When a ‘Gabbar Singh’ in Kharagpur came to head AAP (Book Review)

Title: Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party: An Inside Look; Author: Pran Kurup; Publisher: Bloomsbury; Pages: 133; Price: Rs.399

Two things stand out in the book. One, author Pran Kurup does not hide his adoration for Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi Chief Minister and head of India’s youngest political outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Kurup also admits that he is no bystander but an active participant in the AAP growth story.

Two, on account of his own friendship with Kejriwal, the book helps us to know more about a political rookie who has stirred Indian politics like few have done in recent times.

Kurup and Kejriwal were batch-mates at IIT Kharagpur and shared the same hostel during the four-year course. For one who would take Indian politics by storm years later, “Kejri”, as he was known among friends, was “a simple, unassuming teetotaler” who stayed away from student politics. He did win one election — as the hostel’s Mess Secretary. But Kejriwal – the author refers to him throughout by his first name – was, however, part of the Technology Drama Society and acted in several plays. And when he was ragged on admission, Kejriwal enacted the role of Sholay’s Gabbar Singh. Post Kharagpur, Kurup and Kejriwal parted ways; when they re-connected a decade later, Kejriwal was an activist. Kurup began to assist him.

If AAP clicked, Kurup says, it was because of Kejriwal’s leadership – “the quintessential entrepreneur – no money, no backing, plenty of ideas, dreams, vision and an incredible ability to articulate, communicate and connect”. The dedication of AAP volunteers was another factor. “Never before in the history of Indian politics have IT professionals been inspired to act politically.” As a former President of the Silicon Valley India Professionals Association, Kurup coordinated many of the efforts of the AAP NRI community. The Indian diaspora was extremely critical to AAP’s IT activities but the party leadership “was probably not even fully aware of the extent of the support and efforts of dedicated NRIs”.

Although Kurup is sympathetic to Kejriwal, he admits that many who supported AAP and swore by Arvind felt deeply betrayed and viewed his sudden resignation after 49 days in power in Delhi as a squandered opportunity. It also reinforced Kejriwal’s “activist identity”. Worse was to come in the Lok Sabha battle of 2014 in which AAP was virtually washed out, leaving many within devastated. Kurup reiterates what is generally known by now that it was never Kejriwal’s idea to contest the Lok Sabha polls the way AAP did; nevertheless, had it not attempted it, the party would have never realized the groundswell of support for it in Punjab.

But the Lok Sabha disaster was more than made up when Kejriwal led AAP to a historic win in Delhi in February 2015.

The AAP, Kurup says, maintains an open door policy that allows anyone to join and to leave at any time of one choice. This may not be the most ideal situation for a political party. The author also admits that Kejriwal’s picks have not always turned out to be right, with “some opportunists with dubious credentials” getting on board the AAP. And he blames both Kejriwal and advocate Prashant Bhushan for not sitting together and resolving their differences, leading to Bhushan’s and Yogendra Yadav’s ugly departure from AAP.

He says, “Arvind and AAP could draw a leaf out of Modi’s playbook and learn from the manner in which he phased out the veterans in his party with utmost panache and minimum damage.” In contrast, he adds, “the internal strife within the AAP did immeasurable damage to the morale and psyche of its vast volunteer force”.

Kurup is among those who find it mysterious that a long-time atheist like Kejriwal invoked God at his inaugural speech after becoming the chief minister. Yes, he does regular meditation and ‘vipasana’ but God? And why does Kejriwal speak always in Hindi? “He has confessed that when he speaks in Hindi, the intent and the emotion are conveyed accurately.” The book reveals that PR agencies wanted to give Kejriwal an image makeover after he took power but were gently shown the door.

Kurup’s book is a must read for all those wanting to understand the AAP phenomenon – it does not matter whether you like Kejriwal or not.

(18.05.2016 – M R Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)



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