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By Roli Mahajan
The inability of India’s famed anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare to convert support for his group, India Against Corruption (IAC) into action has given rise to a new Indian anti-corruption hero in Arvind Kejriwal. A former Indian bureaucrat who is said to have masterminded the Right to Information Act, Kejriwal is now leading the “Aam Aadmi Party” or the political party of ordinary people.
Conversations that take place in the public transport of India often reflect the thoughts of the nation. A group of strangers, who were waiting to reach Delhi in a train that was running late, were discussing politics, India and corruption. I could not help but overhear:
“Inflation has risen to new heights and the only category to be affected is us, the ordinary people (aam admi) while the people who are benefitting and filling their coffers are politicians. Arvind Kejriwal can try all he wants but the Indian politicians will not change their ways.”
A young girl in her late twenties pitched in to say:
“But we need to give him a chance. Beggars can’t be choosers and of the lot, I think he is the most deserving of all, so I for one will definitely vote for him if for nothing else then to encourage such people to lead India.”
The girl could have said more but a middle-aged woman gave her two cents:
“He might have been an honest official but all he has are volunteers and volunteers can’t run a country.”
And with this the conversation almost came to an end.
As a matter of fact, this conversation seems remarkably similar to the thoughts expressed in an article published by Forbes India magazine at the time when Kejriwal announced his new political party. However, in order to understand what impact Arvind Kejriwal can have on the Indian political scene it is important to understand who Kejriwal is.
Public records show him to be a man in his early forties who studied mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, considered to be one of the best engineering colleges of India. Furthermore, he went on to take the Indian Administrative Services competitive entrance exams. The competitive nature of this exam is such that out of the 1.2 million Indians who prepare for it only about a 1000 are recruited after a rigorous cycle of written exams and an interview. Kejriwal was one of the successful candidates who joined the Indian Revenue Services in the early 1990s. His accomplishments reflect his hardworking, determined and intelligent spirit something that any citizen would like to see in their leader.
But not everyone who is a hardworking man can become a household name. He has worked his way into the political consciousness in such a way that Indians - political leaders or the common man- can either admire or ridicule him but not be indifferent to him.
After around five years of government service, Kejriwal resigned from the position of Additional Commissioner of Income Tax in Delhi to devote his time fully to fighting corruption in India.
In 2000, Kejriwal started Parivartan (hindi word for ‘change’), a citizens’ movement which helps ordinary Indians to get everyday benefits - like a ration card or an electricity connection - without paying a bribe. Parivartan was and still is run by a few young volunteers to fight for just, transparent and accountable governance.
Parivartan fed and led Kejriwal’s campaign for the National Right to Information Act (RTI), which was passed in 2005. The following year he led a successful awareness campaign, "Drive against Bribe", to promote the RTI across India.
In 2010, this humbly attired small man with a black moustache joined Anna Hazare, the Gandhian activist, who had by that time become the recognised face of the Indian national anti-corruption campaign. With Hazare’s help, Kejriwal was able to push for greater publicity for an anti-corruption bill that he had co-written called the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen's ombudsman Bill).
The India Against Corruption website describes the bill thus:
“Drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court Judge and former Lokayukta of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court Lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal (RTI activist), it envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth being confiscated.”
2011 and early 2012 saw some fasts as well as many protests by the India Against Corruption movement/Team Anna so much so that ordinary people who did not join the protests in the grounds, fasted to show their solidarity.
However, it seems that the lack of a concrete outcome from the IAC movement and disillusionment with the major political parties of India pushed Kejriwal to go further in his fight to rid India of corruption. On October 2 2012, on the 143rd anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, Kejriwal launched his political party, Aam Admi Party (Ordinary Man’s Party)
"We derive lessons from Mahatma Gandhi's teachings… The thinking is to fix the system ... I won't think about success or failure, but the fight. I have to answer [to] the next generation," The National reported Kejriwal as telling his followers.
"We are determined to clean up the entire [Indian] political spectrum," he added.
Roli Mahajan is an International Year of Youth Journalist for Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC. Mahajan has worked to feature inspiring stories from her state, Uttar Pradesh. In March 2011, her film Rowing Her Way Through the River of Life was selected for screening in the 4th Samsung Women's international Film Festival in Chennai, India. Mahajan holds a master's in mass communication and journalism from the University of Lucknow, India.