SHORTLY AFTER ANNA HAZARE broke his fast-unto-death on 9 April, a group of young people encircled a small man with a black moustache at Jantar Mantar and began shouting the famous pre-independence slogan: Inquilab Zindabad! (Long Live Revolution!). He continued walking toward a group of cars when a young man wearing a red bandanna pushed through the crowd, blocking his way and screaming out, “Sir, don’t call off the fast. Repeat the revolution.” The man returned the smile, and slid into the car.
This man was Arvind Kejriwal, a 43-year-old social activist from East Delhi. Though Hazare is the recognised face of an anti-corruption campaign that began with his fast on 5 April, Kejriwal is the architect of the movement—the man journalists swarm to, seeking an interview. At press briefings, he often sits next to Hazare and helps the self-styled Gandhian handle tough questions: Kejriwal whispers into Hazare’s ear or scribbles key points on a piece of paper lying between them. When questions are posed to Kejriwal, he responds like an impassioned professor explaining a complicated problem—piling detail upon detail with the supreme confidence that his answer is the correct one. His essential message never changes: only a powerful independent anti-corruption agency, with wide-ranging authority and minimal government interference, can cure the plague of graft—and anything less will fail.
The ideas that would eventually lead to the Jan Lokpal Bill—and plans for a mass mobilisation to support it—had been on Kejriwal’s mind at least since September 2010, when public frustration with the inept preparations for the Commonwealth Games erupted into fury over evidence of widespread corruption. India’s middle classes, who already saw the event as a tremendous waste of money, were further enraged when the Games delivered nothing but international embarrassment and a multi-million rupee scam. Kejriwal, however, saw an opportunity to mobilise public opinion against corruption, and began to plot the course that would lead “Team Anna” into a high-profile showdown with the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition. He spent his days consulting with experts and prospective allies, from lawyers to bankers to former bureaucrats and religious leaders, as well as his colleagues in the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). He devoted his nights to drafting and revising a bill to create a new Lokpal: an independent body vested with the extraordinary powers—to investigate, prosecute and sometimes even judge—that Kejriwal thought necessary to prevent any politician or bureaucrat from obstructing the agency’s work.
Though Kejriwal is attentive to the cultural causes of corruption—he told me that “greed and the downfall of moral values” played a role—he believes a failing enforcement system is ultimately to blame. “If you talk of corruption in administration,” he explained, “the issue is a lack of adequate deterrence. There is zero risk in corruption here—it’s a high-profit business.” In short, while bad people may commit fraud, good systems can stop them. It’s a point Kejriwal—who owns a car but takes the Delhi Metro almost every day—likes to illustrate with a transit parable he’s often used at press conferences. “If you travel by Indian Railways, you’ll see chaos, confusion and corruption everywhere,” he told me. “But if you travel by Delhi Metro, you’ll see everything in order. It is not because good people travel by Metro, it is because Metro has a right system in place.” And the Lokpal, Kejriwal continued, “is that right system, which will set this country in the right direction.”
Last autumn, many of Kejriwal’s metro journeys took him to Noida, where he spent hours discussing the finer legal points of the Lokpal Bill with Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanti Bhushan, a former Union law minister who was the first to propose the idea of a Lokpal in a bill submitted to Parliament in 1968. Kejriwal usually left these meetings with a copy of the draft bill covered in red ink and marked up with notes and questions; he would dutifully revise the document and email it back to the Bhushans, often that same night. “Basically he was doing all the work,” Prashant Bhushan told me, “I was being only consulted, so it was an easy task, and he gets it quickly.”
By the end of October, Kejriwal had begun to circulate a draft of his bill among “like-minded people”—and to work with those who responded positively, including Kiran Bedi, the Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning police officer-turned-activist, and the former Supreme Court justice Santosh Hegde. “I was just trying to find people who were known for fighting corruption,” Kejriwal told me.
One such person was Anna Hazare. By December, when the group now calling itself India Against Corruption (IAC) sent a draft of its Lokpal Bill to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded a “total overhaul of the anti-corruption delivery system”, Hazare was among the signatories. After several months passed without any response from the government, Kejriwal and Bedi flew to Maharashtra in February to meet Hazare. “Anna Hazare was convinced that this was a good solution to corruption,” Kejriwal told me. “He had a successful history of fighting corruption, one case after another.”
During the visit, Kejriwal recalled, “Anna called a meeting of his workers from all across Maharashtra, and he asked everyone, ‘Should I sit on fast?’ They all agreed.” In a tiny room at the Sant Yadavbaba temple in Hazare’s village, Ralegan Siddhi, he and Kejriwal sat and planned the fast-unto-death Hazare would stage in April at Jantar Mantar; they deliberately selected a date that would fall between the end of the Cricket World Cup and the start of the Indian Premier League.
“He even discussed the days of the week,” one member of Kejriwal’s team told me. “His calculation was that the fast must continue through Saturday, because he knew the working class could join them only on weekends—and that is exactly what happened.” The team member added that, before returning to Delhi, Kejriwal told Anna: “Instead of the Gandhi of Maharashtra, we’ll make you the Gandhi of India.”
Kejriwal works out of an apartment-sized office in East Delhi, a 10-minute walk from the Kaushambi metro station in Ghaziabad. His staff consists of a few paid employees and a rotating cast of volunteers, who are usually wearing India Against Corruption T-shirts and working purposefully at about half a dozen outdated computers. It feels a bit like an old government office, with basic furniture, dim lighting, tall stacks of pamphlets and newspapers and framed pictures of Anna Hazare and Mahatma Gandhi decorating the walls; retired bureaucrats and journalists drop by during the day to share their suggestions with Kejriwal or his closest associate, Manish Sisodia.
Each morning, Kejriwal walks through the office, assigning the staff and volunteers tasks for the day; in the run-up to Hazare’s fast on 5 April, he read aloud to them the Hindi slogans he’d devised for banners and posters, seeking feedback and suggestions. Kejriwal explained that “each and every line of our communication material is discussed, because the final material has to be very sharp”—he has an acute sense for what it takes to persuade and mobilise the public. Before the April fast, Kejriwal and his staff went so far as to test their message by printing an assortment of prospective pamphlets in small batches. They distributed each version of the pamphlet at a different bus station in Ghaziabad so they could study the public response.
Kejriwal can be a demanding manager, but he’s respected rather than feared. “I’ve never seen him lose his temper,” said Sneha Kothawade, who joined Kejriwal’s team in December. If someone makes a mistake, she added, “his only scolding will be, ‘I’ll do it myself.’” When Kejriwal is upset or unhappy, he retreats into his own office and closes the door to signal he doesn’t want to be disturbed. But if he senses morale is low, he’ll come out and order patties or ice cream for the entire staff. If he’s in the middle of a conversation at the office—even some light banter with a chaiwallah—he won’t break it off to answer a phone call. When he talks strategy with his staff, he refers often to Gandhi’s mobilisation tactics and the need for self-restraint.
But when he’s in front of a camera, Kejriwal has a hard time restraining his own flair for provocation. Though he’s quick to walk back his most inflammatory statements, he clearly loves to stir the pot by attacking the government and insulting the entire political establishment. “If the Lokpal bill was passed,” he said at one press conference, “half of the MPs would go to jail.” And at another: “All the politicians are thieves—throw them to the vultures.” Prodded by his colleagues, Kejriwal has tried to soften his blows: he recalled that at one event, after declaring that “all judges are corrupt”, he rushed to correct himself when Prashant Bhushan forcefully whispered “Not all of them!” into his ear.
When I asked Kejriwal if these outbursts were deliberate, he gave a regretful look and confessed that his anger sometimes got the better of him—though he insisted that the media had often blown his remarks out of proportion. “On TV, these things are taken to extremes,” he said. “What I mean is that there is a general perception of corruption, so I say these things.” To Lokpal sceptics, Kejriwal’s dismissive jabs at elected officials suggest a movement with no respect for democracy and no desire to compromise—but Kejriwal’s confrontational approach clearly resonates with the movement’s fervent supporters, who admiringly call him an “anti-corruption crusader”.
Manish Sisodia, a former television journalist who has been Kejriwal’s top lieutenant for more than a decade, described him as “courageous and clear-headed”, and so obsessed with his work that he only sleeps four hours a night. “Without that kind of madness,” Sisodia continued, “how else would it be possible to build a massive campaign like this from zero?”
Even Kejriwal wasn’t prepared for the massive outpouring of public support for Hazare’s fast in April: he expected a few hundred people and had asked Sisodia to hire a tent according to his estimate.
The night before the fast began, Kejriwal and Hazare stayed at Kiran Bedi’s house in South Delhi. Bedi recalled that while Hazare retired early, Kejriwal hardly slept. “I heard him coughing all night,” Bedi told me. “It was so loud that I started to worry.” The next morning, after a small breakfast—a cup of milk and plain toast—the three set out for Jantar Mantar, where roughly 500 people gathered by the first afternoon. On the second day, however, the crowd began to swell to massive proportions, and the media turned its cameras on Hazare; one TV channel, Headlines Today, deployed five crews on rotation to provide 24-hour coverage.
From the dais, Hazare entertained the crowd with patriotic songs and irreverent jokes about politicians. Backstage, Kejriwal guided the campaign: feeding stories and tips to reporters, comparing his protest with Tahrir Square, drafting press releases and handling the increasingly tense phone calls from Congress party aides, who insisted he call off the agitation. Each time, he refused, and by the fourth day the Government of India bowed to his demand to convene a Lokpal drafting committee split evenly between Team Anna and Union cabinet ministers. Hazare called off the fast, and Kejriwal announced “a victory for the people of India”.
Whether the victory belonged to the people of India or merely to Team Anna, Kejriwal’s elation was short-lived. He kept up his hard line through nine rounds of talks in the drafting committee—insisting, among other things, that the prime minister and judiciary come under the Lokpal’s jurisdiction—and the negotiations ended in deadlock on 22 June. “Inside, the ministers would tell him, ‘In public you should say the meetings are going well,’” Prashant Bhushan told me. “But he wouldn’t listen to them. He would come out and brief the media about everything that was discussed inside.”
After the final drafting committee meeting, Kejriwal called a press conference along with Hazare and the Bhushans. He declared that the government was “killing the baby before the baby was born,” and Hazare threatened another fast in Delhi on 16 August if the government failed to bring a strong Lokpal bill before Parliament. The ministers had accepted fewer than a dozen items from Team Anna’s 71-point agenda, and now, Kejriwal continued, “they are not going to introduce Lokpal but Jokepal in the Parliament.”
Confrontation had put Team Anna, however briefly, on equal footing with the cabinet, but the negotiating table was a tougher playing field than public opinion. To keep his Lokpal draft alive, Kejriwal had to go back to the people—and steer his movement toward another collision with the government.
ONE SECRET OF KEJRIWAL’S success may be the stark contrast between his public and private demeanour. A firebrand before a crowd or a camera, he’s mild-mannered and introverted in person, a combination that inspires passion in audiences and confidence and respect from his close colleagues and allies. Short and compactly-built, with neatly-parted black hair and a trimmed moustache, he still looks a little boyish at 43. He has no personal story of extraordinary suffering at the hands of corruption. What led him to quit his job as a senior bureaucrat and become an activist wasn’t anger or bitterness; it was the loss of his own faith in government after a decade in its service.
Kejriwal was born in 1968 to a middle-class family in the Hisar district of Haryana. His father, Gobind Ram Kejriwal, is a retired electrical engineer. A quiet child, Kejriwal attended a Christian missionary school in Sonipat, where he displayed a natural aptitude for mathematics and scored high marks. He spent most of his childhood surrounded by books—so much so, his father told me, that when guests came to the family’s one-bedroom apartment, Arvind would avoid them and study in the bathroom.
After finishing school in 1985, Kejriwal decided he wanted to study at one of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). His father advised him to apply to other state engineering colleges as a backup, and enrolled him at Kurukshetra University. But Kejriwal refused to even consider it: he skipped the Kurukshetra entrance exam altogether.
“When I asked him why he did that, he said ‘I will go to IIT only,’” Gobind told me. “If he starts chasing something, just believe it that he’ll get it.”
Kejriwal qualified for admission to IIT Kharagpur and finished a degree in electrical engineering in 1989. After graduating, he was hired as an assistant engineer (design) at Tata Steel in Jamshedpur; he said he enjoyed the job and admired the honesty of his co-workers, but after three years he left Tata to return to Delhi and prepare for the Civil Services Examination.
“He actually wanted to join police,” Gobind Kejriwal said. “I don’t know why he wanted that. I’ve never intervened in his life, not even when he was a child.”
Kejriwal didn’t qualify for an Indian Administrative Service rank, but he scored enough to enter the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). At the training course in Mussoorie, he met his future wife, Sunita, and after passing out, they both joined the Income Tax (IT) Department in Delhi as assistant commissioners.
As Gobind describes it, his son settled uneasily into life as a bureaucrat. Unlike the other officers he worked with, Kejriwal refused to use peons; he cleaned his own desk and emptied his own dustbin. He avoided office parties and other social gatherings, preferring to sit at a nearby tea stall. (Later in our conversation, Gobind also explained that Kejriwal doesn’t celebrate his own birthday or those of his two children.)
“He was a calm officer,” said Javed Ahmed Khan, one of Kejriwal’s batchmates who serves as additional commissioner at the Delhi IT office. “He would spend most of his time in his room. Many officers didn’t like him for that.”
In time, Kejriwal came to dislike most of his colleagues in return, thanks to his discomfort with what he has described as a culture of corruption. He began to realise nothing got done in his office without bribes and kickbacks, and by 2000, his frustration had reached a boiling point. Kejriwal started exhorting unhappy citizens who had been poorly served by his corrupt co-workers to file petitions against them in court. That same year he secretly started Parivartan (meaning “change”), a nonprofit organisation devoted to government transparency—and put up posters in public areas of the office that read: “Are you facing a bribe problem? If you do, contact Parivartan.” The organisation helped people obtain their old-age pensions without paying bribes, and filed complaints against income tax officers who colluded with tax evaders.
At first, Kejriwal kept his role in Parivartan a secret—officially, Manish Sisodia headed the organisation. But the success of the nonprofit further sapped Kejriwal’s interest in his day job; at the beginning of 2001, he took a two-year study leave, with pay, from the IT department and devoted himself fulltime to Parivartan. After reading in the newspaper about the Right to Information (RTI) campaign being waged by the NCPRI, Kejriwal went to meet Shekhar Singh, one of the group’s founding members, and asked to volunteer.
“He said he wanted to work,” Singh told me. “He looked so impatient—he reminded me of my younger days, when there was nothing I wanted more than a benign dictatorship in this country.”
For two years, Kejriwal travelled to villages across north India to mobilise support for an RTI law. Drawing on his own experiences, he told people that government officials deliberately engineered delays to force the payment of bribes, and argued that a strong RTI law would expose corrupt practices.
In 2004, Kejriwal launched an experimental project in one East Delhi neighbourhood, Nand Nagri, to test ways to hold government officials accountable. Kejriwal formed a committee consisting of 10 local residents who were trained to scrutinise the activities of the member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from their constituency. The committee then demanded public consultations over everything from road paving to drainage repair.
Rakesh Senger, a child rights activist who worked with Kejriwal in Nand Nagri, said the goal of the project was to “give people some sense of power right from the mohalla level.” In the end, however, a rift formed among the committee members, dissolving the project, but its means and ends offer a neat summation of Kejriwal’s activism. “We wanted to create a situation,” Senger told me, “that would make government officers feel people are watching them.”
At the end of 2004, Kejriwal used Delhi’s newly-implemented RTI law to obtain 9,000 pages of documents concerning a proposal to privatise the city’s potable water agency, the Delhi Jal Board. The records revealed that the World Bank had manipulated the bidding for a contract to plan the privatisation. After Kejriwal discovered that the privatisation proposal involved massive tariff hikes as well as cuts to free water for poor families, he led protest demonstrations that helped stall the project indefinitely.
Kejriwal extended his two years of paid leave from the IT department by another two years, this time without pay, and by 2005, he had run out of ways to avoid returning to government service. It was time to decide whether to be a social activist or a commissioner rank officer. Unsurprisingly—and much to his family’s dismay—Kejriwal chose activism. According to Kejriwal’s parents, his wife worried that he’d resigned too young to be eligible for any pension or gratuity.
“It was not surprising,” Kejriwal’s mother, Geeta Devi, told me. “But we couldn’t say anything, because he had gone very far in social work.”
Kejriwal’s secured position in the Indian government hadn’t exactly kept him silent during his four-year leave, but his departure swept away what few inhibitions remained. In July 2006, Kejriwal organised a two-week RTI awareness event at an indoor stadium in Delhi; every day, he stood at a counter for up to 10 hours, fielding questions from students, young lawyers and activists, and encouraging every visitor to file RTI applications. On the final day of the event, as Sisodia recalls it, Kejriwal was resting on a staircase when his phone rang. After a short conversation, he stood up and walked over to Sisodia. “He squeezed my shoulder,” Sisodia said, “and whispered into my ear, ‘I’m getting an award.’” Kejriwal had been given the Ramon Magsaysay Award, widely described as Asia’s Nobel Prize, for Eminent Leadership—“activating India’s right-to-information movement at the grassroots” and “empowering New Delhi’s poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding government answerable to the people”.
“After a few minutes,” Sisodia continued, “he was back at his counter as if nothing had happened.”
But as far as Kejriwal was concerned, each year brought less cause for celebration, while his displeasure with the government grew steadily more intense. The campaign for a national RTI act had been a great success, but in practice it had fallen far short of his hopes. For the better part of a decade, he had pushed for greater transparency, confident that the exposure of government malfeasance would put a massive dent in corruption. Citizens had indeed used RTI to uncover scams across the country, but it was clear to Kejriwal, who scrutinised the data on RTI implementation and interviewed information commissioners and hundreds of activists, that politicians and bureaucrats had found new methods to hide information and stall requests. Even those whose guilt was exposed too often evaded punishment, while cases of harassment and outright violence against citizens filing RTI requests grew in number: by the end of 2010, at least 10 RTI activists had been murdered.
In Kejriwal’s mind, a new diagnosis began to take shape: stronger laws had no impact without stronger enforcement, and only a fool could expect the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to punish their own kind.
JUST AS KEJRIWAL’S INTEREST in the Lokpal Bill grew out of frustration with the implementation of RTI, his first efforts at crafting a bill took place under the aegis of the NCPRI. In early September 2010, Kejriwal was appointed to head a five-member drafting committee, but after the first few meetings, there was little support for his move to bring the judiciary under the purview of the Lokpal. The other members pointed to the existing Judiciary Standards and Accountability Bill tabled in Parliament, but Kejriwal refused to relent and the meetings soon came to a halt.
Venkatesh Nayak, a senior member of the NCPRI who sat on the drafting committee, suggested that Kejriwal had never considered deviating from his own predetermined vision for the Lokpal. “I think he’s a person in a major hurry and sometimes it could be problematic,” Nayak said. “We told him, let’s not mix up everything in one bill, and he would say ‘I will take it into consideration.’ But he never did, which means he had his own plans, and he knew exactly what he was doing.”
Undeterred, Kejriwal continued to refine his own draft, and went searching for new prospective allies. In October, before Kejriwal had teamed up with Anna Hazare, he travelled to Uttarakhand to meet yoga guru Baba Ramdev, a televangelist and Ayurvedic tycoon with an enormous international following who had floated (and then quickly retracted) plans to launch his own political party earlier in 2010. Kejriwal met Ramdev in an auditorium on the campus of Ramdev’s sprawling yoga institute, and persuaded him to participate in a joint anti-corruption rally in Delhi. “I heard him telling Swamiji Maharaj, ‘I have a lot of information about why they don’t want to get rid of corruption,’” said Acharya Virendra Vikram, who heads the Delhi office of Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman (Trust). “Swamiji responded, ‘I am with you.’”
At the rally on 14 November 2010, thousands of people, many of them Ramdev’s supporters, gathered outside the Parliament Street police station in central Delhi. Kejriwal was among the first people to speak. “We wrote a letter to Manmohan Singh,” Kejriwal said. “We told him we abhor the Central government, we hate many state governments, but we love our country.”
The crowd was spellbound. Kejriwal continued for about 30 minutes, making his argument that India needed a law to secure the integrity of other laws; he castigated the corruption of the ruling government, and said that the then-telecommunications minister, Andimuthu Raja, had stolen “25 percent” of the country’s annual budget in the 2G scam. After leaving the stage to a round of riotous applause, Kejriwal sat through the rest of the rally on the sidelines, against a backdrop covered with the pictures of Indian freedom fighters.
“He smartly used our platform and then turned his back at a crucial time,” Vikram told me, with a rueful smile.
Before it became apparent that Anna Hazare’s April fast at Jantar Mantar would attract thousands of supporters, Kejriwal thought he might have to depend on Ramdev to turn out a sizeable crowd. (In fact, the social activist Subhash Agrawal, one of Kejriwal’s earliest allies, complained that Kejriwal had sidelined serious long-term activists, who tend not to have millions of fans, in favour of celebrity gurus like Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.)
By the second day at Jantar Mantar, Kejriwal knew he no longer had to worry about drawing an audience. So when a Congress spokesman began to claim that right-wing religious parties were orchestrating the movement, Kejriwal decided to part ways with Ramdev to preserve the credibility of his ‘apolitical’ line. On the last day of the fast, when Ramdev took the stage with Ram Madhav, a top Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader, Kejriwal panicked and called an emergency meeting with Hazare at the nearby office of the secular religious activist, Swami Agnivesh, another staunch supporter of the fast.
“Arvind said ‘We should save the situation’,” Agnivesh told me. “He wanted Madhav out. We told him to calm down but he didn’t listen to us. He sent a message to Ramdev to tell Madhav not to sit on the dais. Ramdev didn’t agree, and he left.”
Kejriwal’s confidence peaked: the outpouring of public support and the nonstop media attention had put Team Anna at the centre of a national debate, and even the government looked to be on the back foot after caving in to their demands for an evenly-split drafting committee. One corporate house offered to donate `10 million to the IAC, but Kejriwal declined the offer.
As Kejriwal and his colleagues took up what seemed like permanent residence in Delhi’s television studios, they were unfazed by the growing chorus of criticism—much of it coming from other social activists. Aruna Roy, one of the founding leaders of NCPRI, memorably called Team Anna’s Lokpal “a Frankenstein’s monster that will devour all of us”.
“I think Arvind’s feeling is nobody is serious about the bill,” Shekhar Singh told me. Singh, who first brought Kejriwal into the NCPRI in the early 2000s, addressed the subject of his former colleague with considerable reluctance. “The problem is Arvind is not in agreement with what the majority of us feel should be the profile of the Lokpal. So he feels that he’s the only one who has a clear idea of what it should be.”
At the end of June, I met Kejriwal as he was leaving a government guesthouse in South Delhi, accompanied by Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi. He had forgotten about the scheduled interview I had arrived to conduct, but when I introduced myself, he quickly motioned me into Manish Sisodia’s car, which followed Hazare and Kejriwal back to East Delhi.
The drafting committee exercise had already ended in failure, and Kejriwal and Team Anna were making the rounds to drum up support for the Jan Lokpal from other political parties. Sisodia excitedly explained that they had just emerged from a meeting with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had promised to introduce a strong Lokpal Bill in his state. “Inki to phateygi ab (The politicians will get screwed now),” Sisodia proclaimed as we slid into the car. “If Nitish does that, automatically others will feel pressure.”
We came to a stop in Mayur Vihar in East Delhi, and entered a large concrete apartment block, where Kejriwal had rented a three-bedroom flat for Hazare. A tall, dark-skinned man opened the door and led us into the drawing room, where bowls of chopped salad had been set out on the table alongside plates of rice and dal. Brand new cutlery, cups, towels and dustbins sat unused in plastic bags on the floor in one corner of the room. Manish tapped on one of the doors, and Kejriwal briefly emerged before turning into a toilet to wash his hands and feet. He had agreed to an hour-long interview, but first he wanted to finalise the text for a pamphlet with Sisodia, who was sitting on the floor with a computer on his lap. Kejriwal sat down next to Sisodia and pointed at the screen. “Here I was thinking something should come,” he said. “No no, don’t erase ration card corruption. Keep it simple.” Kejriwal scratched at his head, absorbed in thought and looking for words. “Yes, driving licence corruption,” he said. “Good, this is punchy.”
“How much time do you want?” he asked me. And then, “Can I have some food first?”
As the food was served, Hazare emerged from his bedroom without his iconic Gandhi cap; he had a shaved head, and two faint furrows ran across his forehead. He, too, sat on the floor, and turned toward Kejriwal. “I shouldn’t have praised Nitish Kumar—I think Lalu will not support us now,” Hazare said, referring to the legendarily corrupt former Bihar chief minister.
“OK,” Kejriwal said, almost shouting Hazare down. “We’ll talk about it some other time.”
Hazare didn’t speak another word after that, eating his plate of rice and dal in silence. When Kejriwal finished eating, he lay back on the floor and fell asleep. I tried to start up a conversation with Hazare, but Sisodia insisted on answering on his behalf.
About 30 minutes later, Kejriwal jolted upright, as if waking from a startling nightmare, and turned immediately to Sisodia. “How about ‘Government Lokpal is a Betrayal’?” he said, like a man who dreams only of political slogans, before answering himself: “No, leave it for a while.”
Now Kejriwal looked at me. “I am sorry I am wasting your time. Let’s do it now.”
Kejriwal’s frustration with the drafting committee was still evident, eight days after the final meeting; the government had been insincere all along, he argued, and had no intention of debating or discussing the merits of Team Anna’s bill. “They would agree on whatever they had decided beforehand,” he said. “[Union Home Minister Palaniappan] Chidambaram was the most vocal—he would argue out each and every line. But there was no way to persuade them to change their stance on anything; we presented arguments, and they merely announced the decisions they had already reached.” He seemed generally dejected by the experience, and particularly disappointed that his preparatory research—regarding the lessons from other countries with ombudsmen, among other things—had all been a waste. “We didn’t know the outcome was pre-decided,” he said. “We went in with all our honesty.”
He argued that getting the law through Parliament was always going to be difficult, and returned, albeit calmly, to his familiar television firebrand tone. “They are passing a law against themselves, not a law to alleviate poverty or something,” he said. “If it becomes the law, many of the parliamentarians themselves will go to jail, so they will naturally be strongly against it.”
“Why are you doing all this?” I asked.
“Why am I doing this?” His eyes widened with a hint of indignation. “I am a citizen of this country and my tax money is being looted by corrupt politicians and you are saying, why am I doing this?”
A moment later, his cellphone rang. It was one of his activists, based in Mumbai, and Kejriwal gave him instructions for a new round of demonstrations. “If people are against the government’s Lokpal Bill,” he said into the phone, “tell them to tear it in public. Spread the word.”
I asked one final question: how long would this movement last? “We can’t say,” Kejriwal responded. “We are determined for a fight until it finishes.”
OVER THE COURSE OF THE SUMMER, like a tiny but committed guerrilla army looking to provoke a powerful adversary, Kejriwal and Team Anna continued their campaign against the government and its Lokpal proposal. Kejriwal did everything possible to keep the campaign alive and solicit further support from the public and opposition parties, hoping to keep up the pressure with a series of press briefings and increasingly combative television appearances.
Criticism that Team Anna’s methods and intentions were undemocratic had gathered considerable steam, and it became the semi-official line of the government, which insisted that unelected individuals had no right to force a legislation on a democratic Parliament.
This is a critique that, unsurprisingly, Kejriwal finds entirely unpersuasive, either because he believes the end justify the means or, as he has sometimes implied, because democracy doesn’t work very well to begin with.
Under a barrage of prosecutorial questions from CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar earlier this year, Kejriwal had presented a version of the latter argument: “We are a democratic country?” he said quizzically. “The democracy that we have has been so representative that the people have a right to vote once every five years and that’s it.” (“The situation in our country is so bad,” he added later, for good measure. “It is worse than it used to be in British times.”)
But when Thapar accused him of attempting to “blackmail” the government, Kejriwal returned to firmer ground, turning the tables back on his interrogator and providing a preview of the strategy for the coming months.
“How should a person in a democracy protest?” Kejriwal asked.
“By constitutional means,” Thapar responded.
“What are those constitutional means?”
“By seeking votes, by seeking a campaign, by going petitioning in Parliament with all,” Thapar replied, a hint of anger on his face.
Kejriwal’s answer—a long one—was particularly revealing. It outlined almost the entirety of his uncompromising political worldview, in which seeking to join what he regards as a corrupt system has no appeal, and in which the opinion of the public deserves tremendous respect—unless, that is, it’s being converted into votes for politicians.
“Suppose I don’t want to go and fight elections,” Kejriwal began, calmly. “I am a citizen of this country and I am feeling, I mean there is injustice and there is so much of corruption, and if I want to raise my voice, I go and petition the politicians. It doesn’t work. I go and petition the bureaucrats. It doesn’t work. I try to meet them. I meet all of them, and it doesn’t work. Then I think building public opinion is a very critical part of a democracy.”
The government wanted to fight Team Anna using the force of its own legitimacy, and the crux of Kejriwal’s strategy was to attack that legitimacy in the court of public opinion. He called for the public to burn copies of the government’s Lokpal Bill at demonstrations in Delhi and Mumbai, and ventured into the constituencies of senior Congressmen in an attempt to prove that their own voters preferred Team Anna’s proposal.
In late July, Kejriwal sent his teams to Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi—the constituency of Union Minister for Human Resources Development Kapil Sibal, a prominent Congress spokesman and a member of the drafting committee—where they carried out a ‘referendum’ on the Lokpal. A week later, Kejriwal announced that 85 percent of voters preferred Team Anna’s bill; the result may not have been statistically rigorous, but it landed on the front page of almost every newspaper. In early August, the exercise was repeated in Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi constituency, in Uttar Pradesh, with similar results from the voters and media alike. With yet another contentious Parliament session under way—and with it a new barrage of protests and accusations from the elected opposition—the government began to vent its own frustrations. As the date of Hazare’s threatened fast drew closer, Congress spokesmen lashed out, accusing Hazare of personal corruption and describing the protest movement as the work of “armchair fascists, overground Maoists, closet anarchists…lurking behind forces of right reaction and funded by invisible donors whose links may go back a long way abroad”.
The government, which had unwittingly—and irreversibly—conferred legitimacy on Team Anna by constituting the drafting committee to begin with, appeared to be nervously fumbling for a strategy to turn public opinion back in its favour. Negotiations over the ground rules for Hazare’s fast were going nowhere: the deputy commissioner of Delhi Police refused to sanction a gathering of more than 5,000 people or one that lasted more than three days—conditions that Kejriwal’s team rejected outright and the government denied having ordered. “Permission or not, we’ll sit,” Kejriwal said on 14 August, while Hazare volunteered that he would submit to arrest and encouraged supporters to do the same.
On the rainy morning of 16 August, Anna and Kejriwal prepared to leave the apartment in Mayur Vihar to begin the hunger strike in central Delhi’s JP Park. Journalists, who had staked out the entrance before dawn, reported that there was no sign of any uniformed police officers before 7 am, although three or four men in plainclothes were seen circling the perimeter of the building at 10-minute intervals, as if waiting for Hazare to emerge. The night before, Kejriwal had alerted about two dozen of his seniormost activists about the possibility he and Hazare would be arrested.
“He told us that if Anna is arrested in the morning, by the evening the number of court arrests should be in the thousands,” Kejriwal’s associate, Kumar Vishwas, told me the day after.
At around 7:15 am, a large contingent of police in riot gear circled the compound, and one of Hazare’s supporters waiting outside phoned Kejriwal with the news. Before leaving the apartment, Kejriwal quickly filmed a statement by Hazare about his impending arrest, calling on supporters to calmly assemble in JP Park, and to volunteer for arrest if confronted by police.
Kejriwal and Hazare walked out of the elevator and into the arms of half-a-dozen plainclothesmen, who arrested Hazare and whisked him off in a white SUV; Kejriwal was driven away in another vehicle.
By early afternoon, the video of Hazare filmed before his arrest was all over Indian television. Thousands of protestors had taken to the streets of Delhi and other major Indian cities. The arrests were condemned by almost every other political party, and the government faced a furious backlash that dominated the Indian airwaves and made headlines the next day in newspapers around the world.
After three days of further wrangling, during which Hazare obstinately refused to leave Delhi’s Tihar Jail—where a steady crowd gathered outside and chanted anti-government slogans day and night—the Congress, battered and bruised, essentially surrendered to Team Anna’s conditions for the fast, granting 15 days rather than the initial three, though Kejriwal and his colleagues had pushed for an entire month.
In the meantime, the protesting crowds continued to grow, and Kejriwal’s strategy—his relentless campaign to deligitimise the government among the public—had been given its most significant push by the Congress’s own hand.
ON 12 AUGUST, four days before the scheduled fast, I went to see Kejriwal address a crowd of undergraduate students at an engineering college in Greater Noida. In a vast courtyard, there was a quiet but intense patriotic fervour—the students were holding tricolours, chanting slogans and singing Vande Mataram. Kejriwal was perched on a staircase at one end of the courtyard, and when the crowd quieted, he began to speak about corruption. He looked like a very unhappy crusader; his face had assumed the stiff and unsmiling look that always accompanied his speeches, and he frequently pointed his finger toward the students while enumerating the most depressing examples of corruption he could summon. “An Indian citizen,” Kejriwal said, “is asked to pay a bribe even for obtaining a death certificate of his own father.” At the end of his talk, he asked the students to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Long live Mother India). Afterwards, the students formed a chain around Kejriwal and walked him back to his car.
Once inside the car, Kejriwal leaned back and crossed his legs; relaxed and satisfied with the crowd’s response, he looked both fresh and happy. He told me that he had tried, during the Lokpal campaign, to draw on as many patriotic symbols as possible; the country, he said, was forgetting the importance of nationalism. “It binds us together.”
He focused on the road while talking to me, giving occasional directions to his driver, and our conversation turned from nationalism to movies. Kejriwal, who describes himself as a lover of Indian cinema, said he’d been too busy to watch a movie since January.
He described Aamir Khan—a supporter of Hazare’s protests—as his favourite actor. “The kind of films he does have a nationalistic message,” Kejriwal said, turning the conversation back toward politics. “For instance, see how good Rang De Basanti was. The film was actually about corruption.”
Kejriwal seemed pleased with the success of his campaign strategy. The government’s inept attacks on Hazare and the anti-corruption movement in the run-up to the fast left him with the sense that he was winning the war of perceptions. “There is a possibility that Anna may be arrested,” Kejriwal told me, no doubt aware that such a move would redound to his benefit. “My only worry,” he continued, “is if the government force-feeds Anna. Or what if they poison him?”
He fidgeted for a second while his eyes darted around trying to determine the route. “No, no, no, don’t turn right,” he told the driver. He was already multitasking—speaking to me, sending text messages and directing the car—but he was loose and energetic, and his optimism about the upcoming fast permeated all of his answers, as if he felt certain that Team Anna would prevail before too much longer.
I asked him why past efforts to curb corruption had failed, and why he thought the Lokpal would do any better.
“We need to create a fear,” he said, “which is if I do corruption, I will go to jail. The previous acts have failed to punish corrupt officials because they have been implemented by the same officials, and we need an independent institution to guarantee that a corrupt official will get punished, with certainty and swiftness.”
Kejriwal received an SMS on his phone, perhaps from one of his family members, and he tapped out a response in between answers to my questions. “Nothing much,” it said. “Hopping from one meeting to another.” The Constitution Club, where Kejriwal was scheduled to meet some lawyers, was just a few turns away, and I asked him before we arrived what backup plan he had prepared if Anna wasn’t allowed to fast.
He turned around from the front seat, and gave a boyish smile. “I don’t believe in backup plans,” he said. “In a movement, it all depends on day-to-day happenings. That’s how revolutions happen.”
Mehboob Jeelani is a former staff writer at The Caravan. He is currently studying for an MA in journalism at Columbia University. He has extensively covered the Kashmir conflict, and has contributed to the leading English dailies of Jammu and Kashmir.