He came armed with nothing but a broom - his party symbol, promising to sweep the murky world of Indian politics clean. He conquered middle-class hearts and minds with his unique act of humility, integrity and activism. He achieved the impossible - slaying a political Goliath on his way to victory in the Delhi Assembly polls. And then he left the stage in a dramatic exit that stunned and confused the audiences unable to comprehend what will come next.
Now Arvind Kejriwal is back with Act II. This time he takes on a mightier Goliath in a bigger battlefield, and while it’s impossible to comprehend what he has in mind, the show promises to be entertaining, at least till someone pulls the curtains.
When Kejriwal first entered the public domain three years ago, I was among the millions of Indians in the country and worldwide who sat up and took notice. The man was an erstwhile tax inspector with a squeaky clean reputation, an award-winning social activist and a die hard crusader for causes that were just and necessary. His vociferous campaign against corruption found unconditional support from people fed up with endemic corruption, stagnant bureaucracy and bad governance.
When he decided to enter politics and change the system from inside, we cheered. Here was someone who decided to be the change he wanted to see in the country, instead of simply be an arm-chair critic shaking his head in dismay at the scheme of things. He inspired millions - actors, poets, teachers, businessmen, retirees - to join his Aam Aadmi Party.
Most proudly wore its trademark ‘I am Common Man’ (sic) cap and posed for selfies.
I would be lying by omission if I did not mention here that I was one of the many who contemplated doing the same, to assist Kejriwal in what he was trying to achieve - a new, corruption free, progressive India. Knowing that many in Singapore were already doing it, added to my sense of excitement and I started researching on ways to contribute in my own little way.
Meanwhile, AAP made history by winning the Delhi state assembly on its political debut in 2013 and Kejriwal unseated veteran Sheila Dikshit, the three-time chief minister of Delhi, at the polls. The iconic image of Kejriwal waving at supporters after the victory brought cheers and applause. His swearing in ceremony as Delhi’s new chief minister, was as memorable for us as President Barack Obama’s oath-taking during his first term. His rendition of a semi-patriotic song at the ceremony came across as sincere.
What more could India want than its sons and daughters stepping up to do something for the country?
The answer was: Good governance. And here, Kejriwal failed to deliver.
Hope turned to shock and then to exasperation, as Kejriwal tripped, stumbled and ended his stint in power with a nasty fall.
His promise of frugality lasted just one day when he took the train to work (he reportedly approved cars for his entire cabinet the next day). His schemes like free water and cheap electricity were dismissed by experts as impractical, expensive and benefitting few. His street protests against police inaction on crime seemed gimmicky when his own ministers went about bending the law, allegedly conducting midnight raids and manhandling women. Finally, when his trademark anti-corruption bill was defeated in the assembly, he simply threw in the towel instead of working around the problem to get his way.
The man who promised to clean up the system, had muddied his reputation within just 49 days. It then begged the question: Kejriwal is qualified, indeed, but is he capable?
Now that he plans to contest against opposition prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the holy city of Varanasi, the question nags more.
Should the electorate vote for a politician with visible achievements at the risk of getting the same old brand of politics? Or should they give Kejriwal another chance at a game where he clearly lacks expertise?
Many seem ready to give him another shot. Volunteers are queuing up at the AAP office to help in fund-raising and door-to-door campaiging activities in the run up to the polls, in a show of unconditional support. I am not ready to do that anymore, and Kejriwal isn’t helping restore my shaken faith.
“I have no interest in becoming an MP,” he declared at the Varanasi rally when he announced his candidature. “I fight so that I can defeat others.”
Such remarks are perplexing at a time when the country needs responsible representatives to introduce much needed reforms and kickstart India’s economy, and lead it on the highway of progress.
Kejriwal should strive to be an able administrator rather than be a self-proclaimed anarchist. The broom will win big at the ballot box if it cleans up its own act first.