Every so often in an election campaign there is a moment when a leader finds his voice and everything seems to fall into place. Arvind Kejriwal had just such a moment yesterday answering questions from prospective voters in a Times of India/Navbharat Times Hangout session.
The Aam Aadmi Party campaign in the 2013 Delhi elections was a renegade campaign asking for protest votes from a disillusioned electorate against the political establishment. I doubt very much that those who voted for AAP in 2013 or even the party itself ever fathomed that it would have the opportunity to form a government. It was a protest vote that surprised everyone and the rest is history. This time around there is no doubt whatsoever that AAP is running on an agenda of governance and has a plan for ruling Delhi for five years. It also has a leader who has been campaigning relentlessly for weeks, irrespective of the cold weather, and voters have responded. Unlike the late-arriving Kiran Bedi, whose campaign is only now getting started two weeks before the election, Arvind Kejriwal has covered the length and breadth of Delhi. A considerable percentage of voters have seen and heard him in the flesh, and he has seen and heard them. He is a candidate now in sync with the electorate and instinctively familiar with their aspirations, which is why his stump speech is so on song and on target now. Nothing can replace a candidate spending time on the ground and amongst the voters in a political campaign. Kiran Bedi is learning that lesson the hard way.
All this was prologue to the command performance Arvind Kejriwal put on in the Times of India hangout yesterday. He had the calm demeanour of a candidate who was confident and seemingly unruffled by the hoopla and never-ending media circus surrounding this high-profile election. This was a different Arvind Kejriwal from the one who was sworn in as Chief Minister almost a year ago. The intervening year has been a trial by fire for AAP and its leader. Electoral defeat felt like a kick in the teeth, introspection was bitter, admitting mistakes was painful, and starting again from square one was necessary. Yet AAP diligently went through the process of rebirth, parting ways with some old comrades in the ensuing difficult process but also gaining new blood as is to be expected, and has emerged as a party with its core ideology intact but a party that has been toughened by experience and a realistic understanding of the political process. All these qualities were on display as Arvind Kejriwal answered queries yesterday on every subject under the sun and also took the opportunity to unveil a 7-point agenda for governance underlining what will be his party’s priorities if elected to office: reduce prices, cheap electricity, water supply for all, bring an end to corruption, improving quality of government schools and adding 20 more colleges with Outer Delhi as an education hub, insuring a safer Delhi for women while installing CCTV cameras across the city, improving the quality of government schools, and providing affordable health care. I would have preferred to add an eighth item to the list in the form of skill development and job creation, but they are included amongst the top priorities of AAP’s very comprehensive Delhi Dialogue commitments that were drawn up with feedback from Delhiites.
On the question of jhuggis, he said the people who lived there deserved a humane approach from us and not demolitions. About Kiran Bedi he said if she had been serious about being part of a new kind of politics she should have joined AAP and not waited till two weeks before an election to join the BJP, a party which stood for everything she claimed to oppose earlier. On Anna Hazare and Shanti Bhushan he wisely voiced his respect and let it rest there. He deftly downplayed the prospect of discord with the Centre if elected, and added that a BJP government in Delhi would merely be a pawn in the hands of the Centre but an AAP government would actively defend Delhi’s interests. He reiterated his offer to debate Kiran Bedi, saying the voters had a right to get clarity from her on a whole raft of important issues. On migrants he said it was wrong to blame them for all of Delhi’s problems and eloquently stated that Delhi was the nation’s capital so it belonged to everyone and all were welcome to participate in the quest for a better future for the city. He ended by making a plea directly to BJP and Congress voters, saying they had repeatedly voted for both national parties and Delhi’s problems only got worse, even Modi in the last seven months had failed to improve their lot, Kejriwal assured them of a better future if they relinquished their party affiliations and voted for AAP this time.
These were the well modulated and mature words of a leader who already sounded like the Chief Minister of Delhi. Ideological fires that originally burned bright and fast have cooled to reveal an Arvind Kejriwal who understands that sometimes patience and compromise can be just as effective instruments in politics as protest and aggression. To borrow Kiran Bedi’s favourite word, Arvind Kejriwal has been evolving and all for the good. It has made him a better leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and it will make him an excellent Chief Minister of Delhi.
After a year of waiting and campaigning Arvind Kejriwal is ready to return to the job, and no matter what results come in on February 10th, apna AK is a man of destiny.