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Home / Politics / Policy /  Arvind Kejriwal: The giant killer

From being an Indian Revenue Services (IRS) officer to a Right to Information (RTI) activist, anti-corruption crusader and politician, Arvind Kejriwal has come a long way. On Sunday, he capped his rise in public life by leading the fledgeling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to a remarkable electoral debut in the Delhi assembly polls.

As of 8.45pm, the AAP has won 27 seats and is leading in one more in the 70-member Delhi assembly, behind the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite having been written off by its opponents. Keriwal won against three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit in the New Delhi constituency.

Kejriwal and his one-year-old party have by no means had an easy ride. He was nearly isolated after his mentor, social activist Anna Hazare, parted ways with him over Kejirwal’s decision to enter politics. But he kept his flock together and led the AAP from one goalpost to another before its debut in the 4 December Delhi polls.

“Agar rajneeti gandi hai toh isko haath gande kar ke hi saaf kar sakte hain (If politics is dirty, you can only clean it up by dirtying your hands)," was his standard response to any question about the motivation behind his entry into politics.

Kejriwal ensured that he remained constantly in the public eye even after the anti-corruption movement led by Hazare in 2011.

From targeting the two main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, he turned to attacking corporate interests with audacious exposes of alleged wrongdoing. His targets included Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, India’s biggest builder DLF Ltd, BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani.

Kejriwal and his fellow activists and friends like Prashant Bhushan and Manish Sisodia moved comfortably into politics. Psephologist Yogendra Yadav came on board and handled the AAP’s transition from being an urban anti-corruption platform to a political party, adopting the electoral symbol of a broom to burnish its appeal as a tool that would sweep away corruption.

If anyone thought Kejriwal and his team were political novices who would not be able to match the experience of the strategists who ran the campaigns of its more established rivals, they were mistaken. He courted the poor living in slum areas as much as he wooed the middle class, holding a 15-day hunger strike in April to protest against allegedly inflated electricity and water bills.

The choice of the venue for the hunger strike was strategic—Sunder Nagri in the Seemapuri assembly constituency. With its working class population and unauthorized colonies, Sunder Nagri is where Kejriwal launched Parivartan (transformation), a non-governmental organization, as his vehicle to enter public life.

After its launch on 26 November last year, the AAP’s electoral prospects were frequently questioned by rivals and critics. Dikshit maintained that the AAP was no competition; the BJP too dismissed the greenhorn’s credentials as a political contender.

In a show of daring, Kejriwal threw down the gauntlet to Dikshit by contesting against her in the New Delhi constituency.

The party chose its candidates from among ordinary people and ran its entire campaign with funds donated by the public.

Then came a sting operation done by an Internet portal just a fortnight before Delhi went to the polls; the portal claimed that AAP leaders and candidates had agreed to accept money to fund the party’s campaign without showing it in their account books. The party, which emphasised transparency in its funding and put up details of all donations made to it on its website, had to go into damage control mode, holding a series of press conference to counter the charges.

On the last day of campaigning, it released the results of a survey that claimed the sting had in no way influenced those who planned to vote for its candidates.

As the election buzz in Delhi built up on polling day, more and more people came out to vote; polling stretched late into the night in some constituencies and the turnout was a record 66% —a sign that many thought was the result of anti-incumbency wave that would favour the AAP and the BJP.

As vote counts progressed on Sunday, it was clear that the AAP had made one of the most remarkable electoral debuts in recent years. At the centre of it was one man, Kejriwal, who pushed ahead doggedly with a political experiment that had been written off by almost everyone.

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