Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the de facto supreme leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is certainly one of the most remarkable political con of contemporary times. From a Gandhi-styled protestor with a muffler-cladding caricature of a common man to an astute politician to a play-it-safe chief minister who ideologically stands up for almost zilch; from a crusader for transparency to someone who is as opaque as other Indian politicians, and from the promise of good governance to a poor grip on administrative affairs, as highlighted most recently during the Covid crisis, Kejriwal’s path has been fractious. On one hand, he projects himself as the only honest public figure who’s on a single-handed crusade against corruption while his kin keep facing allegations time and again. He talked about opening schools but we could only find new liquor shops thriving in Kejriwal’s Delhi. His development model is as conspicuous and palpable as the water in Yamuna but what is even more notable is his penchant for sponsoring advertisements and campaigns – from print to television to digital – with state funds, of course. This sense of vanity and conceit – obscuring the narcissistic badge attributed to him by his arch-rivals and political adversaries – has earmarked him as a name worth mentioning, the ‘AdMan’ of India.
Last Christmas, Kejriwal hogged headlines yet another time for wrong reason: spending taxpayer’s money on the front page advertisement of almost every newspaper India has, across all states, spanning every established language and in every edition. The CM had planned to take on the role of Santa Claus on Christmas ensuring that media corporations have a field day with government money being spent on advertisements and promotions. This comes from a man who once remarked on April 7, 2014, “Which party paid how much money to which media house for ads?” Do people have a right to know this?” But this doesn’t come as a surprise when the media misses this Kejriwal as being one of the “media-friendly” CMs. Perhaps, where everyone misses the woods for the trees, Kejriwal never kept his propensity for advertising and self-love under wraps. In fact, he asserted it publicly by including Leo Burnett’s adman KV Sridhar in his team back in 2014. His very exaltation from a common man to Delhi Chief Minister is a political con worth vetting which a keen observer of foreign studies can identify with the CIA model of Ramon Magsaysay, where a cause or struggle is created, a hero is cherry-picked to be parachuted and launched to national and international fame. But that is for some other day to discuss.
Kejriwal’s photograph is nearly all-pervasive in the national capital from videos at Metro stations about AAP’s “sweeping changes” in the education and health sectors to individual newspaper ads and posters congratulating each of Delhi’s 11 districts for launching work on roads and drains. Discounting the amount spent by the Kejriwal government during the 49-day government in 2013 and about one-and-a-half months in 2014-15 owing to the absence of data, the overall amount spent by the Kejriwal government could be somewhat higher than the estimate of Rs 511.78 crore. While the expenditure in 2012-13 was Rs 11.18 crore, it increased to Rs 25.24 crore in 2013-14 and Rs 11.12 crore in 2014-15, with a dramatic increase to Rs 81.23 crore in 2015-16. However, in the following fiscal year, the cost was reduced to Rs 67.25 crore, only to nearly double in 2017-18, when it reached Rs 117.76 crore. However, in September 2016, a Centre-appointed committee slammed the AAP administration for misusing exchequer funds. It had used public funds on advertisements in contravention of Supreme Court norms and demanded that the party reimburse it. However, it plummeted to Rs 45.54 crore in 2018-19 only to more than quadruple in 2019-20, reaching nearly Rs 200 crore. In 2020, the second greatest amount spent on advertising after March was in July when Rs 45.94 crore was spent, followed by Rs 27.68 crore and Rs 19.64 crore in July and August, respectively. According to another RTI response on April 8, 2021, the Kejriwal-led Delhi government spent Rs 150 crore on ads and promotions through various media from January to March 2021.
When the national capital’s health system began to tumble down amid the second wave of coronavirus, this amounted to Rs 1.67 crore each day. Another RTI report indicated that the AAP-led Delhi government spent Rs 64 crore on advertising and publicity between April and June 2021, ensuing which Kejriwal was widely reprimanded for using YouTube adverts to advertise and promote their apparent achievements. Furthermore, in the last two years, the Kejriwal government has spent over Rs 800 crore on advertising.
A publicly elected CM spending exchequer funds for personal glorification, electoral gains, or for reasons unknown to us is nothing new. This has been a rampant feature of the Indian polity across all the political parties of independent India, irrespective of the ideologies they profess and assert. But CM Kejriwal pinned himself to be an Aam Aadmi, a common man, who entered politics after openly forswearing and renouncing any kind of political ambitions, that on national TV – later to chew back his words to formally project himself as a beacon of hope to pave the way for the country’s educated, non-corrupt, and middle class to tread his path to enter politics for good. Plus, his own mentor, Anna Hazare, had to be ditched to pursue politics. When the icon himself falls, we ought to democratically ponder and mull over the following pointers:
1. What made him and his party turn into the very clique he loathed — the very ilk that chooses partisan politics over public welfare?
2. Instead of lavish advertisements, when Delhi was grappling with Covid-19, the billions that they extravagantly expended could have been used for masks, oxygen or any kind of alms instead. In fact, none other than the Congress questioned Kejriwal’s alleged spending of Rs 882 crore on running ads during the pandemic instead of arranging oxygen.
3. Banning Diwali celebrations just to celebrate Christmas exuberantly in all forms of communication not only connotes Hinduphobia but also the polity of placating the said minorities.
4. Punjab enjoys a profuse population of Christian converts, who are called “crypto Christians”, and Kejriwal is eyeing Punjab elections. Is Delhi taxpayers’ money subtly earmarked for bolstering the Punjab election?
5. The billions disbursed for nothing but plain hubris and patting one’s own back could have been pressed into Punjab for creating awareness against drug menace among youth.
It’s time to ask the ‘AdMan’ some tough questions and perhaps, repay by publishing the truth on front pages (often called ‘jackets’ in the print media) to unmask the muffler.
Yuvraj Pokharna is a Surat-based educator, columnist, and social activist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.