It’s been a tough old Lok Sabha campaign for Arvind Kejriwal: He has been pelted with eggs, sprayed with black ink, and slapped, very hard. It’s a measure of the dislike that he inspires in other political parties that the BJP has alleged that these attacks, by little-known assailants, were orchestrated by Kejriwal’s own Aam Aadmi Party in an attempt to whip up sympathy.
Illustration: Manoj Sinha
Not many are buying that argument, but it’s reflective of a certain newfound suspicion of Kejriwal that the BJP’s allegations are not being widely condemned. For, the 49 days he was Delhi’s chief minister were full of high-decibel gimmickry and bluster. He kept provoking the Congress to withdraw support to his minority government; when they didn’t, he dramatically fell on his sword when the Delhi Lokpal bill flopped in the assembly.
The defining image of his days in office was the sit-in near the venue of the Republic Day parade in January; here was an elected CM holding his own city to ransom. Then came the resignation and the rapid, and some would say overambitious, roll-out of a national campaign for the Lok Sabha.
But it’s undeniable that AAP has changed the political discourse, and emerged as a third national presence after the Congress and the BJP, however minor.
Kejriwal is no archetypal neta, but a former tax commissioner with a trademark thick moustache, a painfully earnest manner and an IIT degree to boot.
Born in Shivani village in Haryana to an engineer father and home-maker mother, Kejriwal refused to be tied down to one role. Armed with an engineering degree, he worked at Tata Steel before joining the Indian Revenue Service. He left to become an RTI activist, later joining the Lokpal movement led by Anna Hazare, only to split with him and form AAP in November 2012.
As if to confirm misgivings that he was going too fast, after quitting as Delhi CM, he decided to take on the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi.
“He has the habit of jumping bandwagons without sticking to one,” said one of his former associates who worked closely with him during his activism days, adding that the element of drama—seen during his surprise visit to Modi’s residence on his four-day Gujarat tour — was always ingrained in his personality.
“In 2007 Kejriwal had set up a booth in front of the central information commission office and invited complaints against the commission that he alleged was not responsive enough...While in one week he wrapped up the booth, there was no word on the bundle of complaints he had collected and we wondered what happened to them.”