Arvind Kejriwal: Voice of poor or eye on polls?
New Delhi: As he ended his fortnight-long fast Saturday, Arvind Kejriwal has garnered the support of thousands of people from outlying working-class areas of the capital who see him as their saviour for raising the issue of "inflated" power and water bills.
But many feel it is part of a calculated political plan with an eye on the Delhi elections later this year.
On his part, though, Kejriwal claimed the fast was for the nation and not for power. "Had I been power-hungry, I would not have sat on fast," he said while addressing his supporters prior to breaking his fast.
The former Anna Hazare aide-turned-politician looked feeble and weak and has reportedly lost nine kg and is suffering from blurring vision due to his prolonged fast, but those close to him claim that his protest fast has successfully captured the attention of Nand Nagari and other resettlement colonies populated mostly by daily wagers, petty shopkeepers, factory workers and scrap dealers.
Though this time round, the media attention was missing, possibly because he did not choose the centre of the city for his fasting venue. But Kejriwal did manage to create a flutter by surpassing the 13 day-fast period of his mentor Anna Hazare.
He decided on Nand Nagri, where houses are cheek-by-jowl, for his fast as it was the place from where he launched his protest in 1999 to demand that the government bring in the Right to Information Act, which was enacted in 2005. Kejriwal, 43, began his fast - March 23 outside a house belonging to a tailor, Ranjit Singh, in the congested east Delhi area of Sundar Nagri in Nand Nagri. He would interact with supporters and hundreds of others who came to meet him in a small tent erected in the narrow alley outside the F-1/45 house.
He would recline on cushions placed over a makeshift stage and would go back periodically to relax inside the approximately 12 ft X 10 ft single room ground floor flat. Throughout the fast period, Kejriwal, a known diabetic, survived on seven-eight litres of boiled water daily, his aide claimed.
His associates brushed off the lack of media attention.
"Though the media attention was less this time, we succeeded in our protest because our volunteers were working at the ground level. Kejriwal's fast, combined with our door-to-door campaigning and the help desks we set up in 272 wards across the capital, helped to make our movement a success," Gopal Rai, a senior member of AAP, told IANS. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) was launched by Kejriwal in November last year.
The activist-turned-politician has vowed to continue his fight for issues concerning poorer and working class sections.
Vijay Kumar, a resident of Seelampur in east Delhi, is among Kejriwal's ardent supporters. Kumar was last month slapped with an electricity bill of Rs.46,000. He did not have a proper connection for many years and would illegally tap power from overhead cables.
He has signed up for the Gandhi-style "civil disobedience movement which urges people not to pay their "inflated" bills and sign the letters of protest to the Delhi government. After he ends his fast, Kejriwal will go on a door-to-door campaign over the "inflated" water and power bills, his volunteers said.
The people of Nand Nagri are enthused with Kejriwal. Radhey Shyam is one of hundreds who has turned a supporter of Kejriwal.
"In the coming elections my family and myself will vote for AAP. We salute Kejriwal," Shyam, a 54-year-old shopkeeper, told IANS.
While earlier all the members and volunteers were saying the fast would continue for some more days, no one was ready to comment on why Kejriwal suddenly announced ending it Saturday.
AAP members are claiming that they have been successful in attracting people's attention as they were able to get 960,000 Delhiites to sign up for their movement.
But Kejriwal's former aide, Mufti Shamoon Qasmi, claims the fast is an eyewash. "He (Kejriwal) and his party are only eyeing the coming assembly elections," Qasmi, a social activist, told IANS.
"I am surprised how a diabetic can survive only on water for two weeks," wondered Qasmi, adding that Kejriwal is "over-ambitious".
Qasmi had parted ways with Kejriwal in April last year following differences over the latter's announcement of a political party.
India Against Corruption member and Anna Hazare aide Shivendra Singh Chauhan, 35, too cast doubts over the number of people who came to support Kejriwal. "Anyone can quote any figure they want, but is it actually so? The main question is: will he be able to convert all this into votes? I will call the fast successful only then."
"It won't be easy," Chauhan mused.