‘Do-or-die situation’

Print edition : January 24, 2014

Arvind Kejriwal. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Interview with Arvind Kejriwal.

Arvind Kejriwal has been like a man possessed over the last one year. The transformation of the anti-corruption crusader into a Chief Minister has not been easy. There were times when he was clueless about the next course of action and there were also times when he was confused, nervous or plain dejected. He even put his life at risk by fasting, not once but twice, ignoring his doctor’s advice. But there was never a moment when he regretted anything and never once did the idea of quitting cross his mind. He did not know whether he would succeed or fail, but he knew he had to continue on the path he had chosen for himself, unmindful of stepping on too many toes. The only thing he was scared of was becoming like the typical politician he was fighting against. He was also clear that he should not get bogged down in the “political culture” of the times and make the same mistakes against which he was raising his voice. “I am aware that the typical political culture, which thrives on creating barriers between the ruler and the ruled, will have to be avoided. Otherwise we are doomed. We will have to have a mechanism to be in touch with the aam aadmi at all times,” he told Frontline shortly after he announced the formation of a political party. Later, while announcing the name of his party, he declared, “We are not here to do politics. We are here to change the way politics is done in this country.”

His responses to Frontline over the past few months, mostly after the landmark events in his stormy journey from activism to politics, are extracted below.

In India, politics has always revolved around identities: caste, cultural, religious, linguistic, ideological and so on. How will you transcend these identities and make your politics unidimensional, focussed only on the issue of corruption? Can corruption only become an election issue?

I am totally convinced that corruption is one issue which transcends barriers of caste, religion, class or creed. It is the most secular concept of all because it hurts all alike. Focussing around this issue, we will shape our politics in such a way that it will break all barriers. And I know we will succeed because people want change, they want to change the systems, the institutions of governance.

But once you enter the political system, are you not afraid that you will become a part of the same political culture that you are fighting against?

We will have to find a way to avoid becoming part of the same political culture that we are fighting against. I know if that happens, we are doomed. But we will have to have a mechanism for keeping in touch with the aam aadmi at all times so that we are not removed from the ground realities of life.

But is it not a huge challenge to go pan India in such a short span of time? Are you not afraid you could fail?

I look at it as both a challenge and an opportunity. Today, people across India have turned against both the Congress and the BJP and are looking for an alternative, and this is our window of opportunity. No doubt it is a huge task, but I think it is surmountable because people have started believing us to be the only credible political alternative to the Congress and the BJP. Now the challenge for us is to draw people out across India. Traditional ways of campaigning will not help. We will have to create a political storm. This is a fight between paisa aur junoon [money and passion]. Junoon bahut hai [There is no dearth of passion]. And I am convinced that passion always wins when pitted against money power. Our movement has given rise to a great hope among people that something good is about to happen, people have started dreaming of a change in the system. Also, people have realised that if they lag this time they may not have another opportunity to change things for the next 40 years. There is no option anymore and that is drawing people to us.

What about the fear of failure? Is there any nervousness?

The sense of responsibility makes me nervous now. The realisation that too much hope is riding on me also makes me nervous and makes me afraid of making mistakes. I know if I make mistakes, history will never forgive us. When I talk of being nervous, it is not about winning or losing elections because election results are not in our hands. The worst case scenario would be that we lose and lose badly. So what? If we lose today, we will win next time.

The real nervousness is about the realisation that this is a very critical time for the country and I cannot afford to make mistakes. For me it is a do-or-die situation. My real job has just begun. And I believe in what Lord Krishna told Arjun, that one should not worry about success or failure but concentrate on doing one’s job well. If the intention is right, good results will inevitably follow.

It is an unprecedented event that a political party has literally sprung up from street protests, without any “ism”, caste, creed, religion or otherwise. What gives you the hope that you will survive the collective anger of all political parties and last long enough to achieve your agenda?

I am aware that the status quoist parties will try and derail us because we have challenged the basic premise of their existence. But we are a party which is here to change the politics of all other parties. Very soon you will see how the other parties will be forced to follow our agenda. We are aware of the time constraints also and will have a time frame to fulfil as much of our agenda as possible. We will have to fulfil the main promises within 10-15 days of coming to power, and these will include the right to recall, the right to reject, a strong Lokpal and swaraj in the real sense of the term. If after achieving this much, we fall, so be it.

How has Arvind Kejriwal the person changed in the last one year after attaining celebrity status?

Earlier I did not believe in God, now I do. The way things have unfolded so far, it is nothing short of a miracle. There was a time when our movement was almost finished, but look at the way we survived. I don’t get affected by things like celebrity status, but yes, it is an embarrassment when I go out and get mobbed.

What keeps Arvind Kejriwal so cool at all times?

I do yoga and meditation every morning. I also do vipassana. And I follow a very normal routine at home like any aam aadmi. There is nothing extraordinary about my life.

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