By Anil Bhatnagar
As a rule Life Positive does not talk about politics or politicians, but Arvind Kejriwal has proven that politics and politicians can emerge from a spiritual foundation, and operate from spiritual principles. In consequence, the political landscape is finally ablaze with hope, says his ,friend and corporate trainer, Anil Bhatnagar
In the last five years or so, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and the rest of the social media have brought the world together in an unprecedented way. As a result, at an unconscious level, we have begun to see that the problems of humanity go beyond geographical boundaries, and that humanity is one consciousness. This newly discovered oneness facilitated by the ease of technology has helped the common man to channelize his righteous anger and fury in a meaningful way. As the year 2010 drew to a close, the Arab spring witnessed some of the most powerful protests by the people against the tyranny of corrupt rulers. Regimes were overthrown in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. The tremors of this quake soon began to be felt in many other parts of the world, including India. In our case the tremors manifested themselves in the form of Anna Aandolan (2011), ‘India against corruption’ movement (2011), Nirbhaya gang rape protests (2012), the string of exposes (2012) and the beginning of imprisonment of big names (2011-2013). In the wake of these tremors has emerged a new hope for millions of Indians – Arvind Kejriwal.
When I went to Arvind’s residence after his recent incredible victory in the Delhi Vidhaan Sabha elections, he was sitting in the middle of an ordinary settee. In his characteristic style, he was receiving and responding to the visitors that were pouring in incessantly. And every time he did so, his smile – as fresh and spontaneous as that of a school boy – shone through his tiredness. He coughed every now and then, and looked extremely tired in consequence of the relentless hard work he had put in during the year-long campaigning (especially in recent months).
His wife, Sunita, and daughter, Harshita, were busy in the kitchen preparing puris for visitors. Kumar Vishwas, one of AAP’s principal strategists, had just arrived, and I got up to offer my seat next to Arvind to him, but he very politely greeted me, and asked me to stay put. But I got up as I could see that it was time for Arvind to attend to his party workers who were waiting for him to join for a meeting in the other room, and excused myself.
Memories began to flood my mind as I returned home after meeting him – my home is barely two minutes away from his building. We both live in the housing complex called Kaushambi, in New Delhi.
When I met him for the first time in 2008 at a Resident Welfare Association (RWA) meeting, I could not have imagined that this extremely ordinary looking person would one day spearhead India’s second spiritually guided freedom struggle, and eventually become the chief minister of Delhi. In this RWA meeting, Arvind suggested that we should hold back our property tax cheques, and submit them only when the Municipality agrees to listen to our woes (such as deficiency in civic services such as bad roads and overflowing sewerage problem,) and use our money the way we want it to be spent – after all, it is our money.
After the meeting we met and conversed for a short while, and discovered our common IIT roots. I discovered that Arvind was from IIT, Kharagpur. I inquired about what to do to a resident who had not been paying society maintenance dues. “Should we cut his water supply as many in our society were suggesting?” He replied that that should be the last recourse; “He is one of us, after all. Let us first find out what are his real reasons for not paying.” His compassion was evident even in his response to the issue of roadside vendors, “They are poor people. Isn’t it strange and paradoxical that we want their services without wanting to see them around? We are worried about how our colony looks, but not about how a person –just like us – would make a livelihood.”
A few days later, I called Arvind and asked whether not paying our dues to the Municipality would flout the law. He said, “Yes, Anil, it is against the law. But most things that Gandhiji did were against contemporary laws. If the laws are unjust to people, whose duty is it to let it be known to the rulers? The British made laws that held the common man accountable to the Government, but the Government was not accountable to people. Unfortunately, when we got our independence, the same trend continued. Today, our country is free, and this must change. And it cannot change if we do not demand from the Government, in return, to be accountable to us too.”
A dharna followed. During this dharna outside Ghaziabad Nagar Nigam, he shared with Narayan Rajamani, the then General Secretary, Kaushambi, RWA, that he would continue the dharna even if he were the lone protester. At about 10 pm, the police came to arrest him along with a few others. They were threatening and rude, but Arvind was very cool and composed.
In 2010, the Kaushambi residents felicitated Arvind on being awarded the Policy Change Agent of the Year by the Economic Times. What struck me most during this felicitation ceremony was Arvind’s equanimity – all the praise heaped on him trickled down like dew drops from a lotus flower. He is equally unmoved when criticized. He is too focused on his objectives to be affected by criticism or praise.
Since then he has also been declared the CNN-IBN and NDTV Indian of the Year in successive years. Earlier, he was also conferred the Satyendra Dubey award by IIT, Kharagpur.
A crusaders trajectory
Arvind was born on August 16, 1968, and spent his early childhood in towns like Sonepat, Hisar and Ghaziabad. He graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT, Kharagpur, and got a job with the Tata Steel in 1989. Later, in 1992, Arvind quit his job with Tata Steel to take time off to work with the Missionaries of Charity under the guidance of Mother Teresa, and also in the Ramakrishna Mission in Eastern and Northeastern India. Later, he joined the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), a part of the Indian Administrative Services in 1995, after qualifying through the Indian Civil Services exam. He was posted at the Income-tax Commissioner’s Office in Delhi as Joint Commissioner. Soon, he realized that much of the corruption prevalent in government is due to a lack of transparency in bureaucratic procedures. While in office, he started crusading against corrupt practices, and was instrumental in bringing in a number of changes to increase transparency in the Income Tax office.
In January 2000, he took a sabbatical from work and founded Parivartan – a Delhi-based citizens’ movement focused on ensuring just, transparent and accountable governance. Later, in February 2006, he resigned from his job to work full-time at Parivartan. Later, in order to have a firsthand experience of the life of the poor, he lived for months in the slums, cooking his own meals, and washing his clothes in the open. Arvind is deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Baba Amte. A Magsaysay award winner, he has been the most persistent and powerful voice behind the Right to Information Act and Jan Lokpal Bill.
Having learnt from the failure of dharnas to bring about change from without, Arvind decided to bring about change from within the system by becoming a part of it, and floated the Aam Aadmi Party on November 26, 2012. Arvind had started his book, Swarajya, long back, but this was also the year it got published. That is when Arvind had to part ways with Anna Hazare, even though both continue to respect one another. Often ridiculed by other political outfits, Arvind defeated Shiela Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi for the last 15 years, on December 8, 2013, by a very large margin, and was eventually sworn in as the new chief minister on December 29, 2013.
What sets Arvind apart from the rest of us is that he is a doer. While we complain, Arvind not only thinks of possible solutions but implements them too – aggressively and persistently.
Arvind is incredibly fearless and simple. We have a common barber who once confessed to me that he is filled with fear when Arvind is in his shop, adding jokingly, “He must have made so many enemies, and Sir, the killers, like any other profession these days, are also losing their professionalism – they can always miss their aim and end up killing me.” We both burst into laughter. Though Arvind has never shared the secret of his fearlessness, I presume it is because he believes in every cell of his being what we reiterate so casually, “When death is destined, nobody can stop it, and when it is not, nobody can bring it about.” This is precisely the reason that he has been politely and firmly refusing security, large bungalows, cars with flashing lights and sirens, and prefers to travel to his office in his own old Maruti car, like any ordinary office-goer. Recently, he decided against moving into the five-bedroom flat he was allotted at Bhagwan Das Road.
On December 30, 2012, I received a call from Arvind’s office asking if I could meet him. He wanted me to coach his volunteers in batches on how to be humble, and to be good servant leaders. I am a corporate trainer, but this was the first time I had encountered a request of this sort. His humility while making it was palpable, and his gratitude on my acceptance was touching. The training programs began with less than 10 participants, and quickly grew to over 300 per batch. The enthusiasm among the participants was such that they attended these four-hour sessions with just a 15-minute break in between. The numbers were growing progressively, but the classes had to be discontinued as the election was drawing near, and the focus had to be shifted to campaigning.
Far from being political, my interest in Arvind and his movement is spiritual. Additionally, I am a curious student and a passionate teacher of leadership. There is no leadership without spirituality at its core. Arvind embodies the three primary qualities of a leader:
• Identifying precisely what people truly need the most at any point of time
• Accommodating the size of his/her dreams towards fulfilling these identified needs
• Humble but persistent willingness to make personal sacrifices to achieve these dreams.
Arvind is a politician by compulsion, but a true leader at heart. All that he wants to do is to serve the common man. His dream is to liberate the motherland from the shackles of corruption, poverty, the heartless politics of politicians, and the passivity of the oppressed common man, as well as injustice and the growing gap between VIPs and the common man. Indeed, these issues constitute the collective pain all Indians have been feeling ever since the country became independent.
Arvind is a Vipassana meditator, and his regular meditation practice helps him maintain his cool in adverse circumstances. His spiritual journey has also been influenced by the teachings of the great Muslim Sufi saints who emphasized brotherhood among human beings. He can sing reasonably well, and often sings the song even in public meetings, Insaan ka insaan se ho bhaichaara, yahee paigaam hamaara. One of his favorite bahjans is Itnee shakti humein dena daata.
Strong-willed and a man of powerful convictions, he believes that when you are not against an unethical or corrupt practice, you are part of it. He starts his day with a walk and some yogic exercises. He is a vegetarian and loves simple food. I was once with him in his office, and I saw him opening his tiffin box at 3 pm. A few chappattis, curry, onions, were his fare.
With a muffler wrapped around his head and over his ears during winter, and a familiar old shirt loosely falling out of his trousers, and shod in floaters, he subtly, loudly and proudly announces his “I-don’t-care-a-damn” dress sense. Not too unlike Mahatma Gandhi, his deepest inner beliefs make him unconsciously dress up to look like an “approachable” common man.
Arvind has a long way to go, and the path ahead of him is full of challenges. He wears a crown of thorns, and is carrying the cross of mighty expectations and fragile trust. As in any spiritual journey, he will be supported and tested intermittently. A journey well begun is only half done; it does not guarantee future success. The movement of all spiritual journeys by its very nature is predominantly from ‘in’ to ‘out’. Public victories are primarily carved out of private victories. The path will be strewn with temptations, that would require him and his party workers to find and mobilize their highest spiritual strengths to withstand them. The greatest threat to a revolutionary is never from the outside; it is from the possibility of eventually becoming, in installments of unawareness, what one has been fighting against. That is what George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm so beautifully cautions us against.
The second threat he faces is to presume with arrogance that intentions alone are enough. No, they are not. Being a leader does not make you one. One needs to be open to listening to others, to introspection and to learning – especially from those who are not your old associates.
Many saints have faltered and gone astray on this path, but a few have succeeded too. Those who succeeded were those who could maintain their humility, and remind themselves that the heroic purpose of their life is to help the larger whole to became immortal too. They live in our hearts today.
I wish Arvind an immortal place in our hearts.
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