As it suffers the assault of reality, Arvind Kejriwal's idealism is on test. How it fares has profound implications for India's future politics. Kejriwal has already reversed his decision to hold public meetings and has thereby made himself relatively inaccessible to the people. As his detractors - mostly envious politicians - share a laugh and wait for him to conform further to the ways of Indian politics, Kejriwal has to tread the razor's edge of an administrator and an activist. It will not be easy.
There is no doubt that Kejriwal's "janata darbar" in the national capital on January 11 caused a stampede-like situation. The large turnout, largely due to a lack of accountability at lower levels of governance, resulted in a large number of people showing up to present their problems before the popular chief minister. However, while a day later Kejriwal said he would hold such meetings in a more suitable location, on January 13 he said he would not hold them at all. Reversal of a stand is a serious business and while on relatively minor matters changing views is necessary, on more serious and fundamental matters changing stand may cost him his reputation.
In more than six decades, India has had numerous politicians who have by and large been clones of each other with regard to what they seek from politics and the people. Devoid of patriotism, a social vision or commitment to an ideal, they have been content enjoying the privileges that await every successful politician in the country.
Sequestered from common life and its rigours, India's politicians and bureaucrats have for decades refused to address the issues of the common people and created a world for themselves run on public funds. This is what Kejriwal describes as "VIP culture". With beacon lights as its symbol, the VIP way of life constitutes special living zones with uninterrupted power, clean water, proximity to the heart of cities, privileged access to medical services, institutions, jobs, positions of influence and numerous benefits which are not part of common life.
That is why Kejriwal's issues - corruption and VIP culture - represent the aspirations of Indians who seek greater equality and accountability. When he said in one of his recent speeches that what his government will do now should have been done when India attained Independence from British rule in 1947, he echoed the perception of the common people whose relationship with the state has remained unchanged since the beginning of colonial rule.
However, Kejriwal traverses a solitary path as a people's politician. Although lauded for his idealism and radical announcements and decisions, Kejriwal has also drawn mild criticism for hesitating to outrightly reject the two large houses that were allotted to him. While the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress wait for him to stumble, they also expect him to give in and enjoy the privileges which politicians consider to be the simple and natural right of those in positions of power. This would put Kejriwal in the same league as them and take away the distinction which he has attained as a result of this difference.
In an overcrowded country of over a billion people, Kejriwal is a rare politician who is seeking distinction for being a common man. His break from tradition is his unique selling proposition. He has already been a catalyst of change in states that are far from the one he governs. It is important that he takes measured steps so that he does not have to retrace them and thereby dilute the idealism which marks him out in a crowd of politicians who are of the people but are certainly not for the people. It is for this reason that Kejriwal needs to bridge the gap between his idealism and reality without either diluting or abandoning the values he stands for.