It takes 10 days to track the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)'s Ashish Khetan for an interview and two more for his volunteers to revert that he spends 45 minutes between campaign stops, an indication this is the slot to be grabbed if one has to meet him.
Khetan's constituency, New Delhi, stretches from Delhi Cantonment and includes Malviya Nagar, R K Puram, Karol Bagh and Rajinder Nagar. At the house of supporter Karam Lamba in Alaknanda, Greater Kailash, in the same constituency, journalist-turned-politician Khetan has salad, roti, sabzi, lassi and rice. Lamba, an ex-sugar baron from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh (the same area as Khetan), now owns a liquor shop and two construction sites. He says he is totally committed to AAP.
It is this loyalty Khetan, 38, plans to cash on, especially as observers say AAP might have lost the confidence of a few sections in Delhi.
For its first general elections, AAP has fielded several journalists. Khetan says the fledgling party is the only one willing to give rank outsiders a chance. "I could have joined politics only through AAP. For other parties, there are Rahul Gandhi or Ajay Maken, who are from political families," says Khetan, who has spent more than a decade as an investigative journalist for several TV networks, as well as Tehelka. "I had, in any case, left mainstream media, becoming an activist-journalist and doing my work by filing PILs."
Khetan's most recent scoop, 'snoopgate', had taped conversations in which Gujarat Police officials were heard tailing a young woman on the orders of a certain saheb, widely believed to be Gujarat Chief Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
The tapes, released by Khetan-run Gulail.com in November last year, are chilling. Senior Gujarat Police officers are heard keeping track of the young woman's movements, even innocuous outings such as eating paan with a male companion. After the tapes were released, the woman's father issued a statement, saying he had requested Modi to keep his daughter under surveillance.
Khetan said he had approached a number of mainstream publications for a tie-up but no one wanted to have anything to do with the tapes. He says a part of the media is "controlled by Modi's henchmen in the corporate world. A lot of the media is not doing journalism in public interest, it is doing journalism in corporate interest; Modi represents crony capitalism and corporate interests".
Modi's march towards New Delhi has not faced many hurdles, excluding his alleged role in the post-Godhra riots. Largely, he has managed to keep his personal image clean. Khetan's tapes, the first to challenge this perception, also, in a way, fetched him a ticket for the elections.
Across social media, Khetan, a Marwari married to a Goan radio jockey and father to three daughters, is facing flak for using journalism to step into politics. In media circles, however, he commands respect, not only for snoopgate, but also for his earlier work, including investigating Hindu and Muslim terrorist networks. "I think Khetan has done some great work. In its judgment, a court in Gujarat has quoted extensively on his work… if it weren't for our media culture of generally ignoring each other's work, all of us would know about it," says Aniruddha Bahal, who heads independent investigative news portal cobrapost.com and who also has several investigations to his credit.
Wave of energy
It is clear in a political system in which the old guard rules and the new crop of leaders emerges out of political families, people such as Khetan have ushered in new energy.
It was this energy and promise of a new order that brought Kejriwal to the post of chief minister in Delhi. The AAP chief's short tenure, however, left many wondering whether the party could cope with India's complex governance system. "We cannot compromise on principals, even if we stay in power for a short time," says Khetan.
While AAP was in power in Delhi, it was alleged Somnath Bharti, then Delhi law minister, had carried out a raid in Khirki Extension here, accusing a few African women of being involved in prostitution and drug-dealing. Khetan, however, defends the action, saying residents of that area (he points to at least three who have joined him for a meal) are now happy. "If people of an area say there is a drug racket or a prostitution racket, as public representatives, we have to represent. We were asking the police to investigate… no one entered anyone's house," he says.
Representing the people as a politician and investigating corrupt politicians as a journalist are, however, different kettles of fish.