soniasarkar26

The man who would be a commoner

Posted on: February 7, 2016

Muffler: check. Floaters: check. Radio spots: check. As Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal marks his first year in office, V. Kumara Swamy and Sonia Sarkar look at how he has been projecting himself as the man on the street

It was a busy Sunday for Visakhapatnam businessman Sumit Agrawal. He went around the neighbourhood collecting money to be sent to Delhi for what he believed was a noble cause. The neighbours did their bit, too, and a demand draft for Rs 364 was sent to the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, on Monday.

“I humbly request your good self to kindly accept this small contribution & use it to buy a nice pair of black formal shoes,” the businessman said in a letter to the CM.

The CM had worn his customary sandals to a reception for French President François Hollande at the Rashtrapati Bhawan last month. The choice of footwear troubled Agrawal. “You were representing the country that day… not staging a dharna at an Aam Aadmi Party rally at Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar,” Agrawal wrote.

The businessman was mistaken. As Kejriwal marks his first year in office on February 14, it is clear that, at every opportunity, the leader of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would like to underline his man-on-the-street image. He is, at any point, holding a dharna – literally or figuratively.

But then he came to power riding dharnas. And though the quiet bureaucrat in the income tax office in Delhi who became a right to information activist before joining Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign had vowed that that he would never enter party politics, he did so with aplomb – and a great many sit-ins – in 2012.

“It’s difficult to understand Kejriwal’s style of functioning. Every day, he is into a fight with some agency or the other. He seems to be an unusual politician. It doesn’t really matter if he speaks or dresses up like a common man, it is important to see what this ‘common man’ has done for the thousands of other common men who voted him to power,” former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit says.

But if there is one thing that Kejriwal has worked hard on, it’s his image of the man next door. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to dress up – a formal galabandh on one occasion, a heavily embroidered shawl draped carelessly over a kurta on another – Kejriwal sticks to his uniform. A muffler and sweater with trousers in winter, a plain shirt and pair of trousers in summer. Occasionally, a Gandhi cap. And, of course, his floaters – worn with socks when it’s cold.

It is this image that he seeks to highlight in government radio spots that flooded Delhi during and after a state government move to control pollution. The ads were about an experiment when cars with odd and even numbers were allowed out only on alternate days for a fortnight last month.

In the ads, Kejriwal approaches the listener like an old acquaintance, using words and pauses the way one would in a conversation. ” Haan ji… kaise hai” – Hi, how are you – he starts.

His aides hold that more than 80 per cent of the ads have been conceived by him and he writes his own script. “He knows how to convey the most complicated thing in the most simple manner,” AAP spokesperson Ashutosh says.

As a communicator, Kejriwal has outdone himself. But the question being asked is if the government has done any significant work for the one year it has been in power.

Government watchers say that some major steps have been taken. The government doubled the education budget for the state and major changes are taking place in teaching methods and curriculum in government schools. A call centre has been set up to register complaints against corrupt officials. And the odd-and-even experiment to control traffic congestion and ensuing pollution has largely been lauded.

But for much of the year, the government hurtled from one crisis to another. The CM picked fights with the lieutenant governor over distribution of power, hasn’t been able to cut through the bureaucratic thicket and hasn’t attempted to resolve a shortfall of over Rs 1,500 crore in municipal budgets which has led to non-payment of salaries and strikes. He has been under pressure over a CBI raid on his office over corruption allegations against his principal secretary.

But with no opposition to talk of – AAP has 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly – the failures are seldom talked of. Instead, he, or occasionally his deputy, Manish Sisodia, engages with the public directly on issues that would interest them – corruption, pollution or consumer rights.

The idea, AAP insiders say, is to move from one issue to another before discord sets in. “We monitor ads to check when people feel irritated and start abusing us for saying the same thing – is it after 7 days or 10 days? We keep a check on the saturation level,” says Delhi state unit convener Dilip Pandey, in charge of communication.

The strategy, on the face of it, seems to be working. “First it was electricity and water. Then it was corruption, which was followed by the odd-even scheme. People have been given a new issue every time something loses its novelty,” says former bureaucrat Shakti Sinha. “But I am not sure if these have been followed up and monitored closely,” the ex-finance secretary in the Delhi government adds.

For Kejriwal, clearly, a lot of the action is in the public arena. When his office was raided by the CBI, he took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley publicly. The last time he was in power – for 48 days in 2013-14 – he threw in the towel when he felt besieged. This time, Kejriwal has gone to town over the Centre’s alleged moves against him.

“People think he is confrontational but that’s not the case. Earlier, he was more impulsive, now he is calmer,” a close associate says. “His understanding of politics and society is wider now and more in-depth.”

Indeed, if there is one thing that Kejriwal has demonstrated this year, it’s the fact that he is, contrary to popular perception, an inveterate politician.

Consider the way he has tackled dissidence, or people who could challenge him.

During his days as a fledgling activist against corruption, Kejriwal had a print-out pinned on the wall in his office in Ghaziabad. It was a shot from the film Munna Bhai MBBS. The original poster had Sanjay Dutt on a motorcycle, and his sidekick, Arshad Warsi, in the sidecar. Dutt’s face was replaced by Anna Hazare’s, and Warsi’s by Kejriwal’s. The message was clear: Hazare would lead the charge while Kejriwal would be his loyal lieutenant.

But Hazare – who gave Kejriwal a boost – is now a closed chapter. Even the other stalwarts who were Kejriwal’s equals when AAP was being formed are out in the cold.

“From a consensus builder, he turned into some sort of a dictator. Only yes men got his ear. Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were men with backbone – and it was only a matter of time before they were kicked out. He wouldn’t like a competitor,” a former associate says.

His political moves should not surprise his associates, for Kejriwal has shown on many occasions that he thinks like a clever politician. An AAP member recalls how, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab, Kejriwal looked at a crowd of mostly traders at a rally, and asked one of his candidates to point out that he belonged to the same community.

“I was shocked that he wanted votes highlighting his caste. He is like any other politician now. And he is more concerned about the next election than anything else,” alleges Harinder Singh Khalsa, AAP member of Parliament from Fatehgarh, Punjab.

But then, politics is all about mining votes – and making alliances. In recent months, Kejriwal has voiced his support for state leaders Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee. Efforts are on perhaps to form an alliance to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in the next general election.

Before that, though, he has to effectively rule Delhi. “In Delhi, a battle is being played out at a political level. Officials will not be motivated to work in an enthusiastic manner if this daily uncertainty continues,” says Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary, Delhi government.

Chandra believes that citizens want predictability in their daily lives. “That is absolutely lacking because of these constant upheavals. Citizens are not interested in day-to-day politics which disturb their world,” she says.

Also, much before the next general poll is the Assembly election in Punjab next year. It was thought that AAP could give a good fight to the ruling Akali Dal and the opposition Congress, but there is dissent brewing in the AAP camp now.

“AAP has the same high command culture as any other party and the coterie around Kejriwal keeps him in a world far removed from reality,” Khalsa says.

As Kejriwal returns to the capital today after ayurvedic treatment in Bangalore, he will have his hands full. His aides expect him to promptly get back to his punishing schedule – up at 5am, yoga, and then a spate of phone calls before setting out. “He always returns calls but his timing is odd. He calls at 5.30am – and I often forget what I want to discuss,” an aide says.

And, of course, the battle with the Centre will continue. Kejriwal came fighting the Establishment. And so what that he’s the Establishment now?

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  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...
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