Arvind Kejriwal in Gujarat: The unfamiliar politician

Without his signature scarf and cap, Arvind Kejriwal is hardly known in Gujarat. (PTI) Without his signature scarf and cap, Arvind Kejriwal is hardly known in Gujarat. (PTI)

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 …continued »