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Arvind Kejriwal: Behind soft exterior a man of steel

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Arvind Kejriwal: Behind soft exterior a man of steel
Arvind Kejriwal: Behind soft exterior a man of steel

By M.R. Narayan Swamy and Prashant Sood

New Delhi – For years he championed the cause of the marginalised and fought for the rights of the voiceless, as he took up issues from transparency to corruption, but was not much known to the people of India.

Arvind Kejriwal, whose fluent articulation of the cause and his motivated attitude catapulted him to fame when Anna Hazare fasted here for 12 days in 2011, Saturday became Delhi’s seventh – and youngest – chief minister.

Behind the meteoric rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that crushed the Congress and denied a victory to the BJP in Delhi lies a man of steel with politics in his DNA, one who dramatically transformed an anti-corruption drive into a successful political party in just two years.

But even as he prepares to preside over the destiny of Delhi, Kejriwal, 45, remains a lone ranger, not ready to break bread with the Congress party he bitterly attacked during the election campaign and which has now extended outside support to his minority government.

Governing Delhi at the head of a one-year-old party lacking a majority of its own in the 70-member Delhi assembly will tax Kejriwal to the limits. But Kejriwal, his friends say, has always been a fighter.

He was born Aug 16, 1968 into a middle class family in a Siwan village in Haryana, where he had his early education in English-medium missionary schools. The eldest of three children grew up with a Hindu religious mindset until religion faded away in college.

Kejriwal initially wanted to be a doctor. But he rebelled against the family to enter the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, where he opted to study mechanical engineering.

He went on to join the Indian Revenue Service, and became an officer in the income tax department notorious for corruption. Kejriwal did what few would have dared to — he sought to clean up the system within.

A chastened income tax department was forced to implement his reforms to make itself more transparent and less capricious.

While on leave, Kejriwal unleashed a “Don’t Pay Bribes” campaign at the electricity department. He asked visitors not to pay bribes and offered to facilitate their dealings for free.

By then, he had founded an NGO, Parivartan (Change), which put to use the Delhi Right to Information Act of 2001 to expose mind-boggling swindling of money by corrupt officers and contractors at Sundernagari, a slum area.

His dedication fetched him the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2006 — for “emergent leadership”.

But it was his decision to join forces with Gandhian Anna Hazare that made Kejriwal a household name in Delhi in 2011.

A first protest early that year at Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi was followed by a 12-day fast by Hazare at Ramlila Maidan demanding a Jan Lokpal bill to fight corruption in high places.

As hundreds of thousands packed the sprawling ground in support, and solidarity protests erupted across the country, the government was forced to accept Hazare’s demands.

While Hazare went back to his village in Maharashtra, Kejriwal kept up the tempo, branching off from the India Against Corruption (IAC) outfit to form the AAP in November 2012.

In the last two years, Kejriwal and the AAP steadily expanded their influence in Delhi as they took up one public issue after another, slowly undercutting the support base of all major political parties.

Kejriwal came out as a fighter when he hurled corruption charges against Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra.

He also targeted then BJP president Nitin Gadkari for allegedly grabbing farmers’ land along with the NCP’s Ajit Pawar.

In March-April 2013, Kejriwal, a diabetic, fasted for 15 days in protest against “inflated” electricity bills in Delhi.

Having got the election symbol of “broom” only some months before the December election, few believed his claims that the AAP, despite the visible growing support both in Delhi and beyond, was destined to win.

In the eventuality, the AAP didn’t win but created a political sensation as it helped decimate the Congress. Kejriwal defeated Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit by over 25,000 votes.

The AAP ended up with 28 seats in the 70-member assembly, far ahead of a humiliated Congress (8) and just behind the BJP (31).

His friends describe Kejriwal as a simple and sincere man.

“He takes along everybody,” senior party member Gopal Rai told IANS. “His dedication influences his supporters,” added friend Pankaj Gupta.

A movie buff, Kejriwal says he now finds little time for films. But he meditates regularly.

Kejriwal’s wife Sunita is an Indian Revenue Service officer. They have two children, Harshita and Pulkit.

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