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Who Exactly Is Arvind Kejriwal?

Many political leaders ranging from Rahul Gandhi to Mamata Banerjee to Lalu Prasad Yadav lose no opportunity to attack Narendra Modi. But they are no match for the frequency and ferocity with which Kejriwal performs the task

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Some call him a Don Quixote tilting at windmills; with a handful of associates fighting to be Sancho Panja. Some genuinely believe he is a disruptive messiah who is determined to upend the cosy and corrupt political system in India. Some call him a charlatan who is convinced that you actually can fool all the people all the time.

His admirers in mainstream media definitely outnumber his critics. His social media followers have actually taught a lesson or two to fans of PM Modi in the art of “Bhakti”. He has won a mandate that no other political leader in independent India has; except perhaps some chief ministers of Sikkim.

If politics is the art of impossible, he has proven that with elan in Februray, 2015. If politics is theatre, he would rank as one of the great thespians. If there were a Nobel Prize for leveling allegations, the man would win hands down.

But the million-dollar question still is: who exactly is Arvind Kejriwal? For the record, he is arguably the only person without a political or filmi background who has used an anti-corruption movement to launch a successful party and win the Delhi assembly elections; his party AAP won 67 out of the 70 seats up for grabs in Delhi. He is also unique in the sense that he is perhaps the only chief minister in the country without any portfolio, with most of the day-to-day administrative tasks being handled by his friend Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister.

Many political leaders ranging from Rahul Gandhi to Mamata Banerjee to Lalu Prasad Yadav lose no opportunity to attack Narendra Modi. But they are no match for the frequency and ferocity with which Kejriwal performs the task. He calls Modi a coward and psychopath without batting an eyelid.

Hardly a week (some would say a day) passes without Kejriwal going on Twitter to slam Modi for a) being jealous of him, b) being scared of him and c): being vindictive and obstructive.

But to be fair, he has every right as a political rival to keep attacking Modi if he thinks that would help him electorally. By all indications, Kejriwal’s moment of glory will come in the 2017 Punjab elections where the AAP looks poised for a win.

There are clear indications that Kejriwal will jump into the fray even in Goa and Gujarat in 2017. The logic is: a victory in Punjab and decent performances in Goa and Gujarat would catapult him to the top of the table as the main rival for Modi in 2019.

For all his rhetoric about “changing the system” and “serving the people”, the man bristles with unbounded ambition and wants to be the Prime Minister of India. When you speak to AAP supporters, you realise they believe this with passion. They point out not one person in India predicted before 2012 that Modi could become PM.

All politicians have ambitions. After all, that’s the primary reason they join politics. Kejriwal is entitled to his. But then Modi asked for a national mandate based on his performance as chief minister of Gujarat. Modi critics still believe that the Gujarat model touted by him and his supporters is largely lies and exaggerations. But enough voters bought the story in 2014.

How would one rate the performance of Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister of Delhi? Has he made things better for the average citizen of the city state? Have the quality of roads, schools, hospitals, power supply and water supply improved? You don’t need to be a critic of Kejriwal to say that he has so far grossly underperformed on these parameters. Power cuts and pitched street battles over water supply this summer are testimony.

To be fair, there have been innovative (though controversial) ideas like Odd Even and Mohalla Clinics and seemingly tough actions against private schools, power distribution companies and hospitals. The latest example is a penalty of about Rs 700 crore on hospitals that have failed to treat poor patients. But on the whole, the impression one gets is that of a lot of noise with very little substance. Worse, serious allegations of misbehaviour, malfeasance and corruption against AAP leaders have started surfacing regularly.

Perhaps that explains the attitude and actions of Kejriwal. He wants to convince the world (more importantly the voter) that the Modi regime is not allowing his government to work. Even in the latest controversy related to the appointment of 21 AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries, Kejriwal has not hesitated to target Modi at a personal level.

But how far can Kejriwal take the narrative of victimhood? Won’t even his supporters start getting exasperated after some time? The aura of a Scarlet Pimpernel works for a while. But only for a while.