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New Yorker: The Agitator

Author: Samanth Subramanian
September 2, 2013


"[K]ejriwal was tramping throughout the city at the rate of a rally a day, declaring that the Delhi government was corrupt, that it was robbing citizens blind by overcharging them for electricity and water, and that it was getting away with its misdeeds. Kejriwal considers himself the leader of a mass movement, something more radical than political opposition. 'The next election,' he said, 'will be a revolution.'"

One evening last February, Arvind Kejriwal, India's most vocal crusader against corruption, fidgeted in an S.U.V. passenger seat, bound for a rally in west Delhi. He wore a white Gandhi cap printed in Hindi with the words "I am the common man," a reference to his boisterous new political party, Aam Aadmi ("Common Man"). Earlier in the day, he had sent tweets scorning a court summons that he and his party executives had received for "unlawful assembly" at a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's home. Now his thumbs skittered over his BlackBerry as he scanned dozens of outraged responses. The phone rang incessantly, but he rarely picked up. He believed that the government was using its intelligence agencies to monitor him and his party's top officials. "Our phones are tapped. Our e-mails are under surveillance," he told me. This was the price to be paid, he seemed to say, for upsetting the order of Indian politics.

The rally was an early foray, by Kejriwal's young party, into the clamorous world of political campaigning. National elections will not be held until next summer, after elections to the Delhi legislature this fall. The country's two dominant parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, are behemoths of power and money. Compared with them, Aam Aadmi is a featherweight, but it has in Kejriwal the most potent weapon of any fledgling party in recent memory. Whatever success the Party enjoys in the upcoming elections, it will have opened new avenues of participation for India's small and struggling independent parties.

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