Has Arvind Kejriwal pulled off the biggest coup in recent history or has he been carefully trapped into exposing his shortcomings? The former chief minister of Delhi now evidently fancies himself as prime minister of India — and why not? Everyone else has thrown his or her hat into the ring. Out here in Tamil Nadu where I am writing this, you cannot see the trees or the people for the giant posters, hoardings, buntings, banners, billboards featuring J Jayalalithaa. She is not quite the chief minister of this state so much as monarch of the region. A visit to a village home saw the owners bringing out a procession of fans, blenders, grinders, laptops, all with Amma’s beauteous face on them.
Ego wars: Kejriwal’s sense of self is extraordinary and despite his muffler, cough and Wagon R, he can match Jayalalithaa, Modi and even Mayawati when it comes to ego
A taxi driver in Coimbatore — the repository of all wisdom for visiting journalists — felt that Amma might make a better chief minister than prime minister but perhaps he was already feeling the pangs of possible separation anxiety.
Imagine free laptops all around?
Can Kejriwal top that? Well, perhaps. He will deliver free electricity and free water. And maybe send the bill to Reliance or failing that, at least to Mukesh Ambani.
Then there’s Mamata Banerjee. She could promise change — like change in your pockets with whatever’s leftover after paying for all that free electricity, water, the laptops, blenders, grinders and whatever else. The Mamata Banerjee idea of ‘poriborton’ is a notional, philosophical thing which only a Bengali or someone attuned to that thought process might fully understand. The way Bengal thought that the Left was really bringing social progress and development for the last decade of its 300 odd years in power. It can be seductive and running costs are rather low. Long before Kejriwal decided life revolved around his small blue Wagon R car, Mamata Banerjee was running around Bengal in her rubber chappals.
Then of course there’s the greatest of them all, Narendra Modi. He offers, well, himself. What more, after all, can anyone else want? He sees a glass that is half-empty as half-full, a novel notion absolutely no one else had ever thought of before. He has switched Shyama Prasad Mukherjee with Shyamaji Krishna Varma. He has stuck Chandragupta Maurya into the Gupta dynasty. And he has also decided that he knew better than China how much China spends on education. And perhaps he does. He is Narendra Modi, after all.
But to get back to the beginning, I get the feeling that Kejriwal might beat them all. He is without doubt one of the canniest political thinkers we have met in recent times. His sense of self is extraordinary and despite his muffler, cough and Wagon R, he can match Jayalalithaa, Modi and even Mayawati when it comes to ego. There’s a possibility that he has been out-manoeuvred as far as the Delhi state government is concerned, but he seems to know better how to tap the latent anger in India than the major parties.
Unfortunately, it is symbols that we are left with. Kejriwal’s symbols are the most deviously clever and perfectly ‘aam aadmi’. Modi just relies on himself. Jayalalithaa is the generous provider — you see a fan swirling around with her face on it long enough and you must get hypnotised. But a muffler, a cough and a Wagon R — now anyone can relate to that. You don’t need a foreign PR agency to conjure those up for you.
Some might feel that Kejriwal’s little sortie into governance will work against him — since there was more drama than action in the last couple of months. But he will definitely keep blaming everyone else for his woes and who can blame him? The other parties have all had their shots at power and we know how well they’ve done for themselves.
The other parties are scampering around trying to organise themselves for the fallout of the next general election.
The sure winners and sure losses are in jeopardy. And for all you know, we’re all staring a gigantic broom in the face. What do you think?
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona