PHATAA POSTER NIKLAA HEERO – Paanch Saal Kejriwal
The unprecedented and hugely unexpected 95.7% win rate at the Delhi 2015 assembly poll by the just 2 year old Aam Aadmi Party has suddenly catapulted the ‘Bhagoda’ muffler man, Arvind Kejriwal, India’s newest political sensation, into an incredible phenomena.
By any stretch of imagination, this is the finest moment for the value based alternative politics in the independent India’s, 68 years old history.
Reportedly some 54.3% voters backed this fledgling political enterprise. The scale of devastation this AAP has caused to the two main political parties has to be seen to be believed. For 15 long years, Congress ruled Delhi and yet this time round failed to get even a single seat. Country’s biggest political party, which ruled the centre for 10 years and couldn’t return to power in Delhi in the corridors of parliament, could muster only around 10% of votes. The party leadership was at complete loss of words to react to this comprehensive rejection at the hustings. And the other, the rising BJP, the only national party opposed to the Congress, sitting pretty with all 7 parliament seats of Delhi in the last Loksabha election, they did everything possible to repeat the runaway performance of parliamentary election. They used all tricks in the game, right-wrong-fair-unfair. But the overconfidence of having done well did them in. Besides they indulged in lot of negative politics. In the event electorates in Delhi – cutting across the socio-economic divide-decided to give the Muffler man & company, a chance. BJP despite, all the power – money, muscles and political – couldn’t even win 5% of the total seats. In the wildest possibilities, this kind of a drubbing was not expected. But the nature has its own dynamics of conveying its message, when too much can become too bad. The Delhi election proved that David can indeed defeat Goliath and startups can indeed prevail over monopolies. Indeed this phenomenon called Aam Aadmi Party, has left nobody in doubt, post Delhi poll, that it is here to stay for good.
But how did this all come about?
A party launched in Nov. 2012, when it went into first election in 2013, it was just a year old. Poll pundits then gave them some 3/4 seats. They romped home with 28 seats. No government could be formed, since none had the needed majority of 36 seats. The party with the largest number of seats - 32, did not show the inclination to form the government. In fact BJP was fuming within, at this denial by the AAP. So, for BJP, AAP was the enemy No: 1. It was in Dec. 2013.
The story of AAP forming government in Delhi and quitting after 49 days, with all kinds of controversies is all there in the public domain. Loksabha election followed, Abki baar Modi Sarcar came to power with an unprecedented victory, largely won on Modi wave, rather than by BJP. Thus Modi emerged larger than party, a position Modi greatly relished. AAP, which tested the Loksabha electoral waters was comprehensively rejected. So honeymoon period for AAP was over! The black spot that AAP earned, due to its abrupt quitting after 49 days of Delhi govt stuck, and reflected hugely in the poor showing by the party in Loksabha election. It appeared a sad end for a very promising beginning. But then truth has strange ways of coming back to return loudly and emphatically. Could it be that AAP has learnt from its failures and BJP perhaps did not learn from its success?
Course of history was always changed due to combination of various factors, but they do converge around a persona. Time has thrown up at different points in history men of substance. In this case, it may not be wrong to presume, that the ‘Bhagoda’ of an earlier year has returned in style to ‘stay put’, to tell his people that he will be around them, for the full term of 5 years, and that they can trust him. Trust, they indeed did, so very magnificently to return an absolutely incredible victory. But then, unlike others, he did not put on garb of phrases to market himself. His honesty and transparency was visible. Thus, this Bhagoda has come to be trusted, like no other person in the contemporary politics of this country.
Arvind Kejriwal, the man and the politician, is a unique combination of education, idealism, integrity, dedication, persistence and above all wanting to make-a-difference to the poor and the marginalized, who are lost in the cacophony of trade & commerce inspired developmental paradigm.
But like lot of us who are into a middle class parentage, exposed to varieties of schools of learning, young Arvind always had that inherent interest in serving the society around him. For somebody born into a trading community it is not easy to decipher the man and his interest in working with Missionaries of Charity of Mother Theresa and Ramakrishna Mission, during those four months he was waiting for his UPSC result.
Although, he didn’t spend lot of time on these altruistic pursuits, his basic interest in humans and humanitarian activities persisted throughout. By Indian political standards, he is a well qualified person, and therefore has always commanded the respect of all and sundry. An IIT graduate in Mechanical Engineering and an IRS to boot, are certainly an embellishment for any Curriculam Vitae. When, somebody of such background, gives up a cushy, comfortable position of Joint Commissioner of a crucial revenue department of government of India, at the altar of service to his people and society, it certainly romanticises the whole scene. That too at a young age of just 37 years. Even Mahatma Gandhi, when he gave up lucrative legal practice in service of the nation back in 1915, he was ten years older than Arvind, at 46. Hence, it may not be wrong to call him a Mahatma in the making.
As he worked with the Income Tax Department, the churning within him continued. Recollecting the observation of Delhi Archbishop “The biggest problem of our country is not Harshad Mehta stealing Rs: 3000 crores. It is when an ordinary person pays Rs: 200 as bribe and thinks, its ok”. So it’s the eventual destruction of the national psyche that got young Arvind worked up. Thus came about PARIVARTAN. It offered services free of cost to all those who had a problem of having to pay bribe to get their work done. Since he was working for I.T. deptt., he started with I.T deptt complaints only. With media help, their work started getting better exposure and PARIVARTAN, started really bringing about change – the parivartan - for those whose cases the NGO took up with the department.
PARIVARTAN expanded its reach to Delhi Vidyuth Board (DVB). Arvind even took an year’s leave to concentrate on PARIVARTAN. With two departments of I.T and DVB, hands were full. He was helping lot of people with their problems, but system was unaffected, per se. The Dec 2011 passage of RTI Act, opened a huge opportunity to take on the system.
Using the RTI route, Arvind tasted success much faster than his PARIVARTAN approach of accepting complaints and then following it up with the depts. He tried to empower the complainant by asking him to do the running around, by just helping drafting RTI application only. This helped solve more problems in less time. With the word of mouth, he and his associates, educated the people about the power of RTI, which works faster and without having to pay bribe. He, kind of, told them that empowerment is only as far as that.
Meeting Aruna Roy of ‘Jansunwaai’ fame opened a pandora’s box of what is possible if there is the intention to ‘Make-the-Difference’. He could find out large scale siphoning of public money on projects only on paper, where money was shown as spent, with no work done or asset created.
His first experiment was in Sundar Nagari, a slum area in North East Delhi. The entrenched mafia tried hard to stop the exercise, but persistence of Arvind paid. Having got all contracts documents, they found that of Rs: 1.3 crore contracts given, there were details of only Rs. 60 lakhs found and rest were not there at all. Matter went up to Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s door, so also the commissioner of MCD. Nothing happened. None suspended. PARIVARTAN filed PIL in Delhi court. Nothing came of it.
Arvind decided to take up PDS-the Ration Shop. Tried a test case involving a beneficiary of govt’s. Anthyodaya Scheme. A poor women (poorest of poor) was entitled, and was getting 25 kgs of wheat and 10 kgs of rice every month as per record. RTI got him even the cash memo. But the fact was she never got any, for months to-gether. Before any action could be initiated by PARIVARTAN, the Ration Shop keeper himself approached the woman and supplied all her entitlements and promised to do so every month. Having tasted success with one, they tried to get the record of all 17 PDS shops, covering the entire Sundar Nagari and surrounding area. There was a huge hue & cry from shop keepers. PARIVARTAN workers were even beaten-up with a lady staff’s throat slit. The Food Commissioner of Delhi was transferred as a result and people boycotted these rations shops. A chastened Delhi govt. made all records of PDS available for public inspection on all Saturdays between 2 pm and 5 pm, and any discrepancy, if found, the licence of the shop to be cancelled on the spot. It was a huge victory for PARIVARTAN.
‘Privatisation of water’ through World Bank funding, was a project, if implemented would have been a disaster for Delhiites. Reportedly it was being pursued under complete secrecy. Under RTI, Arvind managed to get some 10000 documents relating to this project. Arvind, got 50 professors from IIMB and IIMA to write to the Prime Minister asking him to cancel the project. Subsequent to lot of uproar, Delhi government withdrew its loan application to the World Bank.
Understanding the potential of RTI, Arvind managed some media partnership and decided to go national with the help of NGOs across the country in 2006, PARIVARTAN launched a campaign titled “Drive against Bribe”, promoting the slogan “Don’t pay bribe, use RTI to get the work done” .
In 15 days flat (July 1- 15, 2006), 22000 RTI applications were filed in 55 cities across India. Success rate was an eye opener and RTI’s power was established.
And mind you, Arvind was still in the employ of Income Tax Deptt., all this while. He left the govt of India job, for good, in 2006. Around the same time, recognizing his work he was awarded the Ramon Magasaysay Award for Emergent Leadership. The money that he got with the award, he used it as a seed money to create “Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF), with the idea of studying the governance system. “The trouble” said Arvind “is you vote once in 5 years. After that, as a citizen you have absolutely no say in governance. This should change”.
Thus, he tried to get into the skin of local governance in Delhi. Talking to Municipal Councilors, arranging Mohalla Sabhas, listening to the needs of people of the Mohallas, discussing budget with officials accompanying councilors. Things started falling into place. Mohalla Sabhas are involved in monitoring works of contractors, to enable the government to settle their bills.
“Our ultimate dream” according to Arvind “is that the whole of Delhi would be run by Mohalla Sabhas. The people should decide what laws get passed in the assembly”.
He is sincere about realizing this dream, but he recognises the pitfalls, struggles. People, including Councilors are slowly coming on board, but the vested interest being what it is, danger to one’s life too is a possibility he realizes.
But his battle is with the system not with the men manning the system. He is not interested in who is wrong, he is interested in fixing what is wrong. Hence, although punishment for the wrong doers may help to an extent, he is not particularly after punishment, since any legal recourse, can take its own infinite delays, for which, there is neither the time to fight nor money to waste. He is philosophical “People who attack us are just pawns in the system. By punishing them, the system will not improve”.
Thus, his evolution as a visionary leader of men, was gradual and firm. With no salary of a regular job, and with the acceptance and support of his family, working for the society became a full time occupancy for Arvind.
Slowly and steadily he was getting sucked into the vortex of public life. To control and manage corruption in public space, he advocated Lokpal at the centre. However, it was in 2011, he came into greater lime light with the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement. With Anna Hazare, Jusice Santosh Hegde, Kiran Bedi, Shashi Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan IAC became a rallying point for Indians. Under pressure, central government got a scaled down version of Lokpal passed. Arvind called it ‘Jokepal’. His harsh language got him many enemies. Politicians, especially members of parliament challenged him to enter politics to enact laws. Soon he realized, for once politicians were right. A person, who never, at any point, wanted to be in electoral politics, decided to jump into dirty political waters. He recognized that this is the only way to clean the muck. Can’t there be honest men in party & electoral politics?
Arvind jumped headlong into the political waters in Nov. 2012. Only Bhushans – Father & Son – stayed with him. Rest as they say is history.
2013, Delhi Assembly election came and passed by, so was the Loksabha election in Mid -2014. Much of the water has flown down the Yamuna since then. Narendra Modi of BJP emerged as a colossus. By the sheer strength of his personality, he pushed himself hard on the nation’s body politic. He was growing in strength to the chagrin of other political players. With his handpicked party president Amit Shah, he brushed aside all opposition within his party. State election after state election, the duo scored and that emboldened them no end. They became over confident.
After almost an year in limbo, election to the Delhi assembly was announced. Arvind, in the meanwhile was trying hard to regain his lost credibility. His quitting the Delhi government in less than 50 days had made him a butt of joke. Akal tho aaya, magar der se aaya. May be, for greater acceptability of Arvind Kejriwal and his 2 year old party, the brief romance with power and its abdication was a blessing in disguise. A chastened Arvind, chiseled himself into humility to accept all wrongs and went to aam aadmi asking for forgiveness and to give him and his AAP another chance. However winning an election is a different ball game.
Announcement of election after over 10 months in Dec. 2014, heated up the cold Delhi ambience. All kinds of permutations and combinations came up in the electronic media. All thought, Modi-Amit Shah combine, will repeat their winning performance. A not- so- enthusiastic attendance in Modi’s first election meeting, rattled the duo. They thought Kiran Bedi, supposedly an adversary to Arvind Kejriwal, could do the magic. It appeared a masterstroke, when she was brought in as BJP’s CM candidate. This was the first act of over confidence of the duo. They unwittingly antagonized the rank and file of Delhi BJP, besides local leadership. Attack by Modi from the podium of a public rally, calling Arvind Kejriwal a naxalite, did the most damage. Was it right for a PM to attack a minor opponent, a ½ CM, like this? Other vituperation followed. Nirmala Sitaraman the Union Commerce Minister called him ‘Thief’. His constituency opponent called him ‘Monkey’. Kiran Bedi called him ‘Liar’ and that his company ‘Toxic’. The ‘Upadravi’ taunt in the election ad. was the height of indecency. Arvind Kejriwal took them all in his stride, but the electorates had to react. And they had reacted so very magnificently. Under playing by Arvind Kejriwal probably was also well taken by the Delhi voters. Having got the drubbing at the hustings, in fact nightmarish humiliation for BJP, they tried the blame game. The duo decided, instead of accepting the verdict as negative on BJP it was branded as a positive referendum on Arvind Kejriwal. In reality it was the combination of all. This landslide victory, while being collectively that of AAP, it is also the acceptance of Bhagoda Muffler man on his face value. Now that the AAP government is formed in Delhi, it is already on the business of delivering the promises they have made. Chances are, they will have constraints of money and co-operation from the central govt. But the honesty of giving their best shot is certainly there. To a great extent they will succeed in giving a performing government of the people, for the people and by the people.