Lunch with an obsessive Kejriwal and a sullen Hazare

23 April 2014
Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi meet with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (left) in June 2011. At the meeting, Kumar promised to introduce a strong Lokpal Bill in his state.

Before Arvind Kejriwal was a politician, he was a civil activist who battled the UPA government for greater transparency and accountability in its functioning. The demand for the tabling of the Jan Lokpal bill powered the India Against Corruption movement and remains a central part of his party’s—the AAP—manifesto today. In this extract from our September 2011 profile, Mehboob Jeelani meets Kejriwal and his then partner in activism, now political rival, Anna Hazare, over lunch in a rented apartment in Mayur Vihar in east Delhi.

At the end of June 2011, I met Kejriwal as he was leaving a government guesthouse in South Delhi, accompanied by Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi. He had forgotten about the scheduled interview I had arrived to conduct, but when I introduced myself, he quickly motioned me into Manish Sisodia’s car, which followed Hazare and Kejriwal back to East Delhi.

The drafting committee exercise had already ended in failure, and Kejriwal and Team Anna were making the rounds to drum up support for the Jan Lokpal from other political parties. Sisodia excitedly explained that they had just emerged from a meeting with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had promised to introduce a strong Lokpal Bill in his state. “Inki to phateygi ab (The politicians will get screwed now),” Sisodia proclaimed as we slid into the car. “If Nitish does that, automatically others will feel pressure.”

We came to a stop in Mayur Vihar in East Delhi, and entered a large concrete apartment block, where Kejriwal had rented a three-bedroom flat for Hazare. A tall, dark-skinned man opened the door and led us into the drawing room, where bowls of chopped salad had been set out on the table alongside plates of rice and dal. Brand new cutlery, cups, towels and dustbins sat unused in plastic bags on the floor in one corner of the room. Manish tapped on one of the doors, and Kejriwal briefly emerged before turning into a toilet to wash his hands and feet. He had agreed to an hour-long interview, but first he wanted to finalise the text for a pamphlet with Sisodia, who was sitting on the floor with a computer on his lap. Kejriwal sat down next to Sisodia and pointed at the screen. “Here I was thinking something should come,” he said. “No no, don’t erase ration card corruption. Keep it simple.”Kejriwal scratched at his head, absorbed in thought and looking for words. “Yes, driving licence corruption,” he said. “Good, this is punchy.”

“How much time do you want?” he asked me. And then, “Can I have some food first?”

Mehboob Jeelani  is a former staff writer at The Caravan. He is currently studying for an MA in journalism at Columbia University.