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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Return of Kejriwal

Published in The Forthright

I think it was sometime in March 2011 that Arvind Kejriwal had come to the Arts Faculty in North Campus. The India Against Corruption movement was yet to gather steam; in fact it was just beginning. Arvind and his friends had come to appeal to the students to join them in large numbers and show their support for the anti-corruption movement.

By some coincidence, I happened to be in the Arts Faculty at that time. I listened to him attentively. There were only 20-25 students there as no one knew who Arvind Kejriwal was. I too had only a faint idea about his background and for me he was just another RTI activist. Clad in his trademark half sleeve shirt, baggy pants, wire-rimmed glasses, plaited hair and a bushy moustache, his appearance was that of a government employee rather than that of a determined anti-corruption crusader.

In the talk, he apprised us about the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill and how it would be effective in curbing corruption. Prima facie, the draft looked draconian and I had strong reservations against it. When the talk got over, he along with his friends started moving towards the Law Faculty to discuss with more students and perhaps to catch a quick cup of chai. I introduced myself and began talking.

We spoke for about 15-20 minutes. I told him what my reservations were and what I frankly thought the bill, if enacted into law, would do. I was very critical of the bureaucratic approach to tackle corruption that he was championing and told him then that it would only end up inflating the bureaucracy and increasing corruption. He listened to me as I spoke, nodding and maintaining eye contact and after I finished, he started countering my arguments one by one.

Post by Arvind Kejriwal.

Someone wise has said that a speaker is judged by the audience not by the facts that (s)he marshals out, but by the way (s)he makes the audience feel. I felt like a student learning from an experienced activist as he gave his rationale behind the key provisions of the bill, trying to dispel my doubts one by one as best as he could. At the end of our meeting, I was not wholly convinced by his arguments and told him so but I got attracted to the honesty and conviction with which he spoke.

He just said one thing before taking leave: "The corruption in this country must stop at any cost. We need a strong deterrent against corruption. Jan Lokpal is that deterrent."

We met many times after that but I didn't get to speak with him at length. I watched the India Against Corruption movement unfolding from the steps of Zakir Husain Delhi-college, my alma mater, which is situated right in front of the Ramlila Maidan. I and my friends discussed passionately about our understanding of the movement, our disagreements with it and our reservations about the ideological perspective of the people involved.

We did not want to be blind followers and yet we loathed to be pessimist idealists.

As I stood at Jantar Mantar on the day Arvind and his team launched the Aam Aadmi Party pondering whether I should join it or not, I had in my mind the recollections of our first meeting. I was hesitant as I was still trying to form my views on many issues and wondered if the party would champion the same causes that I personally feel passionate about. I had no inkling about the direction the party would take and frankly, I thought most of its founders (barring Yogendra Yadav) were politically immature.

Some of that hesitation turned into disappointment as Kejriwal resigned as the Chief Minister after 49 days. It was as if he had proved all his critics right. Almost everyone seemed to be screaming ‘we knew it!’ and personally, I felt let down. It is one thing to be idealist and it is another thing to commit political suicide for the sake of that idealism. I could understand the compulsions he found himself under, and maybe he would have been hailed as a hero had he been the Chief Minister in the murky world of politics in the mid-1990s. Yet, the reality was that he was living in the 21st century, his party and government was under constant scrutiny by the 24x7 media and his political opponents, quite simply, outnumbered him. The Modi wave hit ashore in May, 2014 and for a time it looked as if it was time to collect the shattered remnants of a beautiful dream and start afresh.

Yet, the dream endured. It grew silently as dreams generally do, expanding into ever new avenues revealing the vistas of tomorrow. The people refused to part with their beloved cap even after the blooming of the lotus and silently donated 100, 200, 300 – whatever they could – to their homegrown party. As the central government dithered and faltered, AAP consolidated its strength. They apologized, they worked, they listened, they conducted a dialogue instead of a monologue, they revamped, recalibrated and renewed.

Today, I find no trace of that hesitation in me that made me think twice earlier. The people I had reservations against have left. The person who struck me as politically immature at that time has evolved. The party that was trying to find its feet is now pulling the rug underneath the feet of the powers that be.

I am not a voter of Delhi. Yet, that has not deterred me from supporting them and, at times, expressing my disagreements to them. As Delhi votes on 7th February, I suddenly sense a new energy in the air, a new confidence in the people and a clamor in the mainstream media. I have seen these signs before and they are a sure indication of what is coming.

It is a dream morphing into a reality. It is the ideals of the JP movement and the IAC movement finding their fruition after all these years. It is the determination of an anti-corruption crusader finally delivering a knockout punch in the electoral arena. The Aam Aadmi Party is forming the government with absolute majority. No one can deny it.