In his first stint as Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal would rarely leave his house without a carefully prepared basket of food prepared by his wife Sunita. Married nearly 20 years ago, she has been his constant companion from his days as a fighter on the streets to the hallowed portals of the Delhi secretariat that houses the chief minister’s office.
A 1994-batch officer from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Sunita met Kejriwal when they were batch-mates while training as future tax officers. It was probably love at first sight and when Kejriwal walked up to her one day to propose to her, she accepted immediately. “She had made up her mind and he did not have to wait for long,” another IRS officer from the batch told HT. Currently posted as an additional commissioner of Income-Tax in Delhi, she celebrated her birthday on Wednesday.
Officially, celebrations started a day earlier as the results of an historical election came in on Tuesday. As AAP registered a landslide victory, AAP supporters got a rare glimpse of Sunita as Kejriwal took her to the political office in Patel Nagar to introduce her. An extremely low-key person, Kejriwal had to assure her publicly that the government would not object before putting an arm around her shoulder and declaring to the world what a pillar of support she had been.
For the severely diabetic Kejriwal, regular meals can become critical during a tiring day. Hours before she leaves for office, Sunita would prepare an elaborate meal for him every day before he would set out for his work. Once in a while a note would be included for Kejriwal’s aides to ensure that he ate his food and took warm water from a steel flask to ensure that his cough was in check.
“The couple has rarely argued. We have never even seen them differ on any point in all the years we have known them,” a close family friend says. For years, Sunita would keep her mounting worry in check as Kejriwal would take up issues that led to agitations. In mid-2000, when Kejriwal began his agitation opposing the privatisation of water supply by the Sheila Diskshit government, Sunita ensured that the family and the kids were fine while he and close confidant Manish Sisodia would gather their supporters to file RTIs, hold press conferences and whip up opinion against the move.
"During training, we all knew about them, but while Arvind was the quiet introvert, Sunita was more social,” another batch mate recalled. “He was very intense and he would sometimes speak about his experiences working with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity. He would also take part in dramatics, but Sunita was quite enamored by him by then,” this officer said.
In their small flat in Kaushambi, in Delhi’s suburbs near Noida in Uttar Pradesh, a pile of files would continue to grow, while Sunita would be in the kitchen cooking up meals for all the activists who would spend long hours looking for evidence of scams. In many ways, she was the rock that ensured that the two children, daughter Harshita and son Pulkit led normal lives while the father spent time battling the establishment.
After Kejriwal put in his papers after a 49-day stint, the UPA government at the Centre was keen to evict him from the official bungalow in Delhi. He appealed for a delay and agreed to pay his rent so that his daughter could finish her 12th board exams. A few months later she emerged with a score of 96% and was soon admitted to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, like her father decades ago.
Both the children have never been affected by the fame and the growing influence of the father. Initially, Harshita would be disturbed at times with the attacks mounted by opposing political leaders threatened by AAP, but by the time Kejriwal resigned, she had become immune to the criticism usually heaped on him by political opponents.
Kejriwal’s parents Govind Ram and Geeta have been the other constant pillars of the quiet lives they led in Kaushambi for years. In 1980, Govindram lost his job and had to shift back to Siwani in Haryana’s Hissar district. But he ensured that his son’s education was never interrupted even though times were tough. A year later, he found a job and moved back to Hissar town and ensured that his children were back in good schools that would set the foundation for his eventual journey to IIT, Kharagpur, activism and finally, politics.
AAP's CM-designate Arvind Kejriwal thanked his wife after his party's landlside victory in Delhi elections. (Photo: Arvind Kejriwal's Twitter account)