This appeared in Sunday Times today....
Arvind Kejriwal : India gets a Santa Claus…
India has been waiting for a Santa Claus for ages. Maybe, we just got lucky! Santa rode into town this year and did so in a unique fashion. No fancy sled. No reindeer. No jingle bells. He was carrying just a jhaadu and a jhola full of unexpected goodies. People cheered. Critics jeered. But despite the odds, our desi Santa managed to touch countless hearts. The just concluded X’Mas and New Year celebrations were marked by the one emotion that has been missing in our lives for decades – hope. Rightly or wrongly, a single individual became the focal point of this collective hope - Santa Arvind .His timing was impeccable. Things were getting pretty desperate. There was mayhem all around. Doom and gloom defined the national mood. Out of that chaos, emerged a non-descript person, who is being hailed as the biggest game changer in the country.
Listening to his seminal speech in the Lok Sabha, a few things became startlingly obvious . The simplicity of what he was saying, made the others look really foolish . His approach was direct and non-confrontational. It was devoid of theatrics or unnecessary drama. The content was easy to access… process… decode and absorb. He spoke in a language understood by the large majority of India. Minus any flourishes, and stripped to basics, the clarity of his speech may well go down as the single most direct form of mass communication in the public arena. He spoke more like a concerned citizen and less like a seasoned politician. Given that he must have been perfectly aware of the historical significance of this address, he chose his words carefully and well. The thing is, Kejriwal played a credible Santa. He didn’t shortchange his constituency by making absurd claims or demands. And he didn’t alienate his opponents by hurling charges and accusations at them. The contrast between him and ‘them’ was instantly recognized and applauded by India.
Kejriwal has understood the psychology of our people far better than any of his rivals. He has read us well. He knows our pulse. And he effortlessly presses all the right buttons. Most importantly, he gives the impression he isn’t faking it. Citizens are exhausted. Citizens are cynical. And citizens are impatient. They can see through political nataks. It’s not pompous orators with the gift of the gab, they seek. Neither is it pampered Baba Log speaking in posh accents and suffering from a case of serious ADS ( Attention Deficit Syndrome). It is someone more like themselves they want. Someone who doesn’t talk down. A straight forward fellow . A no-nonsense chap. But here’s the catch. So far, Kejriwal has acquitted himself convincingly as just another aam aadmi looking for change in a hopelessly corrupt system. His Paani-Bijli narrative has worked well, even if one can pick several holes in its populist pitch. His moving into a comparatively modest, but still frightfully extravagant 6,000 square feet duplex, may not sit all that well with the jhuggi-jhopdi- jhola wallas he courts. Some of his earlier gestures also smack of mass manipulation. None of this matters in the long run, if – and it’s a pretty big ‘if’ – Kejriwal relentlessly pursues and punishes the corrupt. Our vote was cast for that single promise.And we shall hold him to it.
It’s fascinating to see Dilliwallas scrambling to adapt to the new order. Long term netas, who have remained deeply entrenched in the old style of functioning (complete with the standard sho-sha of office), have realized the party is finally over. It has always been Delhi that set the standards for netagiri for the rest of India. Almost overnight, Kejriwal has rewritten the rules. Those khadi-couture clad leaders with perfectly co-ordinated sleeveless Nehru jackets, look almost comical as they strut around, noses in the air, black cats surrounding them, supreme self importance exuding from every gesture and utterance! How idiotic they look! How dated. How pathetic. Each one of them, a ludicrous symbol of all that we despise and have despised for decades. Suddenly, they seem over. They are past tense. And one hopes, with them goes the baggage of misdemeanors and crimes that have blighted our lives for too long.
Can our Santa keep up with increasing demands? Will his sack run out of goodies? Is it euphoria that is driving our enthusiasm? Does this well meaning Santa stand a chance in hell as a national leader? Will ‘they’ allow him to take his sled across India? Worse, will he eventually sell out and become one of them? These are our worst nightmares. But then again, we live in hope! There are those who are dreaming of Santa becoming India’s P.M. A word of caution here : Much as I hate to rain on Kejriwal’s party, it’s worth reminding him and his admirers that a wise leader takes things one step at a time. The first baby step has been taken in Delhi. The jhaadu has done its job where it was needed the most – in the Capital of India. The rest of the country will follow. Eventually. As they say in China : Slowlee, slowlee, catchee monkee!