At the end of his hour long speech, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal asks his audience- 1200 odd people assembled on an intersection in a residential market- to take three oaths. “Say with me that you will never give bribe. You will all cast your vote. You will not accept money and liquor for vote.”
By the time the next speaker, who introduces himself as a government employee in West Bengal, starts talking of his woes, half of the 1000 chairs are empty. Eventually the crowd is left with a drenched, angry Kejriwal staring from a hoarding hung at the venue of the public meeting that just ended- eighth in the series of jan sabhas he has been holding as part of his campaign trail for the 2013 Delhi assembly elections.
AAP plans to conduct at least one public meeting in all 70 assembly constituencies in Delhi by March. They also want to try and host three rounds in every constituency before the elections.
“In the current round of meetings, we are creating awareness about issues. Next round will be intensive. We will focus on the solution part of it. We will also spend few days in different constituencies,” says Kejriwal.
Although it has been four months since the launch of his political party, Kejriwal still uses the gatherings to explain why he entered politics, how the government cheated Anna Hazare by drafting a weak Lokpal Bill and how the Congress and BJP are in bed with each other. He does not appeal for votes. He does not tell them that if elected to power, how AAP will tackle issues which national political parties have failed to resolve.
Hence, the slogan shouted after every public meeting “Jaag gayaa bhayi jaag gaya, aam aadmi jaag gaya (Common has awakened) appears to be a prelude to “Jeetega bhayi jeetega, aam aadmi jeetega” (Common man will win).
These jan sabhaas make it clear that corruption and inflation will be the AAP’s poll planks. Kejriwal’s speeches and the black & white pamphlets distributed during the rallies attempt to decipher how the state government have raised the prices of water, power and gas cylinders in connivance with private companies.
The portion regarding the rise in power tariff and industrialists having Swiss bank accounts is a repeat of allegations he has already leveled during televised press conferences. He also throws in details of corruption in water supply and the hike in prices of gas cylinders- issues on which he might go to the press in days to come.
At a micro level, says Dilip K Pandey, AAP member, local issues are raised only when they are found to have enough potential. “During our maiden public meeting in the Najafgarh area, we spoke at length about water problems as that area is facing acute water shortage. In Mehrauli area, unauthorised construction is a big issue”, he said.
Jan Sabhas also help to raise funds for AAP. In eight meetings, the party has received more than Rs 12 lakh as donations, says Ram Kumar, AAP member. This includes money from the sale of AAP merchandise such as caps, badges, books and posters.
However, the journey from public meetings to assembly will not be a smooth ride for AAP. “The environment in these meetings looks favourable. But we will have to see how much of this translates into votes,” says Kejriwal.
Somdutt, who goes by only first name, is the AAP convener in the Sadar Bazar constituency, considered a Congress bastion and under which Shatri Nagar falls. An insurance agent by profession, he says
“Change is not easy. But a beginning has to be made.” In the last municipality elections, Somdutt’s wife Pratibha contested as an independent. She lost the poll to the BJP candidate but got 5700 votes. “It shows that people are ready to give a chance to new comer,” he says.
Brij Lal, one of the public meeting attendees at Shatri Nagar, says he came to see Kejriwal in person as, “He is solid and has shaken the government.” Will you vote for him? “Vote? Is he fighting election?” wonders Lal.
Rajesh Kumar, a labourer at the meeting, is not optimistic on the outcome of the voting. “Liquor plays spoilsport saaheb. Everything is fine before that”, he saus.
Dharmpaal, a vegetable seller in the area, says, “All of them are thieves. But this one (Kejriwal) at least looks honest. No one knows what lies in his heart though.”
A referendum done by AAP to gauge the situation on the ground indicates that while the political party seems have registered a presence in voters’ minds, they appear to be skeptical about electing it to power.
Out of one lakh forms filled during the referendum, AAP has analysed around 65,000 forms as far. Out of these, 40,000 respondents said they are willing to work with the party on a full time basis. 15,000 showed support but said they could not give time. Others could not decide.
One of the biggest challenges for a non- traditional party like AAP is to counter the economic interventions of vested interests in the lives of lower middle class and poor voters,” said Jai Mrug in an earlier interview with Firstpost
Mrug also underlines the value system of the voter- his perception of a political leader as someone who can help getting work done.
Kejriwal admits that freebies offered by political parties and the caste factor are the biggest challenges he faces. “When people cannot choose a candidate on merit, they select one who is from their caste,” he concedes.
How will he counter that? “We are trying to link politics with patriotism. We are trying to infuse a hope that things can change. Hope cuts across caste, economics and religion,” he says.
Kejriwal is banking big time on hope.