Arvind Kejriwal in Gujarat: The unfamiliar politician

How a chatting, note-taking Kejriwal came across to people he met on Gujarat tour.

Updated: March 10, 2014 9:08 am

Neelamben Raval, a thirty-something homemaker in Radhanpur of Patan district on Gujarat’s Pakistan border, is excited. She has just described the problems in her neighbourhood before a swarm of microphones outside the Gayatri Shaktipeeth gates, and her neighbours tell her they saw her on television. “Is that so?” she says, urging others to go to the man surrounded by the microphones.

It is a slightly built man in a crumpled, full-sleeved shirt, pleated dark trousers and oiled hair, before whom she has complained about how garbage is not picked up regularly, how water supply is short, and how the sarkar has done nothing for them. He had stepped out of an Innova, followed by people in caps with the slogan “Main aam aadmi hoon, mujhe swaraj chahiye”.

Ask her to recount what she told Arvind Kejriwal and she asks back, “Kejriwal who?” On a cue from a neighbour, she says, “Oh, you mean that man in the middle of those cameras?”

Without his signature scarf and cap, Kejriwal is hardly known in Gujarat. But by Saturday, the fourth day of his Gujarat tour, he was talking to a cheering crowd in AAP caps at Vijay Chowk in Ahmedabad, a BJP bastion.

For someone in a party identified by black and white caps and brown brooms, Kejriwal has brought new colour to Gujarat, which is used to political meetings being preceded by SPG or NSG sanitising procedures and ending with speeches. Kejriwal and his team came around like everyday people, chatted up people, accepted notes on issues to be raised, and even took videos of the crowd with their smart phones.

As he takes off his dusty floaters and sits cross-legged on the trailer of a detached tractor, whose sides have been opened up and which is parked under a tree, Kejriwal, who is largely know as “mufflerwala CM” in Gujarat, takes villagers of Echchwada by surprise. Pen and paper in hand, a neta who would take notes and make no speeches was the last thing they expected. “Talk to us, talk to us,” the crowd choruses. “Main bhi aam aadmi hoon, main aapko sunne aaya hoon,” Kejriwal tells them.

This is after former BJP MLA and now AAP member Dr Kanu Kalsariya has given an introduction, in Gujarati, to the waiting crowd near the temple.

“So tell me, Narendra Modi said in UP that Gujarat’s villages get 24×7 electricity. Do you?” “No,” the crowd choruses.

“Nobody gets it?”

“Yes, we do, but only for some hours in the night,” a villager says.

“Only in the night?” Kejriwal asks.

He then asked about roads.

“There is only one road here and that was not built for us, it was for the Maruti plant,” says Jayaben. The village borders Surendranagar, 15 km from the plant.

“So if you have not been happy, why have you been voting for Modi?”

“Because they (Congress) never put up a local candidate”, says a villager.

“When we went to the local MLA (Poonam Makwana) against acquisition of land (for a special investment region) he said, ‘Modi won’t listen to me’,” says Jayaben. When a leader prompts her to speak in Hindi, Kejriwal interrupts, “Oh, let her speak in Gujarati.”

In Ahmedabad, a group of protesters shout slogans against Kejriwal and pelt stones at his public meeting. “Come here, talk to me, let’s debate on Gujarat’s development,” he beckons them. Over the tour, this is the tenth protest or so.

Gopal Rai toured Saurashtra, Manish Sisodia north Gujarat, and Kejriwal, accompanied by Sanjay Singh, covered Kutch, Ahmedabad and Surendranagar. The Ahmedabad meeting recaps Jayaben’s story from Echchwada, that of farmer Alapotra Mubarak Suleiman from Darab village near Mundra, of Nandiben from Mehsana.

There isn’t a mention of the 2002 riots. It is all about “corrupt Modi” and “darling-of-corporates Modi”.

The local team

The AAP office in Ahmedabad is sparsely furnished, with mats on the floor for sitting. Running out of the bungalow of Kishore Desai, retired principal of Bhavan’s Institute, the party has not even cared to take his family pictures off the showcase.

The informal demeanour apart, Kejriwal’s itinerary was largely a secret. Even the local Gujarat offices claimed not to know till he actually arrived at point A, what his point B would be. Only the road show in Ahmedabad was publicised, also because the Election Commission wanted to know. It included neighbourhoods in Modi’s Maninagar constituency, where Kejriwal got a confetti-and-garland welcome.

In Bhuj, Dr Nehal Vaidya, a pediatrician and AAP volunteer whose hospital-cum-residence Kejriwal stayed at, says, “Two persons from Delhi came with local AAP leaders and told me Arvind will stay the night with us… He had bajri rotla, brinjal curry and khichdi for dinner. I was struck by his simplicity.”

In Kutch, district AAP co-ordinator Duttesh Bhavsar, a local news channel reporter, pitched into the planning of his tour. And in Ahmedabad, Kejriwal put up with Ghanshyam Vyas, a retired secretary who worked in the office of chief ministers Shankersinh Vaghela and Suresh Mehta, in his bungalow for one night, and at a hotel near Sabarmati Ashram for another.

The anonymity does not bother his team. An AAP functionary says, “In Patan, we asked villagers if they knew Aam Aadmi Party, or Kejriwal. They knew neither, but said they would vote for the jhaadu.”

Sukhdev Patel, an educational activist who fights for child rights, is convener for the AAP in Gujarat. He says the party’s membership has touched four lakh, in the past few months. Since January, after Kejriwal became Delhi CM, the party stopped taking the token membership fee of Rs 10 and made it free.

Several employees with the state government and municipal corporations are discreetly supporting the AAP. At the Ahmedabad office, located under a busy flyover, is a municipal corporation employee getting banners ready for Kejriwal’s first public meeting in Ahmedabad Saturday.

When he sees journalists, he quietly takes off the AAP cap. “Er, I am only helping them… I forgot to take off the cap,” he says, embarrassed.

Being an aam aadmi in Gujarat is not going to be easy.

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  1. A
    Mar 10, 2014 at 6:22 pm
    He had a minority government. He showed what can be done in 49 days.
    1. T
      Mar 10, 2014 at 5:54 am
      Simplicity and Governance are not be confused as same. AK's questions are correct but then when he had an opportunity as CM Delhi he gambled it for PM chair. Why IE is not questioning him about the payment of chartered air craft used by AK. He cannot brush it aqs NaMo, RaGa all use the same mode.
      1. C
        Chandramouli Chandrasekaran
        Mar 11, 2014 at 12:19 am
        The payment of chartered flight was done by Indiatoday and it is declared to everybody. Now can we know who is paying for Modis flight :)
        1. A
          Mar 10, 2014 at 9:03 am
          Dude learn to write sensibly. In the beginning you said you are not a supported of any party, then you trash congress and AAP in then end.It is plain as a day that you are BJP supporter :).
          1. I
            Mar 10, 2014 at 5:59 am
            I am from Gujarat and neither supporter of BJP nor Congress nor AAP....But I can say.. Gujarat, yes we have 24 * 7 electricity....good and better road. Water facility in village has increased lot in last 10 years....though we are not 100% satisfied with current Modi government, but compare to past governments, this government has worked better with less corruption. Earlier even after giving money to government officers, we didn't get work done. Now at least we get work done. This is one reason Modi won 3 times in row....Congress is almost finished from Gujarat. AAP is like media hype of GPP during 2012 embly election. All AAP members would lost their deposit too...even AK would fight from Gujarat, he would lost his deposit.
            1. J
              Jayant Kumar
              Mar 10, 2014 at 4:47 am
              Yes Sir. I also appreciate this reporter to give detail report without any bias.
              1. M
                Mar 10, 2014 at 1:08 am
                Gujarat Development is just a farce! Reading more news about Farmers in debt, suicide and anti sikh stand of gujarat govt.
                1. K
                  K B
                  Mar 10, 2014 at 9:27 am
                  100% Agree with you.
                  1. K
                    Mar 10, 2014 at 6:51 am
                    I am now in an, here also some farmers do suicide, and an has a huge debt from US. So will you call an as undeveloped. Gujarat is far far better than rest of the country. Its only state where women can roam freely alone at night. So much social security. In my 12 yrs stay I never experienced power outage, UPS like supply. Best roads and infrastructure and continuously developing. Don't get carried away. Judge judiciously.
                    1. M
                      Murali K
                      Mar 10, 2014 at 7:40 pm
                      Thanks for the honest report.
                      1. V
                        Mar 10, 2014 at 7:37 am
                        Balkanization plan of India is out - with Help of Foreign dominated media and Anti nationals such as AAP, CIA and ISI HAVE DRWAN UP A PLAN TO divide India just like Russia, Egypt and Syria - Now The real intention of Kejru M@@dh@@rch()d is out - that why he is alinging with Kashmiri Terrorists, Maoists and Separatists]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]
                        1. P
                          Mar 11, 2014 at 2:15 am
                          Excellent article and coverage of the tour
                          1. R
                            Mar 10, 2014 at 6:34 am
                            What all gimmicks by media ,AAP and the people behind them . Why this Gentle MAN run away from the opportunity to serve (rule) Delhites??/. Why this fellow is silent on funding from ford foundation and other hands??? Dont think election is like a reality show or a masla film for Indians.
                            1. R
                              Rahul Kapoor
                              Mar 10, 2014 at 10:09 am
                              We want a Non corrupt and honest govt. Does Modi Ji qualify these parameters.
                              1. R
                                Rajeev Roychand
                                Mar 10, 2014 at 1:59 am
                                Ohhh...i thought bjp turned gujarat into, finally truth came out
                                1. A
                                  Mar 10, 2014 at 1:01 am
                                  Finally a good news article. My congrats to the reporter.
                                  1. S
                                    Sandeep Khatri
                                    Mar 10, 2014 at 9:51 am
                                    My mom (Live near to Patan) was not aware of him till now, but now she know him as "Jaaduwala". I asked my mom about development as I am away from Gujarat for past 7 yrs..."it is ok...Ppl are afraid if we talks against Modi.Nobody dare to oppose Modi. If anybody oppose BJP, his supporter either kill him or nobody do business with him. We do get 24*7 electricity, but it is expensive as compare to Rajashtan. (Water)we get 2 times for 15/20 mins. Roads are good, but too many tolls when we travel to Ahm. Corruption is there with fixed rates...but the work will be done faster after that". Finally I asked how much you rate Modi out of 10, she said 6. Will you vote for "Jaaduwala"...she said..."I can think about it,but cannot talk about".
                                    1. S
                                      Mar 10, 2014 at 5:37 am
                                      true story of gujarat...
                                      1. S
                                        Shailesh Patil
                                        Mar 10, 2014 at 8:50 am
                                        flop show inn gujarat
                                        1. S
                                          Shailesh Patil
                                          Mar 10, 2014 at 8:51 am
                                          thik kaha bhi ..corruption 100% mitana imosible hai. devlopment jaruri hai
                                          1. I
                                            Mar 10, 2014 at 6:46 am
                                            Good article !!
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