Rise and fall of Arvind Kejriwal: From anti-corruption crusader to liquor scam accused

From leading the ‘India against Corruption’ movement to becoming the chief minister of Delhi thrice in a row, Arvind Kejriwal, arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on March 21, 2024, has had a chequered career as a bureaucrat-turned-activist-turned-politician.

Arvind Kejriwal
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Admi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. Screenshot courtesy: X/@ArvindKejriwal

Kejriwal’s arrest comes at a time when his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is making a serious foray into electoral politics through a tie-up with its opposition INDIA bloc partner Congress for the Lok Sabha polls (general elections to determine the next Government of India) in the northern states of Delhi, Haryana, and Gujarat.

The arrest of 55-year-old Kejriwal, who is also the AAP national convener, may have serious repercussions on the poll fortunes of the party, since he has been at the centre of its plans and strategy for the Lok Sabha elections.

In his absence, the party stares at uncertainty, as many of its other senior leaders are either in jail or in political obscurity.

Two of the trusted Kejriwal aides — Sanjay Singh and Manish Sisodia — are in prison in connection with the excise policy case, while another trusted aide Satyendar Jain is in jail in a separate money laundering case.

Manish Sisodia and Arvind Kejriwal
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, who is currently facing charges. Screenshot courtesy: X/@msisodia

An IIT graduate, Kejriwal first led AAP to form the government in Delhi in 2013 with outside support from the Congress. He faced off with former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit in the New Delhi constituency and defeated her by a margin of 22,000 votes in his poll debut.

But the Aam Aadmi Party-Congress government lasted only 49 days; Kejriwal resigned since he was unable to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi Assembly.

Buoyed by the party’s electoral gains in its first-ever elections in Delhi, Kejriwal announced his decision to face off with the BJP’s Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi, only to face a crushing defeat.

The next year, Kejriwal led AAP to victory on 67 seats in the national capital, restricting the BJP, which was riding the Modi wave, to only 3 seats, while the Congress drew a blank.

In the run-up to the 2015 Assembly polls, Kejriwal had constantly apologised for his actions during the 49-day tenure in 2013 and promised not to quit again.

Expanding the “common man” footprint

Emerging from the anti-corruption movement of 2011, AAP was founded in the national capital by Kejriwal and his closest associates on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) the next year. The party’s name — Aam Aadmi — means “Common Man”, indicating that the party prioritises the common man (or woman).

Within a short span of 12 years, Kejriwal has single-handedly led AAP’s rise as the third-largest national party of the country, following the BJP and the Congress, having its footprints not only in Delhi and Punjab but also in faraway Gujarat and Goa.

Kejriwal, who was challenged by politicians during his ‘India against Corruption’ days to take a plunge into active politics to taste realpolitik, managed to keep issues like health, education, water and electricity supply as the core of his politics and governance, even as his detractors slammed him for giving up on his promise for Lokpal.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with Lt Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with Lt Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena on March 12, 2024, inaugurating the Engineered Landfill of Municipal Corporation in Okhla Tehkhand. This modern plant has arrangements to process the ash generated after disposal of garbage, for which 15 acres of land has been developed. Curbing pollution in the infamously polluted Delhi has been one of the key priorities of Kejriwal, who had also initiated the odd-even vehicle scheme to cut vehicular pollution in the state. Photo courtesy: X/@ArvindKejriwal
Engineered Landfill plant established by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal
Engineered Landfill of Municipal Corporation in Okhla Tehkhand, established by the AAP government in Delhi. Photo courtesy: X/@ArvindKejriwal

He rose to prominence as an activist riding on the widespread public anger over big-ticket corruption charges on the then Congress-led UPA regime in 2011; and he still maintains the streak, slamming politicians over the dilapidated condition of health and education in the country.

In his over a decade-long political journey, Kejriwal has shown a variety of moves, be it joining the INDIA bloc of opposition parties, whose leaders he earlier slammed over corruption issues, or adopting a “soft Hindutva” approach exemplified by his free pilgrimage scheme and the recent chanting of “Jai Sri Ram” slogans in the Delhi Assembly.

Once, Kejriwal had demanded that photos of the Hindu deities Ganesha and Lakshmi be put on currency notes for the economic prosperity of India.

But now, AAP’s claim of pursuing corruption-free governance and alternative politics receives a big dent as Kejriwal is arrested in connection with the liquor scam case.

While defending his aides, Kejriwal used to call corruption “treason” and asserted that AAP followed the path shown by the freedom-fighter Bhagat Singh.

His arrest in a corruption case is, indeed, a big deviation from his earlier persona as an AAP leader holding a 14-day fast in 2013 to put pressure on the then Sheila Dikshit government for action over “inflated” water and electricity bills in Delhi.

Having positioned himself among the top politicians in the country, Kejriwal has come a long way in a relatively short span of his political journey, which began as a thin, bespectacled, muffler-clad leader of a fledgling party around 2014-15 that earned him the “Mufflerman” nickname.