The writer follows party workers as the AAP tries to make its presence felt in this Jharkhand mining town.
In January, while Arvind Kejriwal led a dramatic protest against the Home Ministry in New Delhi, far away in Giridih, on the Bihar-Jharkhand border, Aam Admi Party supporters gathered at Ambedkar Chowk and set fire to an effigy of Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Giridih is not on AAP’s website as yet but over 20,000 people in this old mining town have enrolled as members. The office of Career Campus, a coaching institute, also serves as AAP’s district office. Rajesh Sinha, who set up this institute 17 years ago, joined Baba Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman movement in 2008 and then the India Against Corruption movement in 2010. He stayed at Ramlila Maidan for two days and, when Baba Ramdev and Arvind Kejriwal parted ways, he stuck with Kejriwal.
“Last April when we started visiting villages, some knew of Ramdev, but no one had heard of Kejriwal. Now we have 200 members from each of these villages,” says Sinha. In the small ground floor office, the walls are plastered with ads for coaching for banks and civil services exams and a poster of foreign students in graduation gowns. AAP pamphlets are strewn around. It is a Wednesday, and Sinha is busy organising a visit to a village haat (weekly market) as part of the party’s rural campaign. The committee’s treasurer Sushil Sonu said he usually voted for Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, but had found a better alternative in AAP.
Mansoor Ansari, an LIC agent and one of AAP’s 20 ‘core committee’ members, will lead the meeting at Pandari, 18 km from the town. “I was curious after I heard AAP leaders speak on TV. A reporter told me where Rajesh bhaiya lives, so I got in touch with him. Because of him, the electricity department, which initially demanded Rs.40,000 as bribe to replace a transformer in my village, did it for free,” said Ansari.
At the colourful market in Pandari, there is little response when Ansari and a few others wearing AAP caps try to get the villagers’ attention. “We are from the AAP. You may have heard of Arvind Kejriwal who formed the government in Delhi. Membership is free at present, Rs.10 may be added later,” they announce. The villagers from Adivasi, Muslim, Bhokta Dalit hamlets continue with their chores. Baldev Pandit asks if they are distributing pension forms. Sadhori Devi who is selling fresh tomatoes says she cannot read the banner . A little later, Mohammad Tahir Ansari, a college student and an acquaintance of Mansoor Ansari, goes over to listen. He has read about AAP in the papers. Pritam Yadav, an electrician, signs up for membership. “I have seen the AAP caps on TV. I do not know who the leader is,” he says. Two B.Com. students from Giridih College also recognise the AAP from TV and sign up. “What party? Kejri who?” asks Shiv Lal, an old farmer holding a bunch of spinach.
Kalicharan Soren, who works as a night guard in a factory, listens carefully when workers describe how the AAP will demand jobs for locals and fight against industrial pollution but remains sceptical. “If they will really hold an agitation, we will see. When they come to power, all parties fail the people.”