A sheer cloak of humility and messianic self-belief

The props are carefully middleclass, including a green polythene bag in the background. The feet are bare and the chin is not properly shaved as if keeping the option of a goatee open. The hair is neatly parted and mustache trimmed. The shirt is lose and not tucked inside his trousers with sleeves partly rolled up. The look is trademark Arvind Kejriwal. After all, it is Arvind Kejriwal. But what difference does that make?

The question is his and not mine. He says in Hindi, “Main Arvind Kejriwal hoon. Par is se kya fark padta hai?” (I am Arvind Kejriwal. But what difference does that make?) The question is meant to sound self-effacing but ends up sounding self-consciously grand. He knows because it is Arvind Kejriwal it might make a difference. This is an old Indian trick. Those who have obviously become public figures of some consequence wrap themselves in a sheer cloak of humility. The pose works because all parties involved are complicit in this fakery. 

For all you know, Kejriwal genuinely believes that his being Kejriwal makes no difference. Let me take him at his word but he is smart enough to know that without the name recognition and certain mystique of powerful ordinariness that it now invokes, no one would pay attention to someone whose existence makes no difference. He knows it. His followers know it. But they both aid and abet the mystique of ordinariness.

His manner is non-threatening but remarkably firm. His conviction stems from messianic self-belief. He knows it is he who carries the burden but asserts that it is a shared load by saying that it is the ordinary people who will make a difference in this election. That he is one of the common folk is what gives him the consequentiality, he insists. Perhaps true in a philosophical sense but let me raise a counter question. What if it was Lali, the auto-rickshaw driver who slapped him, in Kejriwal’s place? There is always something that separates the leader from the led. That something could be just a draw of random luck but it is still a draw that picks one out over the other.

It is expedient for Kejriwal to say what he does. That he also happens to sincerely believe in it is a happy coincidence. Gandhi used to joke how expensive it was for his benefactors to keep him in poverty. Simple arithmetic would tell you that it must cost Kejriwal and his minders some money to do what they do even if what they do is so professedly ordinary.

As campaign videos go, this one is rather interesting, even compelling, from his vantage point. It is minimalist and deliberately shorn of the bluster and bragging that attends the campaigns of Kejriwal’s rivals, particularly Narendra Modi’s. We will find out soon enough whether the message of ordinariness delivered with extraordinary earnestness will work for Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

I don’t know who shot and edited the video but it is someone who has understood the essence of the Kejriwal persona rather well. The cuts are effective as are the close-ups. Kejriwal’s own comfort level in front of the camera helps a great deal in making this a credible video even if it may be cleverly hiding political machinations. I say so what if it hides political machinations? He is a politician no matter how much protests to the contrary.


Arvind Kejriwal


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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