Arvind Kejriwal speaking at the AAP Report Card event in New Delhi. | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Arvind Kejriwal speaking at the AAP Report Card event in New Delhi | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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The biggest political development of the last decade isn’t the phenomenal rise of Narendra Modi, or the abysmal fall of the Congress and the persistent failure of Rahul Gandhi. Nor is it the unnatural and unexpected alliances between arch rivals like the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party or Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP. As a very eventful decade comes to a close, it is Arvind Kejriwal who has emerged as the most significant and breakthrough political story in India.

A former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer-turned-civil society activist, Kejriwal’s story is quite unheard of in Indian politics. With zero political base, no prior experience in elections or grassroots politics and no affiliation to any established outfit, Arvind Kejriwal’s performance has been a breakout. He managed to become the Chief Minister of Delhi in his very first electoral outing, and the two assembly elections after that have only strengthened his position further.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief may have floundered on several occasions, unable to stand for any ideology or coherent political thought and displaying a perturbing level of immaturity and administrative naivety at times. But, he is among the rare politicians who has managed to guard his turf in this Narendra Modi-Amit Shah era, a fact made even more remarkable given how new he is to politics.

To borrow a clever line from my colleague Neera Majumdar, in political years, you can call Arvind Kejriwal’s breakthrough an ‘overnight’ phenomenon.

Of course, there have been non-politicians, including civil servants, who have entered mainstream politics, most of them joining existing parties. None, however, have seen the sort of instant success Kejriwal managed. Arvind Kejriwal has been like Indian politics’ Maggi noodles — cooked and ready in no time.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal leaves with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia after a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah at North Block in New Delhi Sunday | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal leaves with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia after a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah at North Block in New Delhi in June, 2020 | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

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


The political highlights of 2010-20

This has been a rather action-packed political decade, with very few dull moments. Among the biggest highlights, historic almost, was how Narendra Modi burst onto the national scene and managed to capture the imagination of India’s voters like never before. I say never before, because even with the most popular former prime ministers like Indira Gandhi, for instance, there was a lack of competition in terms of the sheer number of political parties vying for a share of the pie, like in Modi’s era.

Along with his lieutenant Amit Shah, the prime minister has captured state after state, expanding the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s footprints to regions, including the Northeast, that has never been its traditional turf. As a political reporter covering elections, I have seen Modi’s massive popularity across states — from Madhya Pradesh to Assam and Tripura.

The prime minister manages to get away with even the worst of gaffes, like the 2016 demonetisation, and has truly ushered in an era of hyper-communicative, personality-centric, 24×7 politics.

Coinciding with Modi’s rise, and perhaps made even worse by it, has been the Congress’ steep downfall this decade. The decline that began in the UPA-2 tenure has continued unabated, with a leadership crisis so grim that not even a beacon of light seems visible. Rahul Gandhi, who formally entered politics in 2004, has been in the news less for his successes and more for his inability to lead the party and win elections, as well as for his whimsical absences. A low of 44 seats for the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha has been unflatteringly historic, and undoubtedly among the most significant political developments of the decade.

This decade has also been about the evolution of coalition politics — in terms of how alliances are forged, with arch rivals also coming together, mostly in order to take on the Modi-Shah duo. So, SP and BSP — once sworn enemies  — had joined hands in Uttar Pradesh, as did the Shiv Sena and Congress-Nationalist Congress Party. The Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) also allied in 2015, only to split later. Thus, the compulsion aspect of coalitions has been accentuated in the past few years.

The decline of the Left is another big political story, with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress managing to capture the red-fortress West Bengal in 2011, and the BJP ousting the Communists from Tripura in 2017.

From the Ram Mandir issue finally coming to a close with the Supreme Court’s November 2019 verdict to the National Register of Citizens and Citizenship (Amendment) Act becoming buzzwords, from ‘scams’, like the one related to 2G and coal block allocation, grabbing headlines to Manmohan Singh’s UPA 2 crumbling, from Rahul Gandhi’s ordinance-tearing moment to the emergence of young dynasts like Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Akhilesh Yadav — the last decade has seen a gamut of fascinating political episodes.

Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare at the Ram Lila Maidan| Twitter
File photo | Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare at the Ram Lila Maidan| Twitter

Also read: No soft Hindutva, no Left Revolution, Kejriwal establishing a new centre in Indian politics


Why Kejriwal is the high point

And yet, Arvind Kejriwal remains the biggest highlight of the decade. A Delhi CM whose name is known pan-India.

Narendra Modi, for instance, with all his stupendous success, did have the advantage of being a three-time chief minister of Gujarat, with both electoral and governance experience. He had the backing of a cadre-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and most importantly, of a party that had by then well-established itself nationally. What Modi then did was use these very strong foundations to build on further.

In fact, that is the usual trajectory for most in politics in recent time, any of these or a combination of them — the backing of a dynasty, of a party and of the experience of being in a student/youth wing of a party.

Kejriwal, meanwhile, launched a social movement along with anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, becoming a key face of the Jan Lokpal Movement in 2011. He managed to successfully transition a social movement to a political one, going on to launch the AAP a year later in 2012. Post the 2013 Delhi assembly polls, the AAP formed the government with the Congress, but the alliance split soon after. Arvind Kejriwal subsequently went on to sweep both the 2015 and 2020 assembly polls, despite the Modi-factor looming large.

When was the last time we heard of a non-politician, launching a political outfit full of non-politicians, and succeeding in winning consecutive elections with a stunning majority?

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd at the APP headquarters after the party's win in Delhi assembly polls. | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd at the party headquarters after the party’s win in Delhi assembly polls, Feb 2020| Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Also read: For Arvind Kejriwal, governance is a journey from one gimmick to another


Kejriwal’s trajectory has been chequered — from an aggressive street-fighter to the very play-it-safe CM who stands up for barely anything, from a crusader of transparency to someone who is as opaque as other politicians in India and from the promise of good governance to a poor grip over administrative affairs, most recently highlighted during the Covid crisis.

Kejriwal has been imprudent at times, ranting against an elected PM and calling him a ‘psychopath‘ and constantly being on a warpath with the Centre, overly ambitious about expanding national presence and ending up with a questionable record in experiments like Punjab and Goa and unable to keep his flock together with key AAP faces drifting away. Kejriwal has also continued to perform poorly in Lok Sabha polls.

Despite an erosion of some of the very core that made him, Arvind Kejriwal remains Indian politics’ biggest, most fascinating and alluring success story of the last decade. The Delhi chief minister will go down in history for pulling off a Herculean experiment, and writing an entirely new chapter in electoral politics. A chapter that can’t be missed in the Modi-Shah era.

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25 Comments Share Your Views

25 COMMENTS

  1. Agreed that Arvind Kejriwal’s rise is great but there is not much promise. He is out of steam! The basic reason is – he just had one agenda i.e. removing corruption. But he had not strategy neither still has. Frankly speaking he disappoints most – much more than RG. AK has IIT degree but the IIT training, exposure & thought processes are hardly visible. He raised expectations and is not able to fulfil it beyond Delhi. Now with Congress almost out of sight, he has not shown stomach to take on BJP outside Delhi.

  2. The writer has lots of sympathy for Kejriwal. In some aspect he is even bigger failure than Rahul Gandhi. He let go lots of well wishers because of his bad judgements. He could have been a real challenger to NaMo at national level but he remained confined in a City.

  3. Looks like it was written by a party worker who is clearly biased. Great job The Print, you now join the ranks of the Wire, NDTV, Republic.

  4. Though Kejri has done some very good things for Delhi he hasn’t captured the imagination of people even in nearby MP, UP or Haryana. He rings no bells in the South with his purely Hindi based communication. Even Modi manages to make some speeches in English. have we ever heard an a English speech directed to S India by kejriwal ? That makes all the difference.

  5. Arvind Kejriwal is nothing but an overfilled air balloon in which air is pumped by journalists who are surprised by the happening of an event –SUDDEN RISE OF A NEW STAR – in pre morning sky before Sun-rise. Government of UPA which was tottering under its own weight of sins of corruption, mis- management of economy, scant regard to external security of the nation , pursuing surrendering polices and polity before Islamic terrorism, was ripe time for change of the Ruling dynasty and party . . He got elected in one of the union territory of India. –NCT of Delhi. In Punjab some of the candidates of AAP also won , but most of them won due to personal standing of respective candidates as his Persona failed to make any dent in the final outcome in the state of Punjab. Now when the people of India voted to have BJP/NDA as ruling party , there is not going to be any space for erst-while dynasty or any other minority-appeasing political party or combination of parties , at least for next two-three decades. Installation of BJP/NDA government by the voters of India is not stop gap arrangement, it is calculated decision of the voters of India who were searching for alternative to congress party for the last 35 years, as Congress party was never given majority mark after Election of 1984-85 held under the Shadow of tragic death of Indira Gandhi. Kejriwal and his party is nothing but one of the dozens of political operatives working in practically every state of India like Akalies, RJD ,JDU ,SP, BSP..,, DMK of many verieitis, many offshoots of Congress party like NCP, TMC , Yc … .. congress etc etc. Respectable author is reading too much , where there is too little.

  6. Leaders comes and go , rise and fall happens, wins and loss takes place, thats the routine thing in politics. Whats new in that ? So THE single most significant event of not only the decade, also of several centuries is construction of Ram Temple at birthplace. If one looks it as mere temple it will not appear as significant, but if you look it from the perspective of many dimensions like history, religion, politics, economy, self respect,pride, nationalism, it will appear as a brightest divine event in this year, in several centuries, forget decade, forget individual.

  7. “A poor grip over administrative affairs”, “calling the PM a ‘psychopath’,”, “constantly being on a warpath with the Center”, “Questionable record in experiments like Punjab and Goa”, “Unable to keep his flock together”, “continued to perform poorly in Lok Sabha polls”, and forever trying to expand his limited ‘Delhi’ success to several other states without any foundation or followers outside Delhi besides pointlessly trying to climb the Farmers’ agitation bandwagon.
    One fails to see what are his real ‘accomplishments’ and any vision driven future plans that the writer finds so much to admire in Kejriwal.
    The media built him up to look a far greater Messiah of change for the better when he was in reality only a political opportunist who ‘initially’ played his cards well. But stopped evolving beyond that. Now even the media is no longer enamoured by him.

  8. one more thing, I throw an open challenge to the print team to provide a ‘dislike’ button at the top, along with the ‘like’ button. If You are a believer in your journalism, and your ideology, what are You scared of? At least this much is expected from shekhar gupta!

  9. Era of marketing zeros as heroes has arrived. And the silent urban naxal replacing hard core ultra leftists with superior marketing abilities. Its a decade of success for authors like you

  10. Indian upper middle class always feel at the back of their minds why our country is lagging behind foreign countries in living standards, hygiene, cleanliness, zero corruption etc. They secretly long for a dictator who can set things right in India.

    India’s lower middle ckass and rural people wants a story of a politician who has risen up from the bottom of the stack. They also wish for a socialist strongman who makes schemes/handouts for their benefit. Eg. Gas cylinders, Swach Bharat toilets, Ayushman Bharat, Jan Dhan accounts, Rural employment guarantee scheme, free housing etc.

    And then there is another set of Indians (some of whom might overlap with the above classes). This set of people is seeking glory of Hinduism and pride in Vedic past to feel good and proud about being a Hindu today. They also want a strongman who can set things right for Hindu supremacy in this land.

    Modiji fits the strongman requirement very well but Kejriwal doesn’t. So stop imagining Kejriwal as the next best hope for Indian voters.

  11. Finally one meaningful analytical article from media on the impact of Arvind Kejwriwa! I’d like to add a few more points to it:
    1. Although many people claim that Arvind Kejriwal took advantage of Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi, the planning, execution and leadership of the Jan Lokpal movement was lead by Arvind Kejriwal. And although he was the youngest compared to the other famous persons noted above, he had already made a name for himself as an RTI activist and also received the Raman Magsaysay award at a very young age. Not only Arvind Kejriwal spearheaded the movement, he was much more far-sighted than all others as the others simply couldn’t fathom his strategic steps afterwards when he moved to form a political party and making it successful. The impact can be gauged by these:
    (a) AAP is the only party which drubbed the two biggest nationalist parties Congress and BJP. The loss of BJP is more noteworthy where BJP used all of its election machinery, opened its divisive tentacles to its fullest, but still it lost. Also Congress was almost wiped out of Delhi. The smile of Shakeel Mohammed of Congress is gone, Sheila Dixit’s political death occurred.
    (b) AAP is the only party where party funding is mostly public-funded and is well-documented. It also restarted door-to-door campaign.
    (c) Very people recognize the fact that, the Jan Lokpal movement, the formation of AAP had a very big impact on the 2014 win of Narendra Modi. Had it not been for AAP, BJP might not have got over 220 seats.
    If there is any political leader who can defeat Narendra Modi, it is Arvind Kejriwal. Mr modi is lucky to have the strong foundation of RSS, the weakest rival in clueless Rahul Gandhi, the international environment created by rise of disgusting ISIS, emergence of autocratic leaders like Trump, Putin, Xinping, etc. which all helped hindutva and hence Modi.

  12. Kejriwal started with a anarchist, then a dramatist, then for sometime a hope, and finally back to dramatist and ever vacillating poor administrator. But we Indians need to realize that anything born out of ‘protests’ isn’t good. We’re not France that will espouse Liberty Egalitarianism Fraternity. We’re a mobocracy. And in mobocracy where over 70% of population is semi-literate and less than 1% pays income tax, we should hope that good politicians and effective administrators come up from the middle class not through the font of protests but through the process of merit based selection and inner party democracy. Otherwise we’ll end up with clownish leaders like Kejriwal.

  13. Poohi is a CONGRASS journalist.

    She is in conspiring with UNITED NATIONS to stop the real winner in US ELECTIONS from becoming US PRESIDENT.

    Actually AK ( who is GREATEST gift from GOD ) has won more votes than DONALD TRUMP AND JOE BIDEN combined.

    Infact spaceships are coming from galaxies beyond MILKY WAY GALAXY , seeking to clone AK to rule them.

  14. Finally the author has caught my attention because of the click n bait heading.

    Sub standard opinions passing of as journalism doesn’t make you a journalist.

    Kejriwals rise was more on the coat tails of Anna moment. He and the rest of the dharnadhari and jhollawalas appropriated the movement and viola becomes the chief minister.

    The other component of his success is the know it all Indians of Delhi who like freebies.

    His stature is because it’s national capital.

    On to your reams of eulogy, here is reality check.

    Delhi is not India. The success of Modi and failure of Rahul is all because of their consistent perseverance.

    Comparing a localized leader to national leader with mass base make you a student who hasn’t done their homework.

    Very unfortunate and shabby piece of opinion.

    Looks like you need to go back to jhollawala school of journalism where you will find other members of theprint fraternity.

  15. This is exactly the reason why the school of thought that these leftist reporters come from has been ceding space across India. You may hate Modi. You may hate Bjp. But can you, as a reporter, as an analyst, lie? That’s precisely what you did. Now I ask objectively to all BJP and Hindutva haters here, whats a bigger story? A person born in a backward caste, in a remote village of Gujarat, born in utter poverty rose to become CM of Gujarat. Won 4 elections with 2/3rd majority, stood alone against lies, propaganda spread by these same left fanatic media houses. This man than dethroned congress from centre by extreme hard work. He toured every corner of the country. Won full majority after 30 years wait. Then he alone wins more than 300 seats and gets re-elected and creates history. He flummoxed people like rajdeep, ravish, shekhar again and again. In their frustration they started using phrases like ‘teflon coating’ to try and understand his popularity. This man along with his deputy at centre & along with another deputy as a state CM has overseen Ram temple victory, ended article 370, implemented CAA & agricultural reforms. He has implemented GST. NOW – there is another man. An IRS officer. An opportunist with chameleon like qualities. He piggy backed on a popular movement, hijacked the space occupied by his mentor & won delhi assembly elections. Then he sacked all his colleagues who could pose a threat to him. Those people are either now forgotten and are singing poems, or some have returned to their naxali ways. This man again won state assembly emphatically. However, HE LOST ALL 7 LOK SABHA SEATS TWICE to his opponents in 2 elections during the same period. He remains confined as a mayor in a largely centre controlled state. He has tried to expand many times, but failed everytime. Now, hand on your heart, really, hand on your heart and the other hand on das capital, connect witj your soul and tell again which is the bigger political story of the decade? Kejriwal? Seriously?Don’t insult shekhar gupta’s credibility luke this. He is trying to pretend to be objective in this project. In conclusion, I do understand you guys, all you guys, are flummoxed & frustrated. But trying to promote Kejriwal or trying to re-invent Rahul Gandhi umpteenth time WILL NOT SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM. Go on the ground, talk to people. Forget ideology, understand reality. Then accept it. This ‘supremo’ from AAP. is not your deliverance.

  16. If you don’t recognize Modi’s rise in 2014, you are not much of a political commentator. Contemporary history is divided into two: before 2014 and post 2014. Modi’s growth has restructured India’s politics and social fabric. Arvind Kejriwal rode piggyback on Anna Hazare movement. His narrow and parochial politics has kept him a local leader in Delhi. Not let him grow into a national leader.

    • Very Rightly Said , it is dumbness of the writer to Ignore Modi’s rise but to sing his mindless peaens for a Notanki Baaz , who sits on a Dharna near Rajpath , threatening to disrupt the Celebrations of Republic Day’s Parade on Republic Day of 2014

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