“Koi diwana kehta hai, koi pagal samajhta hai” (some call me fanatical, and some say I am mad).
These words from a popular poem by Kumar Vishwas could hold the key to understanding the poet-turned-politician and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
But his father Chanderpal Sharma would not identify Kumar Vishwas in these Hindi words.
Instead, Sharma said Kumar Vishwas, 43, had always been a “stubborn, carefree and arrogant” man who defied the family’s wishes to become a poet and politician.
And Sharma was also convinced that it “would be a miracle” if his son managed to defeat Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, the fortress of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
“It is highly unlikely that Kumar would defeat the powerful Rahul Gandhi from Amethi,” said Sharma, who boasts of his family’s academic achievements.
“I had advised Kumar to fight from any Delhi seat but he was adamant. He wants to fight against Gandhi. My son has never listened to me. He just does whatever he thinks is right for him.”
The AAP has decided to field Vishwas from Amethi in the coming Lok Sabha polls, pitting a political greenhorn against one of the most famous political dynasties in the country.
Vishwas was in the eye of a storm recently after a video showed him making remarks, that were later termed sexist, against Malayalee nurses.
He has apologised for the remarks made during a poetry event held about six years ago.
He has also been accused of making derogatory remarks against the Sikh community.
Over 70 cases are lodged against Vishwas under various sections in different cities.
Sharma said his son was a “meritorious student” from his school days.
“Therefore, I forced him to pursue engineering as I did not want him to study art. But he was stubborn, carefree and arrogant…refused to listen to me."
Kumar Vishwas topped his masters examinations in Hindi from a Hapur college and much to his father’s “dismay” became a poet.
“He chose his favourite subject, Hindi, married a girl from a different caste and is off to fight in Amethi, all against my wishes. He could have easily become MP from any Delhi seat.”
Teachers at Sahibabad’s (Ghaziabad) Lala Lajpat Rai College, where Vishwas taught Hindi said the poet-politician spoke of morality and ethics in public life but hardly took classes. Vishwas is now on study leave.
“If you are in government service then you are not allowed to do any other profitable business simultaneously. Kumar drew salary without taking classes and kept earning money from poetry events during his assignment here, which is unethical,” said SD Kaushik, principal of the college.
Vishwas had earned Rs 100 for singing poems in his first commercial poetry concert in Hapur, located 50 km from Delhi, on the NH-24, in the 1990s.
Now, he reportedly charges Rs 1.5 to Rs 4 lakh for a concert.
Chetan Anand, a fellow-poet and journalist, said Vishwas touched a chord with the young through “excellent oratory skills and romantic poems crafted with easy Hindi words”.
Anand added his meteoric rise caused heartburn among senior poets. “He won over the people’s hearts but made enemies among senior poets.”
Around 2002, senior poets started skipping events attended by Vishwas.
To counter that, Vishwas, a topper from Meerut University, discovered a new audience — engineering and management students in the country’s top institutions.
With an efficient public relation (PR) exercise and aggressive marketing, he started selling his poems in various private and government educational institutions.
“Soon after, he found an audience in IITs, IIMs and other premier institutes. But his fees for an event did not go beyond Rs 20,000-30,000 until he joined Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption in 2011. After sharing the dais with Anna, he started charging Rs 1 to 3 lakh for an event,” said a poet close to him, requesting anonymity.
Vishwas' detractors believe he is not a serious poet and has not written anything of note. But they do admit he knows how to engage with audiences and entertain them with his repartees.
But Vishwas’ mentor, poet Kunwar Bhaichain, defended his student.
“Kumar took Hindi poems to an English-speaking audience. Hindi poetry reached urban people through Kumar. He may not have written great poems but his romantic poetry touched the hearts of the young.
"He knows the craft of poetry, and focused more on marketing and selling himself to young generation rather than indulging in serious poetry writing,” said Bhaichain, who has written 35 books.
Then there are others like Rajan Tyagi, a research student at IIT Kharagpur and a self-proclaimed fan of Vishwas.
“Despite being a village boy and studying only in Hindi-medium school, Kumar can easily connect with the English-speaking youth in IITs and IIMs. That is a gift.”