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He isn’t your fun, witty, charming leader
But Kejriwal has audacity, tenacity and the confidence to take on impossible battles that few others would have the stomach for, says a long-time friend and associate.
I met Arvind the first time in 2002-03 at Bhikhampura in Alwar district of Rajsthan at an event in waterman Rajendra Singh's village. It was a water convention and Arvind was a speaker, he had just put a halt to Delhi Jal Board's effort to privatise water in violation of norms and on terms unfair to taxpaying citizens. I was impressed by what he said and his ability to simplify complex issues for ordinary people.
I met him in Delhi and saw what he had pulled off at Sundernagari (a slum where Kejriwal's NGO Parivartan worked) and how much he had given up to follow his heart. I had a production house and he needed a film on how RTI could empower common people. The film was supposed to be instructional so people could handle their own RTIs. "I don't want to be your dalal. You should learn to use RTI on your own, " he would tell his audiences. It moved me that he didn't want to run the whole RTI movement or be the CEO of smaller branches of his NGO, he wanted to decentralise the movement.
People point to his shift from activism to politics and say he has changed, turned ambitious and hungry for personal glory. I say that he has not changed. He simply cannot be intimidated, he is unbelievably audacious. He takes on these impossible battles that others cannot even dream of taking on. This comes from an immense confidence in himself. In 2005-06 Manmohan Singh had tried to amend the RTI to make it toothless. The opposition to that move was put together by Arvind.
"We have to block this, " he said and I laughed at his gall. I told him, look around you, there are all of five of us in a tiny room with no resources. "We can try, " he said simply. He spoke to each of those who opposed the move, galvanised people, got them together and then asked me to get Euphoria singer Palash Sen to motivate the youth with his music. Palash and Euphoria came to Jantar Mantar and there were huge crowds and support. I was blown away - with hardly any resources he thought he could actuallyy pull this off! And he did.
The entire IAC agenda, the Swaraj model of governance. . . he has thought it all through. He is an extremely intense, hardworking man which is why he cannot be scared off by opposition, questions or even contempt.
People talk of him using activism as a path to making a splash in politics. I am a friend, I have known him for nine years and I will not name names but Arvind has had options since 2005 of entering politics. There were enough established politicians wanting to capitalise on his Sundernagari success. He could beat anyone at elections, and he could have done so with a cushy backing.
About a year and a half ago there was a debate about IAC being formalised like a party structure -it is too loose, too large, no general secretary, no zonal committees, are we growing all too fast and so on. . . In the early phases, the movement was more important than anything else. But at some point Arvind's 'No way' to politics turned to 'This is the only way'. The movement was slowing down and people from far towns and villages who were participating in the movement would say: "We go back to our people and they are saying 'Khaali haath aa gaye?' They wanted an option, not just a lecture. " This move to politics is driven by demands at the grassroot level.
He is not chasing personal glory. He has this persona of an unbending man but that's not accurate. If you were to ask me, 'is he a soft spoken, low key man', then I would say no, he is not. But he is compassionate, listens to others ideas and is very, very reasonable. But he will not be pushed around.
He can bounce back after facing huge bouts of negativity. He went from being the darling of the media to dealing with hugely vicious attacks but it didn't faze him. He is single-minded that way. No stake is too high, no debate too tough to shake his belief in the political model he has created.
Over the last two years he has had nothing like a personal life. It is amazing how his wife and children manage without seeing him for long stretches. But he is at it 24x7, 365 days thinking of the next big impossible task. There was a time when he would take the odd Sunday off, now not even that. At one time, he used to go for Vipassana courses, doing the 14-day silence sessions. He burns up so much at work he needs that silence.
Is he dour? Well, he is a not a fun, witty guy. I mean I write comedy and I find his seriousness doesn't have much place for fun. He is simply not your casual, witty, charming leader. Sincerity, overzealousness - that he has plenty. I don't think he finds my humour very funny, his humour too has to be in the activist-governance context.
He has a softer, gentler side to him. During the peak of the IAC movement, his open office had an unending stream of people coming in, giving advice, some decent, some just terrible, some ranting, some yelling at him and accusing him of bizarre nonsense. He just sat there and heard them through. Even when I was dying to say 'Get out. ' But Arvind will politely hear every word and the more angry or angst ridden the visitor the more time he spends listening. He understands where the anger comes from. He has empathy, the most important thing for a leader. But when it comes to a battle, he will never back off.
- AS TOLD TO MALINI NAIR
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