Arvind Kejriwal has achieved the impossible: an incredible hat-trick in Delhi as chief minister! The Magsaysay awardee ‘krantikari’ Indian Revenue Service officer whose political signature was protests, protests, and more protests, swept the Delhi polls today on the development plank, redefining one more time how the mind of the Indian electorate can be moulded to think differently, given the right stimuli and communication strokes.
The entire Delhi campaign this time around was run by Kejriwal on simple-to-explain, easy-to-relate to themes: education, health, water and electricity. And these were stories that the Delhi voter understood; empathised with; and rewarded Kejriwal for, with a resounding victory.
So, what exactly is Brand Kejriwal? Has the brand always been the same? Or has it evolved? Has it undergone mid-course correction? Has it smartly distanced itself from prevailing national themes and polarised narratives, and built a brand personality that is different and unique? Well, let us examine each one of these questions, though not necessarily in that order.
* Brand Kejriwal is unique, especially in the current polity. Kejriwal always had a certain aura about him — that of an ‘enlightened citizen’, a bureaucrat-turned-protestor, who cared for what matters to the common man, the aam aadmi. From the virulent anti-corruption stance of his early days in politics, to a citizen-centric development theme in 2020, Kejriwal has always been unique, but also adaptive. He has learnt from his mistakes, and quickly. He has publicly appeared repentant and remorseful, especially after his first innings of seven weeks as chief minister when he threw in the towel on the Lok Pal issue but quickly figured that he had made an error of judgement. He changed tack, and came back as chief minister in less than a year on a wave of popularity no one thought was ever possible.
* Brand Kejriwal is different. He is an IITian. Without doubt, he is an educated man, a conscientious man who gave up a reasonably ‘lucrative’ career as a senior bureaucrat to be at the forefront of a citizens’ movement, building a party ground-up with no real financial backers, no overt religious orientation and honestly almost no hope in its nascent phase. He has managed to always keep alive a certain buzz around himself, even when his new party suffered massive reverses in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Despite dismal results, Kejriwal managed to stay relevant.
* Brand Kejriwal is focused. While pursuing the hurly-burly of electoral politics, Kejriwal figured pretty early in the game that while he may have been catapulted to national fame and acclaim on confrontation and protest, his real future in politics had to be rooted in longer-term achievements on the ground. In his 67-3 victory of five years ago, Kejriwal shrugged off the mantle of the quintessential protestor, and donned the avatar of a development-focused leader of the common man. Despite all the distractions of everyday politics and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) giving him a tough time through a super-boss, Lt Governor, who was at most times diametrically opposed to him, Kejriwal focused on schools, health, water and electricity, delivering on common everyday problems that affected the aam aadmi, and made his life better. In today’s verdict, the citizens of Delhi have unequivocally given Kejriwal a big mandate one more time.
* Brand Kejriwal is honest; is trustworthy. There is something about Arvind Kejriwal that has a ring of honesty. He kind of exudes an easy confidence: that he understands the issues at hand; understands the limitations of the system; is willing to maximise the given opportunity; and most importantly, do his darnedest best to deliver. Few would remain unimpressed from statistics that he, for example, quotes on how 400 students from government schools in Delhi have made it to the IITs with help from the vast improvement he has brought about in education in the Indian capital.
* Brand Kejriwal is ‘like me’. The biggest strength of Arvind Kejriwal is that for the ordinary Joe, he has very high affinity and identification. He speaks the language you and I speak; not the hype and hyperbole of the usual politician, but a more tempered, more reasoned, more relatable conversation about subjects the aam aadmi is concerned about. These are mundane matters that affect and impact everyday life. In his 2020 campaign, Kejriwal kept a safe distance from national issues as also from nationalism. He gave the BJP no space to fight on. He maximised his own narrative on what he had done for Delhi, and did not succumb to any temptation to engage on issues where his competitors would have had an edge.
Do all things above make Arvind Kejriwal a smart politician? Well, it sure does. But more importantly, it makes him a brand that is authentic, original, honest, trustworthy, progressive and proximate.
It is to Kejriwal’s credit that he has carved out a distinct and differentiated niche in Indian politics. He has had his share of controversy, and relative notoriety, but despite all the setbacks and upheavals, he has been quick on the uptake, a nimble learner, an astute thinker, a clever communicator, and yes, an able administrator. Delhi is not an easy state to run, especially with partial reins of government in the hands of the Centre. Given limited space to manoeuvre, and with many constraints to his authority, Kejriwal has delivered a lofted maximum. He needs to be given full credit for such an awesome showing, given that it is now an impressive hat-trick.
Brand Kejriwal will be fun to watch in the days to come. Will he try and aspire for a national footprint? Or will he stick to the knitting, and narrow-focus on building on his Delhi achievements? Will he try to match up to Brand Modi or just completely steer clear of him, as he did in the current campaign? Will he continue with his ‘do-good’ positioning, and fortify his franchise with his current constituency of goodwill, willingly sacrificing the upside of his current victory in geographies like Punjab?
Methinks Brand Kejriwal is smart. He is savvy. He is less excitable. He is less ‘revolutionary’. He is more sure-footed after today’s emphatic victory. Brand Kejriwal is growing, both in stature and impact — growing in differentiation, and relevance, and most importantly, in esteem.
Dr Sandeep Goyal is a PhD in the study of Celebrities as Human Brands.