“This is not a political party, this is a political revolution,” thundered an Aam Admi Party (AAP) volunteer at Arvind Kejriwal’s jan sabha (public meeting) in Patel Nagar, a West Delhi assembly constituency and a Congress stronghold, on Monday.
AAP’s national convener Kejriwal is scheduled to hold 43 such jan sabhas in Delhi’s assembly constituencies in the next one-a-half-months. Assembly elections are due in October.
The jan sabhas mark the first phase of AAP’s political campaign that has taken on Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on rise in prices of bijli (electricity) and paani (water) and linking it to an alleged a nexus between the ruling Congress government and electricity distribution companies. (Read report)
The highlight of the jan sabhas is the hour-long information-packed speech by Kejriwal during which he makes a convincing case – waving documents and thick files at the crowd every and now and then – linking corruption in government to rising prices of essentials such as electricity, water and cooking gas (LPG).
A 500-odd crowd is perhaps not a bad turn-out for AAP’s first public meeting in Patel Nagar,where party’s presence is only a month-old. And already 162 volunteers – one for each booth in Patel Nagar’s four wards – have been recruited.
Says Ankush Narang, AAP’s coordinator for the Patel Nagar constituency, “We started planning this jan sabha only 15 days ago. This crowd you see here today is because of the mobilisation by our booth volunteers. Once Arvind Kejriwal arrives, more people will come. Given that we didn’t have a single volunteer one year ago, I think this is a big achievement for us. After this jan sabha, we’ll get more volunteers.”
While there was no indication of a public frenzy to see Kejriwal, the modest crowd that showed up listened to him in rapt attention. Cheering him on, responding to his questions, offering their support, the audience looked infected– for the duration of his speech at least – by an urgent desire to eradicate corruption.
A desire they expressed with their donations to the party fund – which went from Rs 1000, before Kejriwal spoke, to Rs 4000, after.
As Kejriwal makes his transition from a social activist with a formidable record for mobilizing people to being a politician without funds or history, he continues to draw from his methods that brought him his first success as an RTI activist – arming people with information.
Will his tools of social activism have the desired political impact? Will traditional voters of the Congress and the BJP, swayed as they were from his appeals to overcome their fears and not submit to their fates, actually support the AAP come voting day?
“When we listen to what he is saying, we feel awakened. There are many who will run this party down and dismiss it as being an impossible dream. But when we listen to him we are convinced. We want to support him. It will benefit our country’s growth and the future of our children,” says Anand Raj, a factory worker, who lives in Kirti Nagar, a hub for Delhi’s furniture makers.
Quoting a song to reflect his predicament, Suri Narayan, who works as a security guard said, “Itni sarkaar badli, par bhaagya nahi badla mera, sab kuch badal gaya, par haal nahi badla mera (governments changed but my luck didn’t change, everything has changed but my situation has remained the same).”
He added, “This is the condition of this country and its people. We have always voted for the Congress. But we realise it now, where ever you go, you only get kicked.”
But will AAP be able to break the Congress grip? Amid murmurs from the crowd of ‘not possible’, ‘never’, Narayan said, “The world is living on hope. We can only hope that the future may bring us relieve. How sincere he proves to be only time will tell. But I feel people will vote for him. Change is necessary at this juncture.”
Wearing a ‘Mein Aam Admi hoon’ cap, Krishan Dev, a worker in a PVC factory, says that after listening to Kejriwal he feels that there is a difference between him and other politicians.
“When he talks, anger against the current state of things grows in people. And that will make people change their votes. And that will change governments. And in that there is hope of better future for us,” Dev said.
Anger, frustration, hope, cynicism – a whole range of emotions seem to have been triggered in the crowd by Kejriwal’s speech.
What about Patel Nagar’s business community, how they reacting to Kejriwal? Will they support AAP?
Monu Goel, a cloth trader, who came to listen to Kejriwal, said,“People have given a chance to the Congress and the BJP. Kejriwal should also be given a chance. We have seen the corruption of the Congress. Due to corruption there is price hike in fuel, vegetables, even real estate. The corruption in real estate has made property prices shoot up. One can’t even buy a small house in Delhi.”
Asked why he would support AAP, he said, “I want a corruption-free government.”
Kejriwal also seems to enjoy the support of some businessmen in the manufacturing sector too.
SPS Kalra, a Noida-based businessman, decided to attend the Jan Sabha in Patel Nagar because he was in the neighbourhood and got to hear about it.
He says, “I admire Kejriwal for his vision, honesty, bravery and dedication. His politics will be different. It will be honest politics that will be for the benefit of people. I am happy that he started a political party. He had no other alternative.”
Kalra, who runs a manufacturing plant in Greater Noida, rejects the perception that Kejriwal is anti-business.
“No, Kejriwal is not attacking business. That is a perception that has been created by a certain section of the media. He exposed Ambani and so some media houses said he is against all business. Kejriwal is only against corrupt business, but so is America. Look what happened to Rajat Gupta,” he said.
Kalra added,“As a businessman, I support him. Generally, small businessmen feel the way I do. It is possible that big businesses do not.”
Commending AAP for the success they had achieved despite not being fully formed, he said: “They don’t even have a symbol yet. But still see the momentum he has created. I think they will definitely succeed. The public are really angry about corruption and inflation. The moment is right.”