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HindustanTimes Fri,18 Apr 2014

Arvind Kejriwal, the citizen-activist who became chief minister

Saikat Datta, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 14, 2014
First Published: 20:45 IST(14/2/2014) | Last Updated: 22:15 IST(14/2/2014)
After a failed attempt to introduce the signature janlokpal bill, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced his resignation.
 
The resignation made the Aam Aadmi Party-led government the shortest in Delhi's history since it attained partial statehood in 1993.
 
On October 6 last year, as Kejriwal walked into Banaram's house in Delhi's modest Tigri colony to restore the power connection, a new language of election campaigning was being scripted. In just a year, the debutant Aam Aadmi Party notched up an impressive 32% of the popular vote share in Delhi's assembly elections.
 
It would be fair to argue that Kejriwal learnt his lesson of campaigning from his street-fighting years when he was heading the campaign to oppose Shiela Dikshit's plans to privatise water supply. That was a key moment for his NGO, Parivartan, which spearheaded the campaign using the recently-legislated Right to Information Act. They dug out details hidden in file notings, showing how water charges would jump by 800% if the privatisation plans were to come through.
 
From street agitation to lobbying, Kejriwal was creating a brand of citizen-activism that was hurting the politico-bureaucratic nexus in ways that had not been seen in Delhi. Much of it would be seen when Kejriwal and his closest lieutenant Manish Sisodia switched gears from an impromptu lokpal agitation that began to embed itself in the national consciousness, beaming live on TV.
 
In December last year, Kejriwal took oath as the CM of Delhi, leading a minority state government.  The Congress offered him outside support, hoping he would reject it, but the AAP leader proved unpredictable, rolled out a referendum and then accepted the challenge.
 
But as the initial euphoria gave way to a more hostile scrutiny, the lines between governance and populism began to blur. A mismanaged janta darbar (public court) where the CM was slated to listen to people's complaints ended in a fiasco. The idea was shelved, giving people a chance to blame the failure on an "inexperienced" government.
 
A series of public relations disasters followed. Law minister Somnath Bharti attracted charges of racism when he "raided and harassed" several Ugandan women. For Kejriwal, this was in many ways, his first major challenge. Having used the moral high ground as a political tool, every action began to be scrutinised with an intensity no other chief minister had faced.
 
Former colleagues like Anjali Bharadwaj and Abha Joshi, who as members of the National Campaign for the People's Right to Information would move away from him for "intolerance". But Kejriwal had faced differences of opinions and adversity earlier.
 
After taking on private power distribution companies for "fudging accounts leading to high tariffs", he confronted the Centre over the control of the Delhi Police. He also announced a probe against Reliance Industries and former and current union petroleum ministers for allegedly manipulating the price of natural gas.
 
His final battle would be over the introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill was typical of the breathless manner that the AAP government performed. Politics is about negotiation, compromises and dialogue. But for Kejriwal, keen to bring about a paradigm shift in the current political discourse, negotiation and dialogue were not his preferred choice of tools. How the voters will judge this stint remains to be seen as the general elections come up later this year. But in Kejriwal, hope and disappointment would remain constant epiphanies in the battle for electoral legitimacy.
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