Arvind Kejriwal’s politics is confusing to say the least. He does not play by the rule book. To bring in a cricketing parlance, he plays his knocks through switch hits, scoops over the wicket-keeper and reverse sweeps. Nothing conformist about it, yet nothing illegal either. And he is undaunted by the reputation of any bowler. Those accustomed to watching and understanding cricket through the usual template of technical correctness would find his style unpalatable. But that is how he is, love him or hate him.
So how do you judge him after one year in power? You have to dump the old, and a bit redundant, template and make a dispassionate assessment. If you don’t, it won’t make any difference to him or his style; your confusion will only keep troubling you. One year is no time to evaluate the performance of any government, let alone that of the one led by Kejriwal. There won’t be too much concrete to dwell on in terms of tangible achievements, so you have to go by the abstracts.
What come out very clear about his politics so far are the spirit of defiance and a strong trait of non-conformism. For someone who transitioned from a powerful popular movement to politics in sudden jerks, he still retains the defining features of the movement. It shows in the way he conducts himself and approaches issues and individuals. While everyone expected him to settle down nicely into the role of chief minister and be a carbon copy of others before him, say a Sheila Dikshit or Madan Lal Khurana or some other chief minister in the country, he has refused to be so. He continues to be loud, combative and irreverent to others. He continues to play the victim card and flaunt popular support at the drop of a hat.
‘Why?’ many would ask. The question in the changed context should be ‘why not?’ An outsider in politics, he chooses to remain one. If he starts behaving as an insider, he risks losing his unique selling proposition. It also means getting into the compromise mode - getting into back-scratching arrangements with others in the political class, ignoring their acts of omission and commission and in the end, getting distanced from people. His approach has serious drawbacks, but isn’t he here because the other conventional arrangement had its problems too? Why would he forget that?
His relation with the media defines his style well. While other political leaders and parties would be desperate to be in the good books of the media and would not mind swallowing insults from television anchors and even reporters, Kejriwal would give it back. He has been accused of cooking up controversies on almost daily basis to stay in limelight. What limelight? One must ask. He and his party have been subjected to the most vicious and most unfair of attacks by the media. AAP and Kejriwal have been asked more aggressive questions and taunted more than any other party or leader.
The beauty of Kejriwal’s approach is he understands the irrelevance of it all. Between the period he quit office after his 49-day stint as chief minister and the time he returned to power with an incredible mandate, the media was particularly harsh on him. Starting from intra-party conflicts to treatment of women in the AAP to selection of candidates, it was negativity all the way. Known to kowtow to the powerful, the self-important editors never put the same questions to his rivals. His massive victory made one thing clear: media don’t make or break you. People watching the television or newspapers and forming opinions about you are not necessarily people who make you successful in politics. Thus, media could be treated with the disdain it deserves.
After one year, the media would still be critical of his ability to govern, but it won’t ask the Narendra Modi government the same question. But it hardly matters for Kejriwal. A smart man, he understands his politics well; he understands the politics of the rivals even better. He understands his own strengths, but he understands the weaknesses of his rival better. He is the kind of man one would be uncomfortable having as an opponent.
It helps that he is fearless and totally unmindful of the consequences of taking on the big and the powerful. Arun Jaitley is a case in point. And he has been targeting the powerful Narendra Modi, the prime minister, like no other political leader in the country. He may look silly by overstating his case, but the man surely knows how to play the game. If he played by the rule book he would be easy to handle. So it has to be switch hits, scoops and what not.
Give it to the man, he is different. You cannot admire him. But you cannot ignore him either.