Arvind Kejriwal: Engineer who set the cat among political pigeons (Profile, Lead)

New Delhi, Dec 8: Giant-killer Arvind Kejriwal, who defeated three-time Chief Minister and Congress stalwart Sheila Dikshit in the New Delhi constituency, is nothing short of a political sensation, and his personal victory can be compared to the maverick Raj Narain’s electoral win over prime minister Indira Gandhi in the historic 1977 general election.

The bespectacled Kejriwal, 45, an IIT engineer by training and a revenue officer by profession, was not only able to effectively present his one-year-old political party as an alternative to the two big national parties who have ruled the national capital in the past but, with a modest and affable personality that identified very much with the common man, fired the imagination of the youth and the marginalised who came out in large numbers to vote for his party.

A Magsaysay award winner, Kejriwal came into the limelight as one of the main spokesmen and a close lieutenant of anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare during his highly publicised movement in 2011. He later parted ways with his mentor to start a political outfit – much against Hazare’s wishes who wanted to keep his movement non-political – in November last year.

Dismissed by the BJP and the Congress as political upstarts who would not be able to match their popularity or influence, the unheralded AAP was able to catch popular imagination by offering transparency in governance and people-friendly policies to the city residents hit hard by price rise, corruption and insensitive bureaucracy.

Kejriwal, who has studied at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, created a sizeable fan following in the slums and working class areas of Delhi while also attracting youths and the middle class by protesting agains power hikes last year.

The youth and sections of the middle class saw him as a “hero” who had “unmasked” corrupt politicians and sported their AAP emblazoned white side caps (akin to the Gandhi cap) with aplomb.

“His credibility peaked when he fasted for the Jan Lokpal bill (against corruption),” close friend Pankaj Gupta told IANS.

Eager to sound neutral before he plunged into politics, Kejriwal spared no one. He levelled charges against Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and then Law Minister Salman Khurshid of illegal land deals and fund embezzlement.

He also targeted then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Nitin Gadkari, accusing him of grabbing farmers’ land and corruption in collusion with the Nationalist Congress Party’s tainted Ajit Pawar.

His ideas and promises appeared to have convinced people to give the rank outsiders a chance over established parties.

“I voted for jharu (broom) this time,” said housemaid Reena Mandal, who had all along been voting for the Congress. “We thought of giving them a chance, especially since our children said their friends would be all voting for AAP.”

The 24X7 media, sensing his growing popularity and unconventional appeal, too played an important role in making him a household name and taking the message of this somewhat idealistic politician to the masses.

His colleagues describe him as a simple man.

“He takes along everybody. He thinks logically,” said senior party member Gopal Rai. “His dedication and thinking influences his supporters,” said friend Gupta.

Very few people still know about his origins and his rise.

Kejriwal was previously in the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) before he quit the government to take up activism full time to campaign for the Right to Information issue which finally became a law. He also worked in Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity for some time where he came in contact with the “poorest of the poor”.

One reason for his success is his total identification in dress, manners, style of living and a sense of personal sacrifice to the ordinary people.

His next moves will be keenly watched as he has let it be known that he wants to blaze a new trail in politics and pitch his AAP as an alternative to the “misgovernance” of the mainstream and established parties.

He is a movie buff but now finds little time due to his political engrossment. He practices yoga and meditates regularly, said another aide.

A strict vegetarian, he prefers simple homemade food and reads a wide variety of books. Kejriwal’s wife Sunita is an Indian Revenue Service officer. They have two children

IANS