Meet Arvind Kejriwal 3.0. He is seldom heard and hardly seen. The rabble-rouser once ready to take to the streets now adopts the cautious middle path. And the scarf that earned him the sobriquet of the Muffler Man is missing. Exactly three years after he was voted back to power, the Delhi chief minister is a new version of the man who caught the electoral imagination of the people of the state. In 2015, when his Aam Aadmi Party swept the Assembly polls in Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was not just a crusader against corruption but always ready for combat. The tactics that typified Kejriwal are missing in the new version of the chief minister. If the man who enthused the city to vote for him in 2013 was seen as a champion for corrupt-free politics, Kejriwal 2.0 — or the second avatar — was like a street fighter.
A year before the 2015 polls, Kejriwal, who was also the chief minister then, had called himself an “anarchist” when he launched a dharna on the streets against the police. The aggressiveness was visible even in the first two years after he returned to power, when he took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leaders head-on. Kejriwal is muted in his comments now, does not take potshots at Modi, and is seemingly focused on governance. “Arvind is very smart. He knows that he has to change if he has to survive,” said an AAP leader. Party watchers believed that the changes in the AAP leader were largely a result of the electoral reverses that he has faced in the last one year.
“Kejriwal wants to retain power at any cost,” said Mayank Gandhi, a former senior party member and author of the book ‘AAP & Down: The rise and fall of Aam Aadmi Party’. Not many see the 49-year-old IIT alumnus as the common man’s representative, an image that the party had earlier sought to portray. The iconic hatchback blue Wagon-R, which he used during his 49-day tenure in 2013-14, has been replaced by a multi-utility Innova car in his second term. There is a physical change as well.
In 2015, and in the following years, Kejriwal, who suffers from high blood sugar, also went through regular ayurvedic and other therapy to deal with a recurring throat problem. He looks heavier in 2018 than he did in 2015. The muffler, once held up by AAP members as a symbol of Kejriwal’s simplicity and the butt of social media jokes, was seldom seen this winter. Even his youthful rimless glasses have been replaced by a grave and thick black frame. But he has sailed through three tough years. After the control of the Anti-Corruption Branch, which played a critical role in building Kejriwal’s image and his campaign against corruption in his first tenure as Delhi chief minister, went into the hands of the Lt Governor, Kejriwal lost a potent weapon.
In the last few years, he has faced several other hurdles. His key legislations were not passed, his MLAs were arrested and dissent in the party was publicly aired. The expulsion of founder members Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav and the suspension of more than two Cabinet ministers, including Kapil Mishra, from AAP gave the party the kind of publicity it did not need. A Delhi High Court decision giving the Lt Governor supremacy on administrative issues further defanged Kejriwal, as did electoral defeats in civic bodies.
AAP had national ambitions, but after the party’s poor show in Punjab and Goa in March last year, Kejriwal put his focus on Delhi — concentrating on issues such as mohalla clinics and government schools. “But Arvind’s core personality has not changed. He is keeping quiet and launching fewer attacks (on his opponents). These strategies have helped him, so he prefers to follow this path,” said the AAP leader. Gandhi said Kejriwal might have changed, but he was still “ruthless”. “Earlier, I agreed to his ruthlessness because it was for the better of the country. Now it is to retain power,” Gandhi added.