Monday, 23 May, 2022
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Decaf Arvind Kejriwal – the safe, bland AAP chief and Delhi CM no one saw coming

Kejriwal's reactions to anti-CAA protests and JNU violence show he has diluted his core, which had made him one of politics' fastest success stories.

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The Arvind Kejriwal who will seek re-election in Delhi on 8 February will be very different from the maverick, no-holds-barred political newbie who sought votes in 2013 and 2015 on the promise of standing up to the establishment and questioning the system.

This is a new version of Aam Aadmi Party chief Kejriwal — painfully safe, carefully worded and almost hypocritical, a sort of a cop-out for those who voted for him because he was ‘different’ and stood apart in a sea of ‘politically correct’ politicians.

Two recent instances best define this sea change in Arvind Kejriwal, whose claim to fame was his courage and tenacity. The Delhi chief minister’s reactions to protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the unprecedented violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Sunday night show his desire to compensate for his earlier confrontationist avatar, which stopped yielding political dividends. He has now ended up diluting his brand and the very core that made him Indian politics’ biggest success story of the decade.


Also read: AAP defends Kejriwal after JNU violence, says CM stepping out would’ve helped BJP burn Delhi


The play-it-safe Kejriwal

The Delhi CM has largely steered clear of commenting on the contentious CAA-NRC issue, even as several other opposition leaders have been vocal in their opposition to it. For instance, as Kejriwal presented a detailed report card of his government’s five-year performance on 25 December — in the midst of the massive protests and furore in Delhi — he carefully chose to skirt the topic, choosing safer subjects instead.

Kejriwal knows this could be a double-edged sword among a voting bloc like in Delhi where on the one hand, the BJP can use it to polarise the voter and whip up sentiments and on the other, the cosmopolitan voter may get turned-off with any degree of sympathy for the issue.

With JNU, as well, Kejriwal has chosen to play it safe. Despite the perturbing visuals coming out of the campus, all the Delhi CM did was put out a tweet expressing shock. This, at a time when many were requesting the CM to show up at JNU and stand with the students.

Imagine a politician, whose politics has been based on street protests and dharnas, choosing to remain within the safe confines of Twitter to outrage against a shocking and unparalleled incident in the heart of his territory.


Also read: Arvind Kejriwal’s start-up AAP is the political ‘Unicorn’ of the decade


The sea change

This is a marked difference from the earlier version of Arvind Kejriwal — bold and outspoken, almost to the extent of looking immature and amateur. Remember his reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a ‘coward’ and ‘psychopath’.

Kejriwal was the quintessential anarchist, the anti-corruption crusader who built an entire party and his initial politics on being the persistent street fighter. He was the perpetual confrontationist, not afraid of being an odd combination of attacker and victim. But as he tried to spread his wings outside Delhi, and as Modi became increasingly loved by the masses, Kejriwal’s obstructionist and forever-fighting persona began to cost him both politically and electorally.

He began losing elections embarrassingly in states where he had tried to gain a foothold, his trusted soldiers deserted the Aam Aadmi Party and he increasingly came to be seen as forever sulking, unnecessarily combative, non-performer.

The current image-makeover is a carefully thought-out strategy, the transformation into a ‘mature’, ‘sensible’ politician perhaps a political necessity. Kejriwal had to project the image of being a doer and not just a whiner.


Also read: Conversational, chirpy & candid — there’s a new Arvind Kejriwal on the Delhi campaign trail


A diluted opponent

In that process, however, the non-conformist Kejriwal has now turned into what his voters had perhaps never imagined — a sanitised, cautious and sticking-to-the-norm politician.

While there is little doubt there was a need for Kejriwal to focus more on administration and less on calling everyone names, what we now have is a bland leader.

Among the opposition leaders in India who seemed unperturbed about giving it right back to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine were Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. While Mamata still retains that fire inside her, Kejriwal has begun playing it so safe that one might even forget his vociferous opposition to the BJP — the party in power at the Centre as well as his primary rival in Delhi.

It is a tad disappointing to see a leader who wants to be in the national imagination not speak up on CAA-NRC or the unacceptable violence in university campuses.

The BJP is worried about the Delhi polls, it has no face to match up to Kejriwal. And in playing it safe and projecting only a positive approach, Kejriwal may have played his cards right for now. But in the larger scheme of things, Arvind Kejriwal’s voters will miss the intrepid image he had once worked hard to develop, as will Indian politics.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I really dont understand why this attack on kejriwal now? This seems incredibly hypocritical tbh. A while ago when kejriwal was campaigning vigorously against BJP and its ill intended policies, nobody stood by him. The man led a lone battle and wanted of the consequences of BJP reelction. Where was the media then? It’s like most of Mainstream media gets off on berating Kejriwal. Oh and by Mainstream Media, i mean most of the Big Media houses. Anyone Who is questioning Kejriwal’s nuanced approach this time around should look back and see his track Record. He has stood by what he believes in and though he May not be overly vocal, he and his party have categoricaly rejected BJP’s draconian law. Let that be clear.

  2. I have been a Kejriwal-hater for ages, but I must now admit that his version 2.0 is truly impressive. Here is one politician who is talking about delivery, not making personal attacks, or making irresponsible statements. His new avatar of the underdog will actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise, in the midst of the current discourse which is being built on noise and polarization by all parties.

    • Agreed. The BJP was hoping that the JNU case would change the narrative in Delhi from Development to CAA. Kejriwal smartly avoided that trap.

  3. The headline reads like an introspection on part of the Print – this should give you a pause to realign your interests and shed your allegiance towards the ruling party – Does the Print have the gumption to ask questions of Amit Shah for the utter collapse of law and order in Delhi, not to mention the other BJP led states – For once, print something of substance -don’t be a disgrace to your profession!

  4. I watched Kejriwal’s presentation of the report card on NDTV and was mightily impressed . Here was politician who was not competing with M&S on jumlas, had he done that , he would have lost .I was skeptical of kejriwal’s prospects in this Delhi elections .But after watching him on NDTV , I think at this juncture he presents himself as a credible alternative to M&S. If he can beat anti incumbency , he would have done a MODI on MODI .That is no mean achievement in India with its myriad problems .Lago raho Kejriwal .

  5. This is such a naive analysis, almost childish, it seems this paper had only one good journalist Shekhar Gupta. Kejriwal is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Godi media attached him back when he was confrontationist and it is now attaching him for not being loud enough. Make up your mind, take a stance rather than being the perpetual critic.

  6. Kejriwal has certainly chosen to change his approach – the idea seems to be to project him as a “doer” (by focusing on matters of aam aadmi’s immediate interests); ideological and political issues can be left to other politicians for now and tackeled when it comes to “doing” something concrete on them. What purpose is served by issuing statement of “kadi ninda”? Instead, his govt has arranged ambulances to be sent to the JNU campus to take the injured students to hospitals. That is “doing.” This is indeed sensible, especially since his party is in power in Delhi. It is also necessary in the present situation where anything any public figure says is used by the BJP to polarise people on “national/anti-national poles.

  7. I’m sorry, but this article seems very hypocritical… On the one hand, the article seems to acknowledge and understand the reasons behind Kejriwal’s silence, but it chooses to call him names despite it. On one hand it seems to acknowledge the necessity for him to act like a Chief Minister and not an anarchic activist anymore, and yet it berates him for doing just that. Indians clearly don’t appreciate 100% honesty – which seems accompanied by naivety – in its politicians, since: when Kejriwal first got elected and resigned because a promise he made to the people could not be fulfilled, instead of appreciating his commitment to his word, people ridiculed him with terms like ‘Bhagoda’. So, instead of appealing to your or my confused sense of what-he-ought-to-be-doing or standards for honesty, isn’t better for him to focus on his job as CM? Wherein he is tangibly and substantially helping Delhi with very real problems, such as providing free water and electricity, monumentally upgrading the infrastructure and education quality of government education, providing free medicine and reducing the overall cost for health care? Do these things not matter? While protestors in the street fight to keep the government in check for its evils (something that Kejriwal has done more than his share of), doesn’t he serve better now by campaigning to acquire a complete majority for his government in Delhi? If he does that, Delhi is one step closer to acquiring full-statehood, and if he has the police under him again, he can be better placed to stop these government-directed atrocities that are occurring in Delhi, don’t you think? And that’s not to mention – if he comes out on the streets to support the protest, carrying a nondetachable vested interest, I’m sure there’d be an article about how he’s trying to leverage a movement to gets votes. So, instead of that, if he is choosing to focus on showcasing his work – which is tangible, significantly substantial, and verifiable – why is that wrong?

    • Saad, it’s like you can’t win with these people, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Did these people support him when he was going after powerful leaders of the country? They just attacked him and painted him as a crazy rebel. Now he’s doing real work and they paint him as a timid dogooder. These kinds of channels are the perpetual critics, whose lack of integrity has brought nothing but pain to this nation.

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