In his new book, Gautam Chikermane traces the meteoric rise of India’s no. 1 disruptor, Arvind Kejriwal, and the Aam Aadmi Party
Journalist Gautam Chikermane’s new book, “The Disrupter” (Rupa), tells you that he has been tracking the unholy trinity of money, power and faith, for a very long time. It is no surprise, then, that he has decided to study what he calls a “babe in the vicious political woods”— the Aam Aadmi Party, and the man at its helm, Arvind Kejriwal. With journalist Soma Banerjee, Chikermane charts the journey of Kejriwal and AAP, from its inception to its ascent to power in Delhi, all in 13 very short, but very packed months. Excerpts from an interview with Chikermane:
On the idea of capturing the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal phenomenon
I had gone to Rupa for my trilogy on the Mahabharata which I’m writing. It is a fictional and subaltern look at the Mahabharata. While talking about that, we got discussing Kejriwal. We’d go from how he has now lost his mind to how he’s now doing the right thing. We were going from one extreme to the other. Sometimes, we would think that he was the future of Indian politics, bringing things like the end of lal batti culture and corruption and at other, we would think of how he was the extreme disruptor, destroying institutions and having a very naive view of governance. The citizens of Delhi were fluctuating between these two extremes too. And then I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great idea. Let’s dissect this guy’. And that’s how the journey began. Rupa wanted it out before the elections. I got a month’s deadline, but I couldn’t finish it in a month and had to take a week more.
On the extra nuggets of information that usually stay out of the public domain.
There are two parts that are not in public domain. One is reportage. The other is an intellectual analysis which is also not in public domain. This is probably the first time that people are going to look at ideas like political entrepreneurship, and disruption as a tool of political engagement and so on. To that extent, we have tried to examine these phenomena from various windows, some reportage, some intellectual; and tried to present to readers with what is happening at this point. Now, knowing the disruptor that he is, and I think Arvind Kejriwal is India’s number one disruptor, it all can change totally inwards tomorrow. So we have no guarantees.
On taking only five weeks to research and tell the story of what has become Delhi’s political revolution.
The answer has two parts. One is that it was partly my earlier readings that helped me. Since I have been a journalist and I have been writing for a long time, I’ve also studied the subjects extensively. And much of what I have written and read doesn’t show up in the routine pieces I write, because there is no intellectual appetite for such a piece. You have to finish it all in 650 to 1000 words. You don’t have time to bring in thinkers and expound on them, critique them and illustrate them in various ways. But the information was all there in the background in anyway. As a student, political economy and geopolitics have been my area and I have been following these developments. Having said that, it wasn’t easy, I agree. I had to do extensive research; I had to visit libraries, read many books, all within a short span of five weeks. And then relate theory with practice. Because I could have written a purely theoretical book and it would have been read by all of three people. This is a book for a large number of people and I have tried to explain the phenomenon around us. Maybe, I also had all the right readings, maybe, I knew where to look but having said that, it wasn’t easy to map them together.
On his study switching between appreciation and criticism
We are all perplexed by it. We don’t know what to do with this guy. Do you vote for him or do you not vote for him? Do you give him a second chance or do you not? He’ pushing the boundaries of how we engage with politics and to say that I’m immune to those pressures is incorrect. I too have been undecided, and hence the study that you see is also my personal journey. I too have at one point been with him and the other points found him ridiculous.
On the open-ended quality to the book
It is definitely a phenomenon that every scholar must follow. But do I advice people to vote for him or not vote for him? The answer is no. I don’t have those views and neither do I pretend to have that view. However we need to understand the larger forces around us. For example, if you read the second last chapter of the book, The hand of god, you will find some traces of how I think that while he might have coalesced us into some sort of a political voice, to say that Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are not hearing these voices etc would be incorrect. Each of them has his or her own mechanism to take politics forward, neither of them is 100 percent right or wrong. But the fact that the pressure of the aam aadmi is now forcing governance to be twisted and pulled and pushed in different ways so that it delivers what we need, is beyond doubt. Whether AAP, or Modi or Rahul are here or not, we don’t know and I don’t care. Aam aadmi is here to stay. That is the larger theme of the book, but of course you cannot exclude the AAP. It is a book on Arvind Kejriwal, and I don’ think he is going to finish off tomorrow. But whether he is going to be the political force that the aam admi aligns with, that only time will tell. I have left it open ended.