The two of them left their respective professions to pursue lofty ideals. They shared an aversion to politics and politicians. They excelled in their idealistic pursuits and received critical acclaim. When there was no other way for them to pursue their ideals further, they joined politics begrudgingly. They shared a common enemy in the form of ‘corrupt politicians’. That is where the comparison ends and divergence begins. Imran Khan and Arvind Kejriwal left Cricket and Civil Service respectively, Imran for his cancer hospital and Kejriwal for his ‘Right to Information’ (RTI) act campaign. Imran was able to collect enough funds and establish the first fully dedicated cancer hospital in Pakistan, while Kejriwal won the Magsaysay award for his work in 2006.

When Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) managed to recapture Delhi’s assembly despite modest expectations, the clichéd comparisons between AAP and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) surfaced again. Truth be told, PTI is nothing like AAP although it should learn the strategies adopted by Aam Admi party because both parties share a platform against political corruption. A brief look at the evolution of both parties is necessary to explain the divergence of their paths. Imran Khan has mentioned in his autobiography that he was inspired to join politics by the receptions he received during his fundraising trips across Pakistan. He didn’t deem it necessary to do grassroots political work before making an entry into politics. He simply mutated from a celebrity cricketer to a celebrity politician. He aligned with right-wing forces at the beginning of his political career and has been unable to shake them off ever since.

His team from 1997 consisted of academics, journalists, environmentalists and civil society activists. His party prepared solution papers for some of the most pressing problems facing our country. Yet he was unable to capture the imagination of the common man. People were willing to donate money to him and his cause generously but were not ready to place their trust in his political acumen. It was not until 2013 that he managed to tranform his popularity into street power. To achieve this feat, he had to accept turncoats and seasoned politicians in his party’s folds. Despite his best efforts, his party was unable to perform as well as expected during the national elections held in May 2013. Part of his defeat can be explained by lack of legwork and grassroots activity by his party members and their inexperience with electoral politics. His party was, however, able to form the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Kejriwal took an entirely different path to politics. During his RTI activism, he held Mohalla Sabhas or neighbourhood brainstorming sessions, forerunner to the formalised Mohalla Sabha featured in AAP manifesto. He pitched tents outside the Central Information Commission in Delhi to protest the Commission’s mistreatment of RTI appellants. His organisation named Parivartan invited journalists to witness the Mohalla Sabhas. The Sabhas operated on the principle that residents of a locality were best equipped to decide how and where their quotas of municipal funds should be spent. He formed a team that drafted an anti-corruption ‘Jan Lokpal’ Bill to be introduced in the assemblies. He aligned with Anna Hazare and even right-wing nationalists for the cause of eliminating corruption. In September 2012, Kejriwal decided to form a new political party, named ‘Aam Aadmi Party”- the party of the common man. The party avoided ideological labels prevalent amongst the big Indian parties and called itself a “post-ideological phenomenon”. Elections for Delhi Assembly held in December 2013 were the first challenge facing the party. AAP surprised almost everybody by winning 27 seats out of 70 in its first showing.

This historic success was followed by 49 days of governance in Delhi during which Kejriwal maintained his activist approach and refused to budge from his stance on the Lokpal Bill, resigning in disgust. In the 2014 national elections, AAP spread itself more than necessary and was able to win only a handful of seats, all in one province. During this period, AAP maintained the Mohalla Sabhas that it had formed and reaped the rewards in Delhi Elections 2015. Despite the losses in elections, Kejriwal never raised questions about electoral rigging and accepted the results. The rise of Arvind Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi party has been phenomenal in many ways. To quote Vidya Subrahmaniam from The Hindu Centre, “From Leaning right as part of the Anna Hazare agitation to emerging as the natural leader of those on the margins—Muslims, Dalits and the economically poor—Kejriwal’s transformation is truly one of a kind in politics. Equally remarkable is the fact that he has achieved this by transcending conventional ideological labels. Any other traditional party practising Kejriwal’s politics would call itself secular-liberal. But the AAP rejects all such attempts to box it in.”

Compare it with the performance of PTI and Imran Khan before and after the elections. PTI was able to mobilise educated youth to its rallies/ festivals but ignored the plight of the common man, the Aam Aadmi. During their reign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they have made substantial legislative changes but the rewards have not reached the Aam Aadmi. In numerous by elections, PTI has been unable to even hold the seats they won previously. Comparing the two parties is not logical and this comparison tends to flatter the PTI more than anything. For PTI is not anything like AAP; grassroots work is quintessential, but doesn’t appear on the horizon till now.