The Rise Of The “Governance” Aadmi, Arvind Kejriwal
From being an impulsive decision maker – who called PM Modi a “psychopath” – to someone who responds only on questions related to governance, Arvind Kejriwal has gone through a transitional change. In 2020, it’s a victory for the Kejriwal government’s governance model.
When Sheila Dikshit was in power in Delhi, she looked invincible. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had failed to create any wave against the three-time Delhi Chief Minister. No Delhi BJP leader could even imagine taking Dikshit head-on. November 2012 saw the entry of anti-graft activist Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. The rest is history, which neither the Congress nor the BJP is likely to be happy with, at least as far as Delhi's electoral politics is concerned.
On Tuesday, for the second time in a row, Delhi has given three-straight terms to its Chief Minister. After Dikshit, Kejriwal will soon be sworn in as the second three-time CM of Delhi.
The AAP yet again trampled the BJP in the electoral battle for Delhi. Kejriwal’s party won 62 of the 70 seats and clinched nearly 54 percent vote share. The saffron party’s alliance fared better in terms of vote share - nearly 40 percent - but could manage to win only eight seats.
Since 2012, Arvind Kejriwal has undertaken a massive journey, going from being an anti-graft activist to a rookie politician to getting re-elected on the basis of undeniable work in the sector of education, health, and bijli-paani (electricity and water). His political graph and the rise of AAP are unheard of in conventional Indian politics.
Every time his detractors tried to write him off, the AAP convenor has bounced back stronger, and with more public support.
In 2012, at the peak of the anti-graft movement, when traditional politicians mocked Kejriwal and his team and dared them to contest the elections, he formed the Aam Aadmi Party. Many were sceptical as to how the aam aadmi (common man) would arrange their resources to contest the polls. In their electoral debut, they won 28 seats.
Days later, a veteran BJP leader called Kejriwal a “demagogue” and said that AAP’s electoral promises -- electricity and water subsidy -- were “unimplementable”. Kejriwal formed the government with the outside support of the Congress in 2013 and delivered on his key promises. The BJP leader who uttered those words is no longer around to see AAP’s continued successes.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Kejriwal a “Pakistani agent”, the BJP paid a heavy price. The AAP clinched 67 of 70 assembly seats in 2015.
In the run-up for battle 2020, the BJP, which hasn’t seemed to have learnt its lessons, again led a toxic campaign against Kejriwal. BJP leaders made communally charged statements and sunk to new lows with hate speech hitherto unheard of in Delhi’s electoral history. However, it was all for nothing, as Kejriwal has yet again decimated the BJP, increasing its 22-year vanvaash in Delhi by another five years.
Kejriwal claimed all through his election campaign that Delhi’s voters would choose the politics of bijli-paani, education, and healthcare over the BJP’s divisive politics. The results of the Delhi assembly election has proved that he was right.
“Delhi Model governance is being discussed across the country,” AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh told Asiaville. “Several states and countries are doing research on our model of governance which is focused on education, healthcare, mohalla clinic, bijli-paani,” he added.
All through his campaign for battle 2020, Kejriwal has maintained almost a picture-perfect image. Whenever he would appear in front of cameras, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor would keep a smiling face. Something was unusual about his posture and public appearances.
However, that was not the case in the first four years after his re-election in 2015. Kejriwal and his government were in a deadlock with the Central Government. For nearly four and half years, the country witnessed an angry avatar of Kejriwal lambasting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah, and the saffron party’s top brass. How can we forget his December 2015 tweet, when, fuming with anger, he called PM Modi – “a coward and a psychopath”?
But we must ask -- did it impact the governance in Delhi?
The AAP convenor’s close aide describes him as an impulsive decision-maker in the early days of governance.
Locking horns with the BJP and PM Modi, widening rifts inside the AAP, and legal battles with the Centre over the Lieutenant Governor-Delhi Government power tussle: these summarised the last year four and a half years of Kejriwal’s journey at the helm of affairs in AAP and the government in the national capital.
One more feature that remained constant until the AAP’s Lok Sabha 2019 debacle was Kejriwal’s anger and aggression.
In 2015, when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the Delhi CM’s principal secretary Rajendra Kumar’s office, Kejriwal lost his calm. Fuming in anger outside the Delhi secretariat, Kejriwal looked straight into the camera and said, “Mein apko bata doon Modiji, apne dusron ko to dara diya CBI se Kejriwal nahi darne wala. Apko pata nahi hain mein kis mitti ka bana hoon (Modiji, you might have succeeded in taming others through the CBI but you won’t be able to do so with me. You don’t know how strong I am.)”
It is possible that even the AAP leaders were taken by surprise when Kejriwal called PM Modi a “psychopath” that day.
Modi is a coward and a psycopath— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) December 15, 2015
Former AAP leader and journalist Ashutosh says, “I don’t think he consulted anybody that he will be saying something of that sort.” When asked how it was perceived within the party, the former AAP spokesperson responded, “He should have avoided those statements - that’s how it was perceived back then.”
He further added that it was due to lack of experience in politics.
Interestingly, this CBI raid became the turning point in the tussle between the Kejriwal and Modi governments. The relations between the two only went further downhill.
“When CBI raided his principal secretary’s office that created a chilling effect in the government,” former Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) chairperson, Ashish Khetan told Asiaville. “The message went out to all the officers that if the principal secretary to the CM can be raided by the CBI then no one is safe. That raid was below the belt.”
Such raids paralysed the governance in Delhi. On several occasions, Kejriwal and his cabinet made accusations that either the bureaucracy was cooperating with the government, or that the efficient officers were being transferred or pulled up by the Central government. Transfer-posting of officers is a subject which comes under the Central government.
Khetan said that, “It was very frustrating for everyone. The government wanted to bring a change, wanted to perform. We were fighting the battle that we didn’t want to. It takes a toll on your mental health, takes a toll on your family life.”
Asiaville also spoke to the Kejriwal family to ascertain how it impacted them, and how Kejriwal has changed over the years. Former bureaucrat and Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita Kejriwal said, “He is more stressed now.”
When asked about the 51-year-old former IRS’s officer angry avatar, she said, “Kaam nahi karne diya shuru mein. They (Centre) didn’t let him work and created several hurdles, so he was aggressive. The Supreme Court verdict (2017) gave powers to the Delhi government so there is no point of being aggressive now,” she added.
Their 24-year-old daughter Harshita also feels that her father’s anger was justified, as it was triggered by the deadlocks that were being created by the Centre and the LG.
Durgesh Pathak, a member of AAP’s highest decision-making body - Parliamentary Affairs Committee (PAC) – justified the Kejriwal government’s confrontation with its bureaucracy. He said, “When you see bureaucrats sitting on the files for no reason then the anger is logical. You can continue to debate on methodology.”
In the last five years, Kejriwal’s biggest challenge was to deliver on his promises despite being under an onslaught from the Central government, investigative agencies, lack of cooperation by a section of the bureaucracy, and the blockades created by Delhi LG – first Najeeb Jung and later Anil Baijal. In their report card, the AAP claimed that it has delivered on more fronts than they had promised in the run-up for the 2015 assembly polls, including giving 200 units of free electricity, free transport to women, and waiving the water dues of Delhi residents.
The AAP can rightly claim that bottlenecks in the governance were triggered by the BJP’s political vendetta. But who is to be blamed for rifts within the AAP?
When friends left on an ugly note
Kejriwal was leading a revolutionary government in 2013. Even today the autowallahs and street vendors become almost nostalgic while talking about the aam-aadmi’s sarkaar. But suddenly, after the AAP failed to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed in the Delhi assembly, Kejriwal announced his resignation as the Chief Minister of Delhi. He himself put an end to the AAP’s governance in Delhi after being in power for 49 days.
Was it an impulsive decision? A former AAP leader, on the condition of anonymity, told Asiaville that the Yogendra Yadav faction had asked the AAP convenor to discuss the matter in the PAC and then take a call. “Even before bringing the issue in front of the PAC, Arvind told the media that he is stepping down. He does what he wants and uses any methodology to reach his destination,” the leader said, who is now a close aide of Yadav.
However, AAP MP Sanjay Singh rejected these claims.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Kejriwal challenged the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and took him head-on in Varanasi. That year, AAP had fielded a score of candidates from almost every state in India. Only four AAP candidates managed to win from Punjab, and the rest had to face a crushing defeat. Kejriwal himself was defeated by PM Modi by a huge margin.
Now, what makes this story important in the journey of the AAP convenor? According to sources, right after the crushing defeat in the 2014 general polls, Kejriwal wanted to form a government in Delhi seeking support from the Congress party. “He wanted to form the government with the same Congress which he had slammed while resigning from the government. He said that if we don’t form the government, then Modiji will finish the party. But other senior leaders first blocked his proposal. Later it was defeated in a high-level meeting.”
According to the media reports of the time, Kejriwal had requested the Delhi LG in 2014 not to dissolve the assembly as the AAP wanted to gauge the public opinion on whether it should form the government or not. However, barely a day later, he spoke to the media and announced that the AAP would organise “Sorry” sabhas and gear up for a fresh election.
However, senior AAP leaders declined to comment on these developments saying, “It’s pointless to talk about such things.”
According to sources, these two events led to a widening rift between two factions within AAP – one which believed in idealism, and the other led by Kejriwal, which believed in pragmatism. Eventually, days after the formation of the government with a thumping majority in 2015, leaders such as Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, and Professor Anand Kumar were ousted from the party.
“Their expulsion was a scripted event and everything was planned by Kejriwal himself. He couldn’t stand the fact that someone like Yadav would always question him on logical grounds during the decision-making process,” a close aide of Yadav told Asiaville. “Allegations were hurled at the Yadav faction. And whatever went down in that National Executive meeting is something that doesn't even happen in the smallest and regional political outfits. It was all happening as per the instructions of Kejriwal.”
Another ugly chapter in Kejriwal’s career as the AAP convenor was Kumar Vishwas’s fallout with the party. The way the developments unfolded in 2017, and during the election of three AAP Rajya Sabha MPs from Delhi, it looked like a typical Bollywood movie script.
Notably, nearly two years after those events, Vishwas continues to be a member of AAP’s PAC. But both the AAP and Vishwas continue to be hostile towards each other. Importantly, ever since Vishwas’s chapter turned ugly, Kejriwal has maintained complete silence on the issue. But the poet-turned politician has been making extremely below the belt comments about Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia on the micro-blogging site, Twitter.
Importantly, two other members who left AAP – Khetan and Ashutosh – told Asiaville that Kejriwal had tried to ask them not to leave when they had expressed the desire to leave the party. “When people decided to leave, Arvind tried to convince them,” Ashutosh said. “But sometimes people when they are leaving, they create so much bad blood that it becomes difficult for the leader to accommodate.” Commenting on the Yadav faction’s exit he said, “The positioning was too extreme from both sides.”
Fixation with Modi and Delhi Government under attack
Soon after the AAP came to power in February 2015, the rift between the Delhi government and the Centre started turning ugly. The list of controversies looks endless. More than two dozen AAP MLAs were arrested on bizarre grounds, the CBI raided Sisodia and cabinet ministers’ offices, 21 AAP MLAs were disqualified and later reinstated, and the Delhi Office would delay files cleared by the Delhi government. The Kejriwal administration was facing an onslaught. AAP MP Singh claimed that it was the AAP which was at the receiving end and the confrontation was always triggered by the BJP-led Centre.
It was probably because of these developments, or perhaps it was a deliberate political strategy, but Kejriwal never stopped retaliating. He took on Modi, Arun Jaitley, and Amit Shah more than any other Opposition leader. It appeared as if he was fixated with PM Modi. While attacking PM Modi, Kejriwal would never mince his words.
A sitting Chief Minister called the Prime Minister of the country a “coward”. This was unprecedented in Indian politics.
But the AAP insiders say that this strategy started hurting the party, especially in Delhi. Post the Lok Sabha 2019 debacle, Kejriwal suddenly changed his tune. He has so far refused to attack PM Modi or the Central government, in most cases. And all his political assaults are now either directed towards the BJP or former BJP chief Amit Shah.
However, Ashutosh says that Kejriwal had realised these mistakes way back in 2017. “Two developments which taught him very strong lessons – one is the loss in Punjab, where he was expecting to form a government, and then the MCD (Delhi 2017) debacle,” he said. “After the (Delhi) MCD loss, he realised that attacking Modi was not working. Obviously, he had to retreat.”
The smiling phase
In the run-up for the 2017 Punjab assembly election, it appeared that Kejriwal was positioning himself as a national leader and that Delhi affairs would be handled by his deputy Sisodia. Kejriwal remained busy on and off with national affairs and building camaraderie with the Opposition leaders.
In 2019, Kejriwal led a fierce electoral battle to win all seven Lok Sabha seats of Delhi. In doing so, the AAP exhausted its entire political battery, raked up Delhi’s full statehood demand, and put pressure on the Congress to forge an alliance. Sisodia, Gopal Rai, and Kejriwal himself would slam the Congress for not allying with them.
In May 2019, all these attempts turned futile. AAP slipped to the third position in the polls.
This proved to be a defining moment. From May 2019 until the announcement of the Delhi assembly election dates, Kejriwal remained focused on governance. He would always appear before the media with a smiling face, ceased to attack the Centre, and made a flurry of pro-people announcements. He started looking like a populist socialist leader doling out government schemes to support those belonging to the lower and middle class.
What brought about these changes? “Leaders must not forget why the voters have elected them. Janta looks at every leader in a different role. People voted Arvind to power to govern in Delhi. That was his mandate,” a strategist helping the party believes.
A close aide of Kejriwal said that the Delhi CM has reshaped himself as per the requirements of the present role. “When you are a Chief Minister, you are responsible for life for 2 crore population. Your behaviour and choices can affect Delhi’s entire population. Hence, you react accordingly,” Pathak said. He added that Kejriwal now takes his decisions more carefully.
Notably, the party insiders argue that despite all odds, the AAP government was focused on delivering the basic needs of the electorate. To circumvent the bureaucratic deadlock, there was a strategy change to reduce confrontation.
Khetan, who was part of the Kejriwal government, told Asiaville that such officers were identified “who wanted to work.” He further added that the officers were afraid “there will be a witch hunt if they work.”
Kejriwal’s cabinet identified such officers and took them into their confidence. “For instance, the Education department had done good work,” the DDC chairperson said.
The Supreme Court judgement in the Delhi government – Delhi LG power tussle case was largely in favour of the AAP. The judgement enabled Kejriwal and his ministers to take day-to-day decisions except for the matters of law and order, the services, and the land. This cleared the biggest hurdle in the path of governance for the AAP.
In the last leg of the Kejriwal government, Delhi witnessed the installation of lakhs of CCTV cameras, free electricity, free transport for women, scholarships for students, water dues waiver, deployment of marshals in buses, and focus on reducing air pollution. In fact, Kejriwal went on to deliver on a couple of promises which were not even part of his 2015 manifesto.
The focus on governance has paid them back. The impact was such that while Delhi in its entirety was talking about Shaheen Bagh, a large chunk of women voters in Shaheen Bagh voted for the AAP because of education and mohalla clinics and other factors which boosted governance in Delhi.
Notably, the BJP ran a communally charged campaign in Delhi. And yet Kejriwal didn’t fall in the BJP’s trap. His politics is beyond the spectrum of hardcore or soft Hindutva. He has projected himself as a leader who at an individual level is a devout Hindu and yet works to deliver schemes for the entire electorate - irrespective of caste or religion.
The challenge ahead
Delhi residents have voted the AAP and Kejriwal back to power. They have made it clear that when it comes to assembly elections, the only two parameters that they care about are focus on local issues and good governance.
On the other hand, Delhi voters rejected the BJP’s toxic campaign loaded with hate speeches. Despite the high voltage campaign by PM Modi, Amit Shah, a band of union ministers, MPs and BJP Chief Ministers, the saffron party managed to win only 8 seats.
Kejriwal, after his yet again historic mandate, addressed the party workers at the AAP HQ, saying “it's the beginning of a new era of politics in the country. This is a positive sign for India.” It appeared that he was fully aware of the added responsibility of such a huge mandate. Hence, Kejriwal in his less than five-minute speech kept himself focused on the politics of governance and development. “Only this politics can lead us into the 21st century. This is not only Delhi’s victory but of the entire nation.”
He concluded his speech saying that for the next five years, the focus will remain work.
But can he do without the impulsive decisions and avoid confrontation with the Central government? Delhi assembly election in-charge, Singh, said that it’s not his party chief who triggers confrontations with the Centre. “Right now we are focusing on delivering good governance. And that is our only priority,” Singh said.
The mammoth victory of AAP in 2020 is also majorly a mandate on Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s governance model. While the victory looks similar to the historic mandate of 2015, the only difference this time around is that Kejriwal didn’t have some of his like-minded friends and comrades on the stage to cherish those moments, like he did after the last assembly polls.