Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal: The twins who aren’t

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 21, 2015 09:57 IST

First the similarities: Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal have much in common. They are IIT alumni, former civil servants, Ramon Magsaysay recipients, social-activists-turned-politicians and above all self-made celebrities. Besides that near-common academic and service background, they’re temperamental twins: domineering, self-righteous, self-opinionated and habituated to marching to their own drum beats. That makes them awkward team-players who aren’t mostly able to take peers along.

They look the same age. But Arvind is about 19 years younger than the 1949 born Kiran. That explains perhaps the traits that differentiate them--- for people born two decades apart can’t be replicas.

Tact for instance doesn’t come easily to Kiran, who can be officious to the extent of being annoying. A proof of it was the condescending manner in which she engaged with the Delhi BJP leaders the other day. As if she was addressing political sophomores, she hectored a section of the gathering that included veterans such as VK Malhotra and Harsh Vardhan, a sitting cabinet minister.

“Kiran can be self-opinionated to the extent of being insubordinate,” remarked a police official who has known her for years. He wasn’t sure whether she’d succeed in politics: “She’s not amenable to contrarian views. She’s in her mid-60s which isn’t exactly the age at which one can change. Her party colleagues will have to take her on as-is-where-is basis.”

The BJP’s local-brass has little choice; Kiran’s the PM’s pick for the chief ministerial sweepstakes! In fact, Arvind too had offered her the CM’s slot to draw her to AAP before the last Delhi assembly polls. That leaves him hamstrung in confronting her head-on--- his attacks restricted to accusing her of joining the very forces they fought in the Anna Hazare- led anti-graft stir.

But politics is more about people than political parties. Kiran will have to come to terms with that reality as she goes around seeking support for the BJP. It’s time for her to be a patient listener rather than being an incessant talker. Can she?

As flexibility is alien to most anti-graft activists, their “my side bias” saw the group dissipating in the aftermath of the agitation from which arose the Aam Aadmi Party. The foremost “maximalist” among them was Arvind, who combined his event management skills with grassroots experience as an RTI activist to weave a campaign that shook the UPA regime.

He’s different from Kiran in the sense that he picked up native wisdom by listening to people’s grievances in his RTI days. His field of play was vast while Kiran’s was limited to jail reforms and preventive policing.

But the way Arvind abandoned power in Delhi dealt a blow to his credentials. It alienated the middle classes that had rooted for him all along. He has soldiered on nevertheless, keeping afloat his party despite a weakened core and last minute poaching by the BJP. It shows that after two elections—in Delhi and Varanasi— and an abortive stint in the CMs office, he remains a formidable opponent.

The AAP leader’s political savvy was evident at a media interaction hosted by ABP news. He desisted from frontal attacks on the PM or Kiran. And hedged the question when asked: “Are you a maximalist, an anarchist? Or has politics turned you into a bit of realist.”

Questions flew like darts as he ducked, deflected and hurled them back: at once aggressive and disarming, rhetorical and rational. It was as if he has spent a lifetime in the rough and tumble of politics.

Arvind hasn’t changed his style, continue as he does to speak the language of his poor and lower middle class supporters who’ve forever cursed the system for their plight. In that sense, he certainly has a way with words. That’s where Kiran will have problems matching his rhetoric--- especially his attacks on business houses that have a captive audience in Delhi’s slums and jhuggi-jhompris.

The AAP leader does that to show himself as the David fighting the Goliath. He’d go out of the way to show that Kiran has now joined that Goliath against him! As politics is about perceptions, we’d have to wait to see whether he gets his message through or his BJP rival rides homes on her iconic past as the country’s first woman IPS officer epitomizing women’s empowerment.

In civil services, Kiran and Arvind couldn’t attain the pinnacles they had set for themselves. With whom would fate side in politics?

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