But when he finally took the microphone, this tax inspector-turned-activist-turned-politician made no bones about his grand ambitions: to sweep away an entire political system in which corruption and cronyism have become deeply embedded.
“We are not here for power, we are here to change the political system,” he told a crowd of thousands who had come from around the country to attend his political debut in a small town in northern India. “We haven’t let the powerful enjoy a good night’s sleep since we announced the formation of a political party. . . . We will teach them a lesson in politics.”
Kejriwal was the driving force behind the India Against Corruption movement that brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets last year, energizing the country’s normally apathetic middle class to campaign for the creation of a powerful anti-corruption ombudsman.
When that movement seemed to fizzle out, Kejriwal emerged from a back-seat role to form his own political party and, in a series of electrifying news conferences, accused some of his country’s most high-profile figures of corruption or cronyism.
His targets have ranged from Robert Vadra, son-in-law of India’s most powerful politician, Sonia Gandhi, to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, head of the Reliance business empire. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not been spared, nor has the leader of the country’s main opposition party, Nitin Gadkari.
In the process, this 44-year-old has gone where even India’s raucous media normally fear to tread, taking on the revered
Nehru-Gandhi family that has dominated this country’s politics since independence and exposing the nexus between big business and politics.
“Our country is very resource-rich. We have forests, mountains, rivers, oil and gas,” Kejriwal said. “But corporates in collusion with politicians and bureaucrats are looting this country. What is the real reason for rising prices?”
His campaign has won him millions of followers but also seen him threatened, jailed and sued. Ruling party politicians have called him a gutter snake and an opportunist, a self-serving megalomaniac with a Hitler streak, an anarchist and a danger to democracy.
Each of Kejriwal’s exposés is eagerly anticipated by the media and the subject of frenzied speculation among the elite.
‘Worse than an insect’
In Farrukhabad, his target was Salman Khurshid, a former minister of law and justice and a local member of Parliament whom Kejriwal accused of stealing money meant for the disabled through a charity run by his wife.
One by one, disabled men were lifted onto the stage. Many had the stick-thin limbs typical of polio victims. Pieces of paper were brandished that, Kejriwal said, proved that the men had been listed as receiving tricycle wheelchairs. One by one, the men said they had received nothing.