Why I reluctantly began to like Kejriwal

So here is the thing.

I am a snob. I am not proud of it. But I can’t help it. I was born this way.. when it came to choosing a baby formula, I am pretty sure I told my mother that ‘cerelac’ was too mainstream (actually I don’t think I was fed formula, but I am trying to make a point here). A shiver runs down my spine when Chetan Bhagat or Salman Khan are discussed.  I can only watch ‘Jab We Met’ if I tell myself that I am being ironic. I could go on and on, but I think that you have got the picture, dear readers.

So you can imagine what my feelings would be about Arvind Kejriwal when he first became popular. To everyone, he was the new messiah (and I don’t believe in messiahs). His ‘dharna’s’ caught the imagination of the masses, his persona enthralled them. Kejriwal was going to change Indian politics. He would fix corruption. It was a recipe I was doomed to dislike.

And let me be clear here, it was not just my snobbery that made me suspicious. I don’t believe that deep rooted practices can be changed by one man or party calling for honesty (though yes, one party can be a catalyst for change). I do not think women’s safety is ensured by sitting on vigils after high profile rapes (though yes vigils are important to show solidarity). There needs to be much plodding in terms of policy implementation. Much introspection in the general population about why we live in a society with endemic corruption and gender discrimination .  During the 49 days AAP was in power, I was concerned with the conduct of the AAP law minister in relation to the Khirki raid, which if not racist, was certainly authoritarian.

So you will wonder why I am writing this? Is it some long drawn plan to diss Kejriwal? No. I actually began to like him. A lot. And this post is about explaining it to myself as much as to my dear readers. So this blog post may have a bit of a dear diary vibe, and I hope you will forgive me for it.

Kejriwal had a brief lull in his popularity after he resigned as the Chief Minister of Delhi. While the core volunteers of AAP must have remained loyal, there was an exodus of some of the more visible faces. For a brief while the media had written off the AAP, in its Narendra Modi frenzy. At that time people began to snicker about how Arvind Kejriwal had been slapped on the campaign trail. People found this hilarious, and it became the fodder of SMS jokes.

When I heard these jokes, I began to wonder whether I knew any other present Indian leader who was approachable enough to the people to be slapped. It made me sit up and think. I did not know of any other leader that dealt with the people as an equal: as an aam admi. Of course Kejriwal has a carefully crafted persona, just like any other leader. But he has also given a great deal of deference to the experiences and wishes of the people he is supported by. His tendency to sit on dharna even as the Chief Minister was annoying, but also showed that he was not going to go anywhere. People would be a central part of his scheme of things.

Then came the Supreme Court’s judgment upholding S 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes ‘unnatural sex against the order of nature’ (read non-hetero-normative sex). I was astonished that the AAP made a statement which expressed disappointment with the Court’s judgment.  This was a party with a primarily north-Indian middle class base. A backlash was foreseeable, but they went ahead and made this statement. I was pleasantly surprised.

But I was the most surprised by the fact that after the media wrote him off, Kejriwal did not go into a self-destructive spiral. He went back to his base. He worked on consolidating his position in Delhi. He addressed the Delhi debacle head on. He apologized for what he did/ or failed to do by resigning as the Chief Minister. Again something very refreshing. A politician apologizing for a mistake, and asking for a fresh chance. I don’t remember seeing something like this in the 12 years that I have followed Indian politics.

So here is what I realized about Arvind Kejriwal. He is not perfect. But he has humility. He is willing to call his mistakes what they are: mistakes. He is willing to  learn. He does not eddy around in currents of megalomania.  He does not get so carried away by populism that he forgets the mandate of the Constitution (though of all his faults this is the one to watch). He brings up his volunteers almost all the time, and never hesitates to give credit.

These personal qualities of Mr Kejriwal aside,  AAP also occupies a crucial place in the scheme of things in India. It can use the popularity it enjoys to become a healthy check on the party in power. No matter how good the BJP leadership is, absolute power corrupts.The AAP can be a force that keeps a check on the great power that the BJP enjoys.  Further, through five years of solid governance in Delhi (if it wins the elections) AAP can instill values like transparency and accountability in the institutions it controls. This will be far more effective than ‘Dharnas’, because it will be slow institutional change. Change of that kind is really hard to kill.

I think Arvind Kejriwal has what it takes to be a leader who can bring about that change. I think he can work to be a credible and stable force in Indian politics. But he needs supporters who disagree with him. Who have problems with some of his discourse. He needs supporters (like me perhaps) who don’t think he is the best thing since sliced bread. But he is pretty good, and I hope he proves me right.

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