ?? ??? ?? ?? ??, ???? ????? ??? ??, ????? ????? ??? ??? ?? ????? ??? ???? ?????? ????? (2/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 15, 2016
PMO sources-Next raid on Manish or Satinder. Officers under them being pressurized to get something wrong signed from them(1/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 15, 2016
And the one tweet that took the cake:
Modi is a coward and a psycopath
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) December 15, 2015
We could go on and on, but the list is the exhausting.
Mr Right Thing at the Right Time
With Kejriwal ushering the 'aam aadmi' into national politics and making it about everything that was denied to the common man, the Delhi CM made sure that the camera stayed on him. This character trait was quickly identified and he was soon compared to the one man who apparently loves the shutter and its bugs: Modi himself.
Just like Modi, Kejriwal is a one-man PR army.
At a time when Rahul Gandhi was disappointing the entire nation with his weak and lacklustre speeches, Kejriwal rose like a phoenix as the only solid opponent for Modi, with whom this IITian shared many similarities.
The right time, the right people and the right place. Kejriwal usually gets all three of them right. Sample these quotes from the Delhi CM:
"We will take action against our own minister, MLAs if they are found corrupt. Even Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and I will be jailed if we are found corrupt."
"I did not believe in God but I now do. I believe that truth can never lose... It was an impossible fight, who would have thought that a one-year-old party will win 28 seats."
"There is an odd VIP raj prevalent. They stop the traffic for every minister... I have been driving the past few days. I stop at all red lights. I don't think my time is wasted (while looking at the opposition)"
"The people of Delhi have dared to root out corruption in India's politics. The question before this house is which of its members wants to be a part of this fight?"
And most recently, Kejriwal announced that he will visit Hyderabad after the alleged suicide of Vemula. The move comes days after Rahul concluded his own Hyderabad visit.
The comparison with Modi was the next natural step. While Modi spoke of being the son of a tea shop owner who wanted to take on the 'Shehzada', Kejriwal discussed the perils of being the 'aam aadmi' and swore to 'sweep away' corruption with his broom.
Kejriwal is one of those few politicians who sagaciously tapped into the media and its various purposes.
Like veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai wrote in this Firstpost article: The media was oxygen for the Anna movement in 2011 which first catapulted Kejriwal from just another anti-corruption crusader into a national figure. Modi too, has benefited from the relentless media coverage of his every move, emerging as by far the most watched politician in the country today. And if Modi bhakts are quick to counter any criticism of their icon on social media, so are the AAP groupies. In fact, their abusive responses at times only confirm that intolerance is not the sole preserve of any particular ideology.
There is no such thing as bad publicity and this is especially true in Kejriwal's case.
After all, not a day goes by when Kejriwal isn't either praised, rubbished, analysed or attacked.