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The man who can't be muffled

Arvind Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal   | Photo Credit: Kamal Narang

Explaining his decision to quit as Chief Minister after 49 days of governing Delhi is critical to his campaign because that is the only allegation against him

Trolls derisively called him ‘muffler man,’ but Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal has turned it to his advantage. He makes it a point to dress exactly the way he is caricatured. His appearance makes him a common man but his ambitions are majestic. Mr. Kejriwal was down and out. But he has bounced back and how!

Paanch saal….Kejriwal,” the patient crowd chanted in Kirari assembly constituency, comprising mostly of poor factory workers as they waited for their redeemer who was running late on Thursday evening. Songs, plays and slogans promised the imminent revolution that Mr. Kejriwal would bring about in Delhi. It is only at Kejriwal’s rallies that the slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ are heard with equal ferocity.

“Am I a Naxalite?” he asks, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s taunt that he was one. “No…..” “Did I do dharna for myself,” he asks, referring to Mr. Modi’s ridiculing of his agitation politics. “No…” Thus he poses a series of questions for the crowd and they respond enthusiastically.

He also has answers to all their questions – be it about water, power, schools, roads, jobs or telephone connections... And he promises everything for “free or for nominal rates.” Then he concludes. “The fight is between us and the BJP. Please don’t waste your vote on the Congress. Those who voted for the BJP last time should remember one thing that this is about the future of your children.” “Paanch saal…Kejriwal,” the electrified crowd raises the pitch. The slogan is the equivalent of the BJP’s ‘Abki baar Modi Sarkar’.

The goalposts are very much where they were during the 2013 Delhi assembly election, but the game has changed considerably in just over a year. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party which was a challenger against a shaky Congress is now a claimant to the throne against a hopeful BJP.

But as those close to Mr. Kejriwal put it, the journey from May 2014, where many had started writing him off, to the surveys predicting a lead today, had to be covered while constantly battling the question of credibility and breaking the stereotype of an “NGOised party with no governing agenda.”

The strategy – with governance as the main theme – was drawn up. Carrying it to the people of Delhi is Mr. Kejriwal assisted by a core team including Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh, Ashish Talwar and former journalists, Ashish Khetan, Nagendar Sharma and Ashutosh. But this election is all about one man – Arvind Kejriwal - who has organised public meetings in all the 70 assembly constituencies of Delhi at least once. A typical day for the former Delhi Chief Minister begins at 5:30 a.m. while business hours start at around 7-30 a.m. The time in between is utilised for activities ranging from yoga to morning walk.

The second half of the day is spent travelling from one gathering to the other or participating in the dialogues, if one is scheduled for the day.

While he is travelling, his media team monitors the channels in the North Avenue office and constantly updates him about major developments on a mobile messenger group.

The main theme of the speech is patting his own back for the decisions taken during his 49-day-regime as Chief Minister and attacking the BJP on issues such as corruption. Having tested the waters in elections twice, a more seasoned Kejriwal is visibly better, if not fully acquainted, with the know-how of engaging listeners.

During a public meeting last week when he spotted some people leaving midway he told them: “Now I am going to explain why I quit after 49 days. You must listen to that before you leave.” The appeal worked and the people stayed. Explaining his decision to quit as Chief Minister is critical to his campaign – because that is the only allegation against him.

Tweaking the campaign message sometimes also depends on the action of opponents.

His advice to voters that they must accept bribes from the BJP and the Congress but only vote for his party may have been impromptu but the party and Mr. Kejriwal were both quick enough to sense that the controversy which followed could be milked to their advantage.

He repeated the remarks at least thrice before a stern warning from the Election Commission saw him refrain from doing so. Party insiders said by repeating the remarks which were readily lapped up by the media meant the message had reached voters. And despite the outrage following his comments, instead of backing out, he stuck to the narrative, which helped him grab more headlines.

Leading a party where differing ideological bents of mind from Prashant Bhushan to Kumar Vishwas co-exist, means that he has to exercise extreme caution while dealing with his flock.

But the hectic schedule and the high stakes election also throw up situations where he loses his cool.

The question remains whether the one man who has the entire Modi cabinet pitched against him in battleground Delhi succeeds in forming the government or not. But for that we have to wait until February 10.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 3:46:38 AM |

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