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The extraordinary TV performances of an ‘ordinary man’ — the week of Arvind Kejriwal

When he wants to, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal can pack quite a punch for someone who projects himself as a cross between an income tax officer and R.K. Laxman’s common man.

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This has been the week of Arvind Kejriwal.

Eight days ago, his speech in the Delhi assembly became the talk of the town, went viral on social media and commanded television news headlines besides breathing more fire into the controversy over The Kashmir Files.

The Delhi chief minister was, then, a much sought-after guest for interviews by news channels including Times Now and Aaj Tak. 

Not bad for a man who likes to see and describe himself as “a very small man” – which he did in his Times Now, Aaj Tak conversations – and who stands 5 feet 5 inches tall (approximately).

That’s a good two inches shorter than Prime Minister Narendra Modi but that didn’t stop Kejriwal from taking aim and landing some pretty pointed arrows at the PM’s ‘56-inch chest’, in these public appearances.

From what we saw of him, ‘Arvind Kejriwal ji’ as Times Now anchor Navika Kumar called him, is a very smart, canny politician who hides behind an affable exterior, an image he has created of himself – take him lightly or at his word at your own peril.

Also read: Not Modi, but Mamata and Kejriwal is the David-vs-David fight to watch before 2024

Why is Kejriwal in the news?

Although it’s been a while since the Delhi CM targeted the prime minister directly, he’s now done it thrice in one week, that too soon after the Centre’s sudden decision to merge Delhi’s three municipal corporations forced a postponement of elections to these civic bodies. In the Times Now and Aaj Tak interviews, you can see he is still smarting from that.

When he wants to, Kejriwal can pack quite a punch for someone who assiduously projects himself as a cross between the income tax officer he once was and R.K. Laxman’s common man: dressed in baggy trousers, bush shirts that are at least two sizes too large, with a trim moustache, black spectacles, well-oiled hair and toothy grin, he resembles a typical ‘babu’ behind a sarkari desk about to open up his steel tiffin and relish his wife’s home-cooked food.

But after watching his recent performances, you won’t be taken in by this: he is a smiling assassin – with an unapologetic cough. In his assembly speech, he mocked the PM and the BJP – he had the audacity to laugh at them (but who will have the last laugh remains to be decided) for being ‘poster’ boys of filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, now and perhaps to be forever known as the director of The Kashmir Files. He even made a sly reference to Adolf Hitler while upbraiding BJP MLAs.

It was quite a brave and bravura performance.

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

It’s all about Kejriwal the ‘aam aadmi’

In his subsequent TV interviews, Kejriwal was a little more sober but equally combative and you saw how he positioned himself. While PM Modi is projected as a strong leader with a paternalistic hand on our heads, Kejriwal is playing at being one of us. His favorite two words, which he used frequently during his interviews, are ‘aam aadmi’— aam aadmi is supreme in a democracy, aam aadmi will decide who will be prime minister in 2024, only aam aadmi can bring change (Aaj Tak)aam aadmi this and aam aadmi that…Since that is the name of his party, he is continually promoting himself and AAP too – advertising agencies would appreciate the branding.

Intriguingly, Kejriwal talks less about the party, AAP – although he stresses the work it has done in Delhi or already begun in Punjab – and more about himself and the aam aadmi.

When it’s not aam aadmi, it’s ‘log’ and ‘janta’ – the people. “What the people decide… what the people say alone matters, Kejriwal doesn’t matter, Modi doesn’t matter, only ‘janta’ matters,” he told Times Now in his replies to questions about the BJP’s, his own or India’s future.

The ‘country’ also features frequently in his answers: ‘desh’ is paramount, ‘we work for the country’ (Times Now), ‘our aim is to make the country prosper’, ‘desh ka aam aadmi wants jobs…’ (Aaj Tak). Do note, Kejriwal doesn’t talk about caste or communal identity, or religion – these do not feature in his political vocabulary, only the people and the country do.

Also read: The Ambedkar musical is not just about Babasaheb, it’s a nod to Kejriwal’s politics too

No political ambition, so to speak

The final major ingredient of the Kejriwal political formula that he sets out in interviews, is to disavow any ambition in politics, to stress he is here only to work for the people. When asked about his controversial remarks on The Kashmir Files in his assembly speech, he said the BJP had done nothing for the Kashmiri Pandits in eight years and then added he wasn’t interested in politics – let all political parties join hands and rehabilitate them.

On Times Now, he told Navika Kumar, he was ‘a chhota aadmi..’ he had no interest in power, he was just a ‘mamuli’ man and when and if he was given the chance to serve the country he did, if not then so be it. Kumar, adroitly and wryly commented, “Very modest of you…”

Asked about a united opposition against Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, he said, defeating the BJP was not his ‘agenda’ – he wanted only to unite the people, that was his ‘coalition’ – and the people are not interested in Kejriwal or Mamata (Banerjee) fighting elections…. He also said that he had no ‘dushmani’ against anyone—not Modi, Rahul (Gandhi) or Sonia (Gandhi).

He, then, disingenuously revealed that very soon he will visit Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh where assembly elections are scheduled for this winter. This, of course, contradicts his proclaimed indifference to politics and power but then, that’s Arvind Kejriwal for you – you don’t always get what you see or hear.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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