Arvind Kejriwal and his party have helped the aam aadmi rediscover the dream of a better tomorrow. But to be able to dream is not an end in itself

He was a Delhi autorickshaw driver — a stick-thin man, dressed in a faded blue kurta-pyjama. He had an unwashed face made to look even scruffier by a scraggly beard and dishevelled hair. Forget about English, even his Hindi was riddleed with errors. Even for an aam aadmi, he was especially aam.

I rode in his autorickshaw two months ago. Right after I got on, we paused at a red light, behind another autorickshaw, the rear of which displayed a picture of Arvind Kejriwal wielding a broom. The picture launched the autorickshaw driver into an excited monologue about Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. I listened in silence at the back. The man’s words flowed over me like water. But the enthusiasm in his voice and the excitement I caught on his face when he turned around had me enthralled.

The last time I had heard an aam aadmi speak with such passion about anyone in politics was way back in the ’eighties; back when I was a kid and the entire nation was excited about Rajiv Gandhi. My astonishment grew when I asked him his name and learned that he was a Muslim.

Politics in a shabby state

Given the religious chauvinism convulsing Indian politics, I couldn’t remember the last time I had met an ordinary Muslim who was so taken with a Hindu leader. By the time I alighted from that autorickshaw, my mind was made up. I was going to vote for the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi assembly elections.

To this day I can hear the hope ringing in that man’s voice. I have forgotten most of his words. But I continue to marvel at the passion with which he spoke. Over the past few decades, hope has become as rare a commodity as honesty in Indian politics, as we have been besieged by an army of politicians that has given us little to be hopeful about. They have all been men and women driven by the desire to be rather than do something. While displaying immense poverty of vision, they have been profligate in employing every kind of chauvinism — be it religious, caste-based, regional or ethnic — to get what they want and, in the process, have helped usher in a political culture high on corruption, nepotism and goondaism.

Hope amidst cynicsm

In such a scenario, where does an aam aadmi find hope? It is hard to look at this lot and be anything but cynical. The best you can hope for with them is a tomorrow that is no worse than today — a today that was never too great to begin with.

Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party have helped the aam aadmi rediscover the dream of a better tomorrow. That is no mean achievement. Since time immemorial, anything substantial has begun with a dream, be it ancient Rome or our own freedom from colonial rule.

But to be able to dream is not an end in itself and, as we discovered in the ’eighties with Rajiv, there is nothing more painful than a dream betrayed. These are heady days for Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party.

Their most sceptical critics have been silenced. The media hangs on to Kejriwal’s every word and the high and mighty wait for him to decide. Everyone, from the millionaire to the pauper, is talking about the Aam Aadmi Party and its leader. Not bad for a man and a political party that wasn’t even on the map in the last election.

Arvind Kejriwal started out as a man with nothing to lose. Now he stands to lose a lot. Where he currently stands is where a lot of well-meaning men and women come undone and lose the plot. Either they crumble under the weight of expectations or let ambition get the better of their good sense.

That is what happened to Rajiv. After a promising start, he became so consumed with the trappings of power that he forgot that, at the end of the day, we live in a democracy, howsoever flawed, and even in the most flawed democracy the most humble aam aadmi cannot be aam. Before he knew it, he had fallen off the lofty perch he once commanded in the public imagination.

So be warned, Mr. Kejriwal. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end, not even the beginning of the end; it is merely the end of the beginning. The real battle begins now.

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