Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, wearing a cap that declares “I am the comman man”
It is said that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah has never lost an election that he supervised. This Tuesday, Arvind Kejriwal showed him that there’s always a first. An austere anti-corruption activist and a supporter of the empowerment of the common man, Kejriwal regained power with a landslide win in the Indian capital despite suffering major obstacles in last May’s general elections.
Kejriwal’s landslide win, with some candidates winning with a majority of 20,000 votes, is nothing short of a miracle when considering the circumstances. Last year, after winning the general elections in May, he promised the people that he was different; he promised to show results and fulfill promises or quit otherwise. Which is precisely what he did: quit. Delhi, unlike many other Indian cities, lacks certain powers and is under the direct control of the Centre. During his short-lived authority, Kejriwal pushed forward a strong anti-corruption bill (the Jan Lokpal Bill) as the Chief Minister of Delhi , resulting in an extremely inflamed confrontation with the Centre and police on control over law and order. He refused to refer the bill to the Centre, arguing that central approval was not necessary, while the BJP and Congress protested in the House over his stand.
They were stuck in between a rock and a hard place, for if they passed the bill they would have to incriminate some of their ministers, and the public’s speculation of widespread party corruption would be substantiated if they didn’t. In the end they chose the rock, for proving the claim was better than having to face the consequences of imprisoning their ministers. Hostility and tensions rose exponentially within a week of the decision, and Kejriwal knew that to get around the political standstill and still remain true to his motto he would have to resign.
Unsurprisingly, this caused a huge public backlash. People that had placed so much faith in electing Kejriwal felt as if the captain was abandoning the ship. Thus, his image was slaughtered in the press, he was shunned by the public, and attacked by his rivals. Despite this embarrassment, however, this scandal allowed Kejriwal to make a display of brilliant political acumen. He engineered his last few speeches in a carefully meticulous manner to highlight the BJP and Congress’s despicable qualities, especially the widespread corruption of their ministers. The challenge to the Centre’s authority over the passage of Lokpal bill was a win-win situation for Kejriwal, for if he was successful he would have formulated the country’s first functioning and effective Anti-corruption law, and would make the Centre admit its inadequacies in front of the public if he wasn’t.
Additionally, India had become accustomed to political parties making extreme and pompous promises that are forgotten as soon as they come in power. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) proved themselves as people of substance and resigned from authority as soon as they realized they couldn’t keep their vows. This played a major role in regaining the public’s support when they stood for election the second time around.
While evaluating his previous term, one can observe three chief missteps: Running away from responsibility, over-ambition, and addiction to dharnas (protests). During his recent campaign he was careful to avoid repeating any of his previous mistakes. He avoided any kind of political confrontation, any negative strategies or aggressive postures. Instead he focused on his strengths such as the amount of positive changes he brought about in his extremely short 49-day government. The public was very disappointed and angry with Kejriwal for shirking his duty, but the sentiment never grew antagonistic. They expected him to dwindle away like the rest, but he preserved. Sticking to the formula of empowering the common man of the country and aiming to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, he hung on. He attended 110 public meetings within the last year, organized massive rallies, petitioned and gained support for various changes to the political system. Once the air was cleared that this time the party was here to stay, which was skillfully incorporated into the party slogan “Panch saal (5 years) Kejriwal”, the public relented and elected the obvious choice.
Arvind Kejriwal may not have been the perfect politician for India, but he was surely the perfect agitator. He fought and defeated his general elections conqueror, Narendra Modi, by taking 67 of the 70 seats in the capital. He collapsed the divisions between a political leader and an ordinary citizen, proving once again that one man can make a difference.
Puneet Brar is a sophomore at Cornell University, majoring in Environmental Science & Sustainability and minoring in Policy Analysis & Management.