New Delhi: Meet a new Arvind Kejriwal on the campaign trail in Delhi. He is no longer an angry young man; he smiles and laughs, cracks jokes in speeches, and improvises when the situation demands it.
This Kejriwal is quite different from what Delhiites were once used to — an angry, anti-establishment, unhappy and ever-complaining chief minister who saw a Modi government conspiracy in everything.
The Delhi chief minister, who has been on an overdrive to ensure an image makeover since the Lok Sabha elections, is now projecting an evolved self to voters — that of an effective administrator as opposed to the aggressive activist.
With assembly elections due in the national capital in another month, Kejriwal is resorting to a time-tested political tactic and one recommended by election strategist Prashant Kishore — a positive narrative.
Having kicked off his election campaign on 20 December, the chief minister has held meetings in various halls across Delhi, singularly focusing on his Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) achievements in the national capital.
And that positivity hasn’t been confined to the politicking alone.
A common thread in the meetings is that the new Kejriwal engages with the crowd far more and gives off the impression of an approachable and a polite neta.
Take his first town-hall meeting at the Constitution Club in Delhi on 26 December, for example. As the event was drawing to a close, the sound system failed to play the national anthem. The AAP national convener took the mic from Preeti Menon, the AAP’s Maharashtra wing head who was anchoring the event, to sing the national anthem as the crowd followed suit.
Similarly, he was seen giving a hand to an elderly woman during another town hall event while helping her get off the stage after she complimented his government’s efforts.
A positive campaign
A party insider told ThePrint that the town hall meetings also reiterate the subtle attempt at rebuilding Kejriwal’s image as a communicator instead of a leader who speaks only in monologues without listening.
As such, in an attempt to show that the town hall meetings are conversational, voters are allowed to pose questions to the chief minister that he answers himself. The only hitch — the questions come out of a bowl kept near the CM and it is perhaps a “coincidence” that each of them revolves around the promises fulfilled by the AAP government.
Throughout, however, the chief minister has stuck to his achievements.
“Has a chief minister of any state in the country ever come up in public with the report card of his government’s works and seek votes in the last 70 years?” Kejriwal asked at one of his town hall events. “In the last five years, we undertook many development works and implemented welfare schemes for the people of Delhi, instead of simply preaching what is to be done.”
And there appears to be a concerted effort to keep the BJP out of the narrative.
At a town hall meeting in Durgapuri Chowk on 30 December, held amid protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Kejriwal chose to remain silent.
“These are meetings about the AAP’s report card and the public’s feedback,” said a senior AAP leader requesting anonymity, adding that the whole idea was not to shift the focus onto the BJP.
And even when he is forced to confront the BJP, the chief minister has shied away from the caustic charges he levels at the party.
Reacting to the Delhi BJP chargesheet, which accused the AAP government of not fulfilling its promises, the chief minister on 28 December was rather accommodative. He said he would go through the ‘aarop patra (charge sheet)’ released by the BJP and implement the “good suggestions” in it over the next five years.
Change in virtual world as well
If that wasn’t enough, the Delhi chief minister has undergone a transformation on social media as well. His Twitter feed, for instance, is representative of the change.
Gone are the digs at the prime minister, with Kejriwal, instead, promoting his achievements and his initiatives. His Twitter feed is replete with pictures of the chief minister getting rid off stagnant water not only in his house but also in his office to indicate that the #10hafte10bajjecampaign, to eliminate dengue, is no tokenism.
He has also been engaging with more of his followers.
All of this image building has been gradual even though it has been more distinct in the past six months.
“The perception of Kejriwal has come along way,” political commentator Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) told ThePrint.
“As for the upper and middle classes, their hostility towards Kejriwal has mellowed in the last year-and-a-half. He was always a hero of the poor and in that sense, continues to be.”
Kumar further explained the chief minister’s evolution. “In the beginning, Kejriwal was viewed as a fighter, in the positive sense — a fighter for the poor, for their causes, for the state,” he said. “Then in the first three years of his tenure, he was viewed as a fighter in the negative sense — someone who just fought because he had to, someone who fought to live up to the image and for the sake of it.”
Kumar added that the Kejriwal of today is a leader who people think can deliver, is accessible to the masses and can be trusted.