There are some things that go unequivocally in favour of Arvind Kejriwal, even if this is his debut innings in the Delhi assembly election. There was an almost uninterrupted, breathless 24×7 media gaze on him and the mass movement that unfolded on the streets of Delhi in numbers the city had not seen for a long time. His impassioned speeches then, as India’s anti-corruption crusader, and now, in his election campaign, have been cathartic for most people in the city. Who doesn’t want to hear the existing apathetic politicians pulled down publicly? To have Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra named in less-than-transparent corporate deals? To have Reliance’s Mukesh Ambani be called crony capitalist and be accused in public forums of selling gas at usurious prices? And to have his party’s symbol, the jhadoo (broom), be waved like a magic wand that will sweep the city’s troubles away?
And then, there are things that equally mitigate against him. When Kejriwal announced that he was setting up a political party a year ago, it broke his anti-corruption movement in very painful ways. Many of its best known faces drifted away. This included his mascot – Anna Hazare, on the strength of whose fasts the movement took off in the first place. There was also criticism from his peers from grassroots movements like Aruna Roy; and also journalists and political observers who felt his claims were sometimes too tall and had too much hubris for them to be tenable. For instance, the Lokpal he envisioned to check corruption in the country would be in charge of so many people – from the centre to the state, to PSUs and lower level functionaries – that it would be impossible for it to function.
After the Delhi gangrape of 16 December, Kejriwal said that if he were to be elected, he would have special troops patrol the streets and set up womens’ safety cells. Critics argue that more policemen on the streets isn’t the answer; better training of the existing police force is. Even if it doesn’t get you more votes.
Another promise he’s made to the people is that electricity will cost half its present price if he is elected. He will make sure the private providers like Reliance are not overcharging for their services, failing which he will cancel their licences and find fresh providers. The question of course is – can this be done successfully and who would want to inherit Delhi’s supremely dysfunctional electricity distribution without big bucks attached?
But these conversations are now in their last gasp. And even if some of them have sounded a little bit like the pages of a Harry Potter book to most, the zeal, honesty and completely clean election campaign he is running more than makes up for it. For now, autorickshaw drivers seem to have bought the idea that Kejriwal is Delhi’s great white hope. Even when policemen threatened them for putting up his party’s – Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – posters on the backs of their vehicles, they defiantly kept the posters.
And Kejriwal’s promises to the people have, over the year, also acquired depth and layers. As academics like Yogendra Yadav joined the AAP, the party has deliberated on almost every burning national issue from the economy to national security. And they do have a solid, considered alternative set of ideas to offer, in case anyone asks.
His invective is sharp and his campaigns are going door-to-door. To the one question people are asking him: “What if we vote for you and our vote goes waste because it will be drowned out by one of the major political parties – the Congress or the BJP; what will you do then?” he has this to say: “What is more important is not what I will do, but what will you, the people of Delhi, do if that happens?” As Kejriwal, former income tax officer and RTI and anti-corruption activist, directly takes on current Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit – he is contesting from the same constituency as her, New Delhi – this will be a fight to watch out for.