Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint
Text Size:

On one side of the pink bus ticket issued free to women passengers in Delhi is a picture of its chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal. His statement appears above it: “Main chahta hoon ki aap aur aapka parivar khub tarakki karein. Jab mahilayein aage badhengi, tabhi desh aage badhega.” (It is my wish that you and your family make progress. It is when women move ahead that the country moves ahead.) Some 2 million women ride Delhi’s public buses daily — of the 16 million residents of the city.

A picture of TN Ninan, chairman of Business Standard Private LimitedThe campaign, transparently a build-up to the Delhi elections, due in February, reminds one of the pictures of Narendra Modi looking down at you with a self-satisfied smile from hoardings put up at 60,000 petrol pumps across the country. In a lower corner of the hoardings, women who have received subsidised cooking gas cylinders thank Modi, as though it is personal largesse. The hoardings had to be pulled down at election time in the summer, but are back.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) Kejriwal is a political alternative to Modi, at least in Delhi. But consider the many ways in which they are similar. The state government has introduced an all-costs-paid chief minister’s tirth yatra to sundry places of pilgrimage: Mathura-Vrindavan, Rishikesh-Haridwar, Anandpur Sahib, and Ajmer Sharif. You might think it is none of a secular state’s business to be sponsoring religious pilgrimages, and there would be howls of protest if Modi were to do something similar. In fact, the Congress spent money for years on a haj subsidy, which the Modi government scrapped last year — and just as well too. Still, we are into Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava, not a hard Western-style secularism. So everything goes.

Also read: ‘Anarchist’ to administrator — Arvind Kejriwal gets a makeover, with inspiration from Modi

Then, consider rival strands of populism. Where the Modi government offers free toilets, free medical insurance, and free doles to farmers, Kejriwal offers free electricity, and free bus and metro rides. Modi does not ask where his bankrupt government will find the money, and Kejriwal, who runs Delhi with three times the national per capita income, does not ask why such freebies are needed. Is it that he does not feel the need for more money? After all, property taxes in the city have remained unchanged for 15 years — without even any indexation for inflation!

Both leaders are prone to exaggerated claims. We have heard for five years about 1,000 mohalla clinics being set up, but their number totals fewer than 200 — or less than one a week! Sounds suspiciously like the claims about the country being open-defecation-free, or Aadhaar saving the government a tonne of money? As for the public buses on which women can now ride with free tickets, no bus has been added to the city’s 5,000-strong fleet since 2010 — apparently because the state government doesn’t know where it would park them.

As for operational style, while Modi has converted a cadre-based party into one that sings his hosannahs from sunrise to sunset, Kejriwal has converted what was a mass movement against corruption, and for a change in political culture, into a party over which he holds untrammelled sway.

In short, Kejriwal is almost exactly the package that Modi offers: Personal aggrandisement, the building of a personality cult through full-page newspaper ads day after day, populist schemes involving subsidies (whether affordable or required), abandonment of secular principles, exaggerated claims, and no checks on leadership. Is there a method to this careful mimicking of style and substance? Perhaps, because at the time of the last election, Kejriwal had mentioned that his voter base was the same as that of the BJP.

There is a difference, though. The hard edge to the BJP’s communalism is missing in AAP; there are no Pehlu Khans or Mohammed Akhlaqs being killed here. So perhaps Muslims feel safer with AAP — though, ironically, the police in the city are controlled by Amit Shah! Equally important, where the BJP’s education programme is occupied with such projects as wiping out the hated Nehru from history books, AAP has focused on improving the education imparted in government schools. We should celebrate that difference.

Also read: Here’s how Delhi govt can make its free bus ride scheme for women a financial success too


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

47 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Totally unconvincing and shallow piece as if the author was ordered to do some kind of Supari journalism.

    One man does not lie other only lies.

  2. Only thing right abou the article – Arvind Kejriwal is tthe alternative for india . Although Ninan says – AK is the alternative in Delhi. Sad that he doesnt see him as an alternative for india. AK did not do any demonetisation – did not do any flawed implementation of GST – did not own the single largest man manmade economic disaster – did not plan pulwma – AK is managing Delhi s economy without borrowing or without selling off the assets of the gov – managing the gov without Services – Modi is managing by owning up all institutions like CBI- ED- CJI etc , AK is not misusing institutions – etc

    • Exactly! Just including the last para about not lynching Muslims by AAP us not enough. There are huge differences between Modi and Kejriwal. Just the examples of a few similarities don’t make them similar personalities. A lot of things work in Indian politics, some are freebies, some are good work, some completely dirty. Kejriwal cannot do dirty work at all, as his appreciators will not tolerate it. On the other hand, Modi is thriving in more if dirty politics, with a sprinkle of freebies and good work. How can the two be similar personalities, or have similar politics?!

    • Haha.. It’s like he was trying to make a major point and at some point decided he was sounding dumb and then just ended it. Everyone needs the moneybags on their side, including Ninan.


  4. I strongly disagree. The writer seems to have written this article just for the sake and there is really no comparison. Every political party has populus schemes but Education, health, Water,Electricity are some basic amenities provided by AAP. BJP minus communalism is nothing

  5. Tigers and dogs have many similarities that’s what writer is equating.
    Tiger should not be compared,
    it’s an stupid try, a bad mouth puppet, whose leaders including him had made millions of worth property.
    Just don’t abuse indians, for mistake of choosing Kejriwal, they will not repeat the mistake.
    Kejriwal is corrupt and had ministers in his cabinet, those were staying in rented house, but

  6. Dear Print,

    This is going to take you down… seriously… the title itself and the fact that you choose to compare Modi with Kejri is a bad presumption. Make a list of the ideologies, the decisions, the results.. there is no match and you compare only Hindutva ?

    Something is happening in Print… its most likely being bought !

  7. The Print: why are you not publishing readers’ comments more than 24 hours after they have been posted?
    Maybe you are hoping that once the story becomes ‘stale’ then it would he safe to upload the unfavourable comments…that is if you have not deleted it altogether.

  8. The timing of this article is suspect. If T N Ninan had problems with Arvind Kejriwal’s style of functioning, he should have brought this up consistently during the 5 years of the AAP government. Just before the Delhi general elections, it sounds more like propaganda.

  9. Howmuchever the media tries to paint Modi black, there will not be any effect on us, the voters. Modi ji is after all a human! Who doesn’t like to seek attention.

    What we want to see in our leader is a corrupt free image, a 56-inch chest which can pay to Pak in the same coin, bring back India’s lost cultural and religious glory, never-say-die attitude in calamitous situations.

    We don’t want Congress back to sell our country to the dogs!

  10. A hack job for an article.

    1. Mohalla Clinics- 300+ Show me any similar scheme praised by UN bodies, UK’s achatham house and featured in Lancet?
    2. Schemes are very cost effective. Water and electricity subsidy capped in a way so that genuine low income (low usage) families. Cash injecyion at the bottom of the pyramid gives huge returns to the local economy. The money has been geneated through doubling budget while reducing taxes.
    3. EElwctricity availability 24 by 7 with 99.5%uotime with no invrease in prices.
    4. Health Education Infrastructure at reduced cost.

    Hack jobs like this are required to discredit one of the only government that actually works.

    • Completely agree. On top of this, Kejriwal has posted in recent times images of new busses being inaugarated. Agreed, they are not 1,000 new busses, but to say that not a single bus has been added since 2010 seems to be a completely false statement, unless Kejriwal is lying.

    • Dear TN, do some on ground research. While one has been only Marketing the benefits, the other has been delivering the results on ground.
      Do you ever question the freebies enjoyed by the VIPs and their families, why is taxpayer money being spent on them. Would like to see your article on that as well.

      Do get into details, rather being superficial and servicing somebody’s Agenda

  11. Good comparison. It would have been better if a Congress govt. be included in the same. Populism is the core of all the parties in India. People have to see who’s the better one in terms of work Vs the populism ratio.

  12. All politicians give doles, power gives politicians access to govt gravy train to give doles and win votes. As voting rights are equal for all in this country, rich give money bags to politicians to buy votes of poor to form govt and influence policy. Never in this country the govt resources are used for welfare of people but to only get themselves reelected. Whether Modi did or Kejriwal is doing or Sonia did or Nehru did or Indira did. Does not matter that we find everyone doing it to holf on to power.

  13. Wow. According to Ninan we have only these two politicians who are populist. Rest of India is blessed with politicians who are exemplars of thrift and prudence and shy away from publicising themselves.

    Mamta, Jagan Reddy, Naidu and the sundry rulers of Tamil Nadu could do with a bit of extravagance and publicity.

    I heard right to freebies is a fundamental right in Tamil Nadu…free rice, free consumer durables like cycle, laptop, mixer-grinder, fans, livestock, loan waiver, free power and gold for brides. Did I miss out anything, Mr Ninan? Ohh, but you don’t count these as freebies, right.

    Mr Ninan: didn’t you have anything worthwhile to write about this week? You should be ashamed of this farce of an article.

  14. Author must stick to what he knows the best…Write about economy, he in deed is doing harm to himself by ridiculous arguments with no merit, we as readers can only advice

  15. I think Ninan is more convincing when he writes on macro-economic issues. That said, Arvind cannot compared with Modi unless one is doing some superficial comparisons. Arvind indeed started with a big hope for many of us in the middle classes but lost his way quickly and badly. Though, of late, he is behaving sensibly. It will be an interesting contest in Delhi very soon. Modi related disappointment is indeed mostly over the current state of economy rather his political decisions and governance record. Indeed, it is surprising that Modi has shied away from taking firm but sensible decisions on major structural reforms and instead continued to rely on outdated socialistic, bureaucratic thinking. Further, Hindutva or secularism debate is a complete non sense. Congress, so called gold standard of pure Indian secularism, has tied up with Sena, a so-called rabid Hindutva party, to form the government in Maharashtra where Sena will be the dominant partner! This is the formal death of debate between secularism and Hindutva. All this apart, the fact of the matter is that there is no comparison between a Mayor of a city and the Prime Minister of the country.

  16. The Delhi government must be awash with funds. One says this with some longing, as a Mumbaikar. Not revising property taxes for fifteen years, splurging on free power, water, now public transport for women. Some glitzy looking schools. Had the LG not played spoilsport, the AAP government could have done even better. The city acknowledges Smt Sheila Dixit’s good work by giving her three terms.

  17. Many people have bad opinion of Hindutva. It is because of Hindutva they are able to air their opinion. Have you ever seen them air opinion on book based religion? They don’t becuase they are afraid. They abuse Hindus because they can. They are just bullies who will abuse where they can.
    Comparing Kejriwal and Modi is like comparing apple with grass. A cow can eat both.
    Kejriwal is not able to improve life in Delhi. He only have excuses. Does not know how to work. He is not consistent. I was hoping AAP will be an alternative and lost all hope when they had their internal fights and kicked out founders. Being ruthless is required for a politician. But it should be for the benefit of the country. Not for the benefit of your power.

  18. You are Sudo Secular ,Nehru & Sudo Seculars wiped out Hindus From the history so,Nehru should be wiped out.
    Sawarkar ko nahi samajh pane ki sajha hamne 70 years bhugti,he was visionary Legend

  19. Announcing one scheme and implementing the same effectively without corruption and pilferage is what makes d difference. I think the author is not able to differentiate this aspect between Kejriwal n Modi Govt,,

  20. I enjoyed reading this article , very entertaining indeed , as the author has pointed out there are many similarities between arvind and narendra but there is a crucial difference though and which is perhaps cardinal .Narendra bhai has been consistent while arvindbhai has transformed quite a lot , from being a BJP baiter to somebody who welcomed 370 and mandir judgement .This transformation I feel is a give away , a losing mans final gambit .

  21. Competitive populism is the order of the day. Every government across party lines is adopting this policy. It is for the people to decide whether they want more number of safely driven, competitively prices with reliable frequency OR unreliable , infrequent, less frequent free rides. As long as people realise that any free dole is not coming free and they are paying for this somewhere else, this phenomenon will continue. In a democracy we get the governments we deserve.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here