The author, Pran Kurup, claims to be an insider as he was with Arvind Kejriwal at IIT Kharagpur and the two reconnected a decade later at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2000. The conversation at Berkeley focused on the need to change India. By then Kejriwal had joined and resigned from the Indian Revenue Service, worked at Telco, spent time with Mother Teresa and started his NGO, Parivartan. The birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) following the collapse of Anna Hazare-led campaign against corruption is still vivid in our memory, but it is useful that Kurup has given us a consolidated account of the birth and phenomenal rise of AAP whose leader Kejriwal decisively defeated Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years, in the 2013 Delhi election.
What will interest the reader is the account of the split in the party, leading to the expulsion of co-founders, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. The author gives a more balanced account than given by the main stream media, partly controlled by the corporate sector, which resents the rise of AAP. It was not the case that Kejriwal with his Stalinist tendency wanted to get rid of rivals; it was rather a power struggle where the two wanted to remove him from the top position, despite his astounding score of 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly. Kejriwal, however, could have and should have tried to keep them, by personally engaging with them.
There are 33 brief chapters written in a readable style. The titles often sum up the text. For example, chapter 24 is ‘Coterie is no Bad Word’. Another chapter compares Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Modi has carefully and industriously cultivated his image and appearance, Kejriwal has refused ‘any makeover’. Chapter 30: ‘Open Source Politics’ brings out the similarities between the open source movement in technology and AAP.
The last chapter lists the myths, which are blown away by the AAP:
Elections can’t be fought with clean money; big names are needed; you need huge funds; you need decades to build a party; it is impossible to dislodge the current parties; and voters won’t forgive you for your mistakes.
The writer wants to see Kejriwal become the Prime Minister of India, but that will require ‘some serious planning and execution’ that the AAP leader is not capable of. However, Kurup does not rule out the possibility as it could happen as ‘culmination of a natural progression of events’.
There is a list of AAP movers and shakers with brief descriptions. An index would have added value to the book.
All told, the book will be of interest to all those who want to understand the contemporary Indian political scene.