NEW DELHI – The chatter rose to fever pitch in the run-up to his news conference. Who would India’s anti-corruption crusader expose this week? This business leader? That politician? Some other conspiracy? There were any number of potential targets, after all.
Arvind Kejriwal strode in to the lawn at the Indian Press Club, looking steadily ahead, an expression of grim determination etched onto this face. More than 40 television cameras faced him as he took his seat, every major news channel preparing to beam this live.
This former tax inspector-turned-activist launched his political career last month with a series of highly charged exposes, laying out what he describes as a nexus of corruption between the country’s highest politicians and its richest business leaders.
On Friday, he accused business leaders of stashing huge sums of money in Swiss bank accounts to evade tax, and perhaps to act as a slush fund for bribes. A major international bank was colluding, he alleged, and when evidence of wrongdoing first emerged in 2011, the government’s reaction was to sweep the whole affair under the carpet.
Reporters were given 61-page booklets with photocopied police statements. Page numbers were cited, important sentences underlined and read out.
There are no holds barred, no names he will not name, from the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, to its president, Pranab Mukherjee.
As a social activist, Kejriwal used to smile a lot. These days, he almost never does.
His anger never wavers.
When a colleague spoke, he surveyed and sized up the massed ranks of the press with an imperial gaze. At other times, his lower lip protruded in an expression that bordered on a sulk. He has mastered the idiom of television news perfectly.
At his press conferences, Kejriwal speaks only in Hindi – although his English is fluent-- explaining the corruption in ways that the “common man” will understand.
“Switzerland is a country, Geneva is a city,” he said at one point, as he tracked the way money mysteriously moved from one country to another without passing through any bank account here, and how the government parried calls for an investigation.
“When I read these papers, I feel repulsed by this government. It is fallen and inferior,” he said. “The government is encouraging criminals, the government is protecting criminals.”
Ambani’s Reliance Industries rejected Kejriwal’s accusations, denying the existence of any illegitimate accounts abroad. “The continued tirade of baseless accusations being made by IAC (India Against Corruption) against us appears to be instigated by vested interests,” it said in a statement.