An apology goes a long way, as Mr Kejriwal has realized, and as other politicians are beginning to get. I was as wounded as any other Delhiite when he chose to leave our city after we had handed it to him, but the more I read about him and how he said, “Listen, I’m really sorry, mistakes were made, give me another chance,” the more I wanted to vote for him. So, he quit. People have done worse things—not apologized for them—and still won elections. Why should this be his Unforgivable Thing, which for a man brand new to politics, isn’t even that unforgivable?
A lot of people on my social media blamed Modi’s jacket (which I talked about two columns ago); emblematic of his attitude, some said; for his party’s resounding loss. The BJP and the Congress have both gotten far too smug, far too comfortable with the idea of being the only two choices for most of India, and as a result, they’re not doing very much else beyond big words and talks of reform and slugging mud over at their opponents.
But I think the measure of Kejriwal could be taken by his attitude to his wife. While Mr Modi pretended Mrs Modi never existed, Rahul Gandhi is a confirmed bachelor and even Kiran Bedi is… divorced? (It’s hard to tell), Kejriwal has always been a man of his family. A photo of him hugging his wife circulated as he tweeted, “Thank you Sunita.” An Indian man. An Indian politician. Hugging his wife in public? It’s huge! It’s a victory already! He even made her come onto stage with him as he smiled at the roaring crowd, cheering for his victory. “This is my wife,” he told them, as they chanted his name, “I would not have been able to do anything without her.”
In contrast, I can’t remember a single other Indian politician acknowledging that there were other people besides his or her party who helped them get where they were. Modi works alone, flashing peace signs at crowds who sing his name, Rahul Gandhi is, yes, accompanied by Mummy, but only so Mummy can keep one beady eye on him as he smirks through his speeches. I tried to remember if I ever saw former PM Manmohan Singh in public with his wife, so I Googled it only to find pictures of her with him greeting the Obamas and other such affairs which did not expose her to the Indian public. More? Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a well-known philanderer. Indira Gandhi had a husband somewhere once, who was never in the picture again after their kids were older. Only Rajiv Gandhi seemed to acknowledge the fact that he was married, and I’m sure his glamorous Italian wife and the mood of the ‘80s had more to do with that than a political move.
Now I’m not saying Kejriwal’s hat-tip to his wife was purely political. I’m sure he loves her, and there was also a very sweet photo collage of him and his son, who first extended a hand to be shook and then, overcome by emotion, Kejriwal reached out and hugged him hard. He seems like what he always says he is: a middle class man with a family, who works hard and cares for them. It’s nice! He’s a politican people like us can identify with, because we’re either related to someone like that or are someone like that. He’s a politician women like because he respects and speaks out for women. He’s a politician basically that speaks across borders (except I don’t think the very rich care for his brand of populous politics): his peculiar way of being (that ghastly muffler, those horrible sweaters!) making him even more endearing. I’d be too shy to have lunch with Rahul Gandhi, too intimidated to have lunch with Narendra Modi, but I think Arvind Kejriwal and I could have a lot to talk about.
Actually, I think I’d rather have lunch with Sunita Kejriwal. She strikes me as a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it for herself or for people she loves. She also strikes me as someone who knows how to have a happy relationship without giving up work or sacrificing on motherhood or wifehood or all those other things the media says we can’t have if we have the other. I’m going to be watching her journey at her husband’s side, and wishing her well, just as I do him.
(A version of this column appeared in mydigitalfc.com)