Some of the iconic global magazines now have an annual ritual, when they become a virtual ramp, for the ‘World’s Most Influential’, ‘Most Powerful’ or the ‘Greatest’ people to strut on. Often, the line-up reflects a general consensus even if they disagree somewhat on the pecking order. This year, Fortune seemed keen to look less predictable even if it raised a few eyebrows. It chose Arvind Kejriwal but omitted Narendra Modi while compiling the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”.
Fortune may have its reasons but Kejriwal gets a much-needed leg up in the process. After all, what is it about him that Fortune found so compelling? His one year in office isn’t a fraction as earth shattering as his 67/70 victory was a year ago. It has been a tough year for him on numerous fronts. His relationship with the Centre hasn’t been too helpful either. Delhi itself lurches from one crisis to another, from the piling-up garbage to dengue epidemic to drying water taps and a chaotic crime-scene; not to talk of the public spats with the police chief, civic bodies, bureaucrats and the LG.
If you look at his evolution from one stage to another, it has truly been Darwanian. He quit a fairly prestigious vocation of an engineer at Tata Steel because they wouldn’t relocate him to work with their CSR initiatives, to work among the poor and deprived. That quest took him to make an attempt at Civil Services. Firsthand experience of rampant corruption in bureaucracy led him to start an NGO and help people fight it. The opacity of the system that bred corruption led to the fight for the game-changer Right to Information. Entrenched powerful interests made him embarked on Swaraj, a fight for participative democracy. This fight was floundering. But when, five years ago, an avalanche of corruption scandals caused an unprecedented public outrage, he sensed an opportunity. The revulsion against the traditional politician is what Kejriwal tapped into by inviting Anna Hazare, a maverick loner who had won a few dogged fights in Maharashtra against some very ‘practical and powerful’ politicians. Even as the elite sneered at Anna’s simplistic ideas, such was the mistrust of the ‘clever and experienced’ that Anna’s earthy and rustic manner itself became the reason for instant trust. He became the mascot and Team Kejriwal a powerful engine that drove the movement. Rest is, as the cliché doesn’t go, politics.
What Kejriwal is doing since, is traversing the political landscape to get ahead. He knows that nothing can deliver as political power can. Meanwhile, the interests of the adversaries have again converged as effortlessly as they came together to question his locus when he challenged them from Jantar Mantar.
He does not suit the Congress because he has usurped their base among the suburban, poor and illiterate. The Muslims and other minorities too—Congress’ traditional bastion—have swung his way because he is the only credible challenge left against the BJP in Delhi. He does not suit the BJP because the white-collar middle class too has plumped for this qualified technocrat and his un-politician-like approach to issues. His probity-card is still unimpeachable and a big unifier of both these universes. But what stands out in sterling contrast is his courage. He does not look for safe constituencies. He is not overawed by the stature of his adversary. He packs oodles of spunk in that diminutive frame. It is this sheer abundance of spirit that makes him powerful and makes his adversaries loathe his presence.
Pandit is a political commentator