As Delhi gears up for elections, the name of Arvind Kejriwal has become a household talking point. Whether one supports him or not, his political party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is expected to get between 20% and 46% of the vote (depending on the survey) this November. For an organization less than an year old, those are some exceedingly astounding numbers.
The success of the party has cast a great deal of attention upon its founder. A number of his accomplishments, such as his IIT-background, his stint in the Indian Revenue Service(IRS), have become staple in discussions about whether he has the political savvy and experience to actually affect “real change” in government.
However, a number of his achievements after IIT are still not well-known, and TheIITian believes that they are instrumental in fully understanding the complex political entity that is Kejriwal.
Consequently, we shine a brief spotlight on Kejriwal, and on his life and career after his graduation from IIT.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
From the IITian Archives:
Editor: How were your IIT days?
Kejriwal: I passed out of Kharagpur in 1989. I remember everything apart from studies. I suppose that was the case with most people. I believe education is not about studies. It shapes the complete personality of a person. The IITs are unique because of their cosmopolitan atmosphere. They bring India together. In Regional Engineering Colleges you may find students of similar vernacular backgrounds, but the IITs are a place, which bring all of India together. There are no ethnic barriers, religious barriers, and caste barriers. What I am today has been shaped in large part by my stay in the IIT.
Ed: Very few people know you’re an IITian. Why do you not refer to your IIT lineage anywhere? Wouldn’t that help your career?
Kejriwal: I very rarely talk about myself. I talk about the country; I talk about the issues; I talk about the society’s problems. Secondly I don’t see politics as a career. Our politics is about changing the politics of this country. The reason this movement became so big was not because of Anna or because of Kejri, it was because people were fed up of corruption and rising prices.
Ed: Is corruption still the major issue that you’re up against?
Kejriwal: We did a survey on the Internet on what are the biggest issues that people were concerned about. The top ones were corruption, rising prices and women’s safety. I think inflation and women’s safety are also related to corruption though people don’t understand that. So ultimately corruption is the biggest issue in all its nuances
Ed: If and when your party comes into power how would you promise clean politics?
Kejriwal: We believe that most problems are caused by too much power being concentrated in the hands of too few people post election. So the answer is decentralizing power. You have to draw extensively from what happens in places like the U.S., and Switzerland. At the town level it’s the local people who meet up for a collective understanding of their problems. Its they who have a say in the decisions that affect their county or town. In some countries they have a say in the legislative processes of the country. So that’s critical for cleaning up politics. Many other things are required, like computerization but still the other two things are critical.
Ed: How would this technology help?
Kejriwal: In the Railways corruption has come down substantially after computerization. Wherever there is extortion-based corruption, where you have to pay a bribe to get a job done, technology can be a great solution. It makes extortion more difficult.
Ed: What about RTI?
Kejriwal: Unfortunately they haven’t used technology properly in RTI. If they did that RTI would be far more successful.
Ed: Are IITians joining your movement?
Kejriwal: Most IITians want to do business in a clean environment. Barring a few most IITian entrepreneurs are proud of their self-made skills and success. Perhaps that’s why many believe in our politics and some are even joining us full-time. I believe I’ve also been a good source of inspiration. If I had to indulge in corruption then an Income Tax job was not a bad idea. Some people think we’re very brave and we’re not scared of exposing those in power, like Vadra or Ambani? That’s also a big attraction that IITians have about us. There are many alumni who’ve helped us in cash or in kind or with their time. In fact our website has been developed pro bono by an alumnus.
Ed: How should IITians get involved in shaping the nation?
Kejriwal: First and foremost people believe that politics is a bad word and only those who are corrupt or power hungry join politics. Till good people don’t join politics we’ll never have clean politics. Politics in our country is supposed to be democracy, which means By the People, For the People. The day people stop taking an interest in politics democracy collapses and this is what’s happened in our country. So just like you take out time for your family you have to take time out for your country. Politics is not just about joining a party; it’s not about sitting on the side and criticizing everything. You have to get up and act. IITians are very influential and can do many things.
Ed: Specifically what can we IITians do?
Kejriwal: Firstly they can join a Party of their choice. Whether it’s the BJP or us or whoever. Once they do that there’s a certain match of skills and opportunities. Within the Party some can take up organization building, some networking, fund-raising, be part of a technology team, give their ideas, be part of a policy planning team. There are many ways but the first step is to act. But you don’t have to join a Party. If you’re more comfortable with something else you could for example, use the Right to Information act to expose a specific instance of corruption. You can write op-eds. Do anything but act. The worst is to sit around in a cocktail party and discuss and criticize.
Ed: There have been many exposes like Vadra but none of them have been taken to a conclusion?
Kejriwal: I can’t do everything and it’s not my job. I’ve decided to open things up for scrutiny and it’s the Government’s job to investigate. But they won’t do it. Unfortunately most people are not questioning them. I’m not the CBI or the PM or the Chief Justice so how is it my job to take it to a logical end. I did whatever I could. The Prime Minister had to take it to a logical end but he’s not doing his job.
Ed: What about IITians joining the Government?
Kejriwal: IITians are very bright and join the bureaucracy relatively easily. Unfortunately many of them after joining become part of bureaucracy. I’ve seen some become as corrupt as others. I wish we could all preserve our integrity and resolve to not sell our souls. But then you have to stand up. For example Ashok Khemka (IITKGP88) was relentless in his fight against a corrupt system. He used to keep getting transferred but he never let the system break his integrity. For some people it may be difficult to lead an unsettling life in which case it’s better to leave that job, go into some other sector and take the system on from outside. The truth is that if your honest, and you raise your voice against corruption, by and large the system hounds you and victimizes you in many ways.
To find out more about this conversation: [Link]
Another fascinating interview of Arvind Kejriwal by the Reader’s Digest: [Link]