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What clicked for Kejriwal

|By Narendra Kaushik|

New Delhi:  It was sometime in July 2013. I was doing a pre-election survey in Delhi and had gone to Timarpur to speak to husband of a Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.  After I was done with my questions, he asked me what feedback I was getting on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

I told him that Arvind Kejriwal’s party might rustle up seven to eight seats.

“You’re mistaken. He is modern day Gandhi. The man has the courage to speak truth. He is going to prove all of us wrong,”

the BJP leader tried to correct me. Like others I was way off the mark on AAP and did not gave it only 8 seats 20 less than what it finally conjured up.

The BJP leader’s words rang a bell again last month when Arvind Kejriwal apologised to Delhi’s people for quitting after 49 days during his first term as Chief Minister.

He apologised in meeting after meeting and assured that come what may he would not leave midway again.  No spin, no excuses, no beating around the bush and no attempt to fudge and deflect like what most of the old school politicians do. Straight apology and promise of a course correction. He repeated the apology in all 110 meetings he addressed during the campaign. It certainly contributed to exorcising the quitter tag of him.

The apology was Kejriwal’s attempt to woo back the middle class which was driven away to the BJP by his put-on martyrdom on the issue of Lokayukta. This time around his commitment to steer clear of dharnas if elected was part of the same series.

Paanch Saal Kejriwal’ struck chord with one and all and helped build Kejriwal wave into a tsunami. It is no secret that the middle class and upper class did not like the way he slept on Janpath in January last year and threatened to disrupt Republic Day ceremonies.

The good part is he has stuck to no sit-ins stand even after pulling off an incredible victory. The changeover not only brought the middle class back but helped him break new ground in upper middle class which resides in South Delhi and New Delhi.

The simmering anger of bureaucracy against Narendra Modi Government’s hard disciplinary measures made the AAP’s job easier.

A direct consequence is unlike 2013 when his party had pockets of influence and scored in seats having lower middle class and middle class in majority, this time around AAP has built on its support in elitist Delhi.

In New Delhi, which is home to political class, babudom and business elite, its vote share stands at an overwhelming 60 per cent.

In South Delhi, the initial trend showed it could capture over 54 per cent of the total vote share. The tally of 67 out of 70 assembly seats and close to 55 per cent vote share looks even better than what the BJP achieved in Uttar Pradesh during the Lok Sabha polls (73 out of 80 seats).

The same Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi-like courage-to-take-head-on opponents and difficulties was on display when he dared the BJP Government to send him to jail for Rs. two crore donation his party received from a non-existent company which was making no profits.

He offered no explanation and simply asked for an inquiry and his arrest. His dare to Kiran Bedi for an open debate was also part of it. Gandhi had shocked young Rajendra Prasad (who later became India’s first President) with a similar audacity when he had replied to an English Magistrate in Bihar during his agitation against indigo cultivation that he could send him to jail. Gandhi said this after the magistrate threatened to send him to jail.

The BJP on its part overplayed the donation issue calling it a case of money laundering despite knowing fully well that no dishonest man will ever launder money through cheque payments.

Bedi showed the first chink in her armour when she chickened out of a direct debate with Kejriwal. Her decision coupled with assertion not to unblock him on twitter seemed like she did not want to look him in the eye.

delhiKejriwal’s disarming honesty, easy conversational style and simple sartorial sense are what endeared him to the underclass, the middle class and the elite. This is what connected him to people on the street. This is what gave him a much popular persona than Kiran Bedi who struggled to connect with the masses. This is what made muffler man a super hit among twitterati.

When Bedi was pushed out of the blue and made BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate there appeared to be too much affinity between her and Kejriwal. For instance, both were offshoots of same anti-corruption agitation led by Gandhian Anna Hazare. Both ran NGOs.

While Kejriwal fought for Right to Information (RTI) Act through his Parivartan, Bedi has worked for de-addiction through her Navjyoti Foundation. Both were honoured with Magsaysay Awards for their yeoman’s service. Moreover both practice Vipassana meditation.

Bedi has practised the meditation technique for very long and even introduced it to Tihar inmates during her stint as Director General of the Central Jail Kejriwal has begun practicing it recently. Their electoral clash would have made Vipassana guru late S N Goenka proud.

But then within a few days the similarities began to fade away and their distinct styles began to emerge.

Kejriwal looked a much-mellowed man forever ready to make amends. Bedi wore aggression on her sleeve, antagonized BJP workers and her senior colleagues like Harsh Vardhan in Delhi BJP with her dictatorial banter and off-the-cuff remarks.

Kejriwal dissolved into multitudes to be part of them and inspired his senior partners and volunteers in the AAP with his democratic functioning. Bedi stood apart on a high pedestal which she had occupied with élan during 40 years of her service as Indian Police Service (IPS) officer.

Both talked of eradicating corruption from Delhi. But while Kejriwal put it on top of his agenda in Bedi’s scheme of things the issue figured at number seven behind governance, development, cleanliness and women safety.

Kejriwal cited his 49-day stint when bribery in Delhi Police and Transport Department was at its lowest to drive home the point what he could do. Bedi had to carry the cross of three Municipal Corporations where the BJP has ruled for years. The Corporations are considered dens of corruption.

Corruption is undoubtedly the biggest issue the Delhi electorate has been grappling with. It is petty bribery in police, municipal corporations, transport department and Delhi Jal Board (DJB) which riles Delhites more than anything else.

People trusted Kejriwal when he promised to stamp out bribery from the national capital. Half of the people might not even understand what governance means and how it can bring about a change but talk of elimination of corruption will warm the cockles of every Delhite’s heart.

Another factor which worked for the AAP and brought it out like a refreshing change was the way it rejected Jama Masjid Shahi Imam’s offer of Muslim support.  It was a master stroke and showed up the BJP and Sangh Parivaar which leave no stone unturned to consolidate Hindu vote in their favour.

It stood in stark contrast to the way the saffron party worked overtime to get the backing of Dera Sacha Sauda, a religious sect whose head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is embroiled in a plethora of criminal cases including rape, murders and castrations. Disenchanted and displeased with Sangh Parivaar’s attempts to promote Hindutva agenda, Muslims and Christians voted with vengeance for the AAP to defeat the BJP.

Unlike AAP which gave tickets to about eight Poorvanchalis (migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) the BJP fielded only two and provoked the migrant voter in the national capital to align behind Kejriwal.

Kejriwal’s decision not to play footsie with parties opposed to the BJP and instead prepare his party to be a torchbearer of alternative politics in the country has also worked to his advantage.

Though West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar and Communist parties issued appeal to Delhi electorate in support of the AAP and made overtures to Kejriwal to be part of an umbrella opposition group against the BJP Kejriwal has thus far shown no inclination to join them.

jhaduAlso Aam Aadmi Party’s army of volunteers is what has helped it challenge a cadre-based BJP. The AAP used last eight months to enrol volunteers for every single booth in the national capital.

In 2013 state polls, the AAP had 25,000 volunteers not even adequate to manage the 12,000 booths in the capital. By this time the number swelled to a double thanks to an overdrive launched by the party and its student wing Chhatra Yuva Sangthan Samiti.

The Samiti alone enrolled over 5,000 volunteers from different universities in the national capital. The swathe of volunteers ensured that the BJP had no advantage even after pushing its 300 MPs, central ministers and RSS volunteers into the election campaign.

Lastly the AAP always had a head start over the BJP. It started preparing for elections in June last year, less than a month after the Lok Sabha elections.

It was first off the blocks to announce candidates for all 70 seats. The BJP in contrast announced Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate and its candidates only about a fortnight before the polling day giving them hardly any time for the grind.

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