“We were disenchanted with the political class, but not any longer,” says a party supporter
On a sunny morning, Laba Chandra Mahananda stands outside a small park adjacent to a church in Khan Market, waiting eagerly for a public meeting to begin. A security guard by profession, Mahananda has been living in Delhi since 1999, when he came to the Capital from Odisha in search of livelihood.
Mahananda has never voted, but this time he is mulling over participating in the State elections.
He candidly confesses that Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, is the motivation behind his growing fascination with politics. “I used to think that a common person had no business thinking about politics, because it is a dirty game. However, this time round, activists like Kejriwal and his party have empowered the aam aadmi,” he says.
“We were disenchanted with the political class, but not any longer. The common people have realised that they have an alternative now,” he says as Mr. Kejriwal enters the venue to address the public meeting. Mahananada leaves in a hurry to join the chorus of “Aam Aadmi Party zindabad” being led by volunteers.
In his un-tucked check-shirt and sandals, the AAP founder doesn’t resemble a typical political leader. He mixes with the crowd, greeting and waiving at people who waited with curiosity to see the person “who has given sleepless nights to the political class”.
The party, formed in the aftermath of the Jan Lokpal movement, is looking to challenge the Congress and the BJP in the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections.
Mr. Kejriwal’s visit to the area was part of his campaign for the New Delhi Assembly constituency, where he will take on Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. The BJP has fielded the party’s former Delhi unit chief, Vijender Gupta, from the constituency.
As Mr. Kejriwal begins his speech, the crowd shouts slogans in his support. “We did not want to enter politics, but the present corrupt political class left us with no option. They tricked us into believing that they will pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, as Anna Hazare wanted. But what they did was an eyewash,” he says. He dispels apprehensions of him becoming corrupt by citing his stint as an ‘honest’ Indian Revenue Officer.
He goes to highlight the ills of the “diseased system, a creation of the present political class”.
Women’s safety or its absence is among Mr. Kejriwal’s favourite issues to start public meetings. He doesn’t forget to highlight statistics on rape cases and the Chief Minister’s attitude of “helplessness”. He talks about how Ms. Dikshit blames the Delhi Police and thereby “absolves” herself of the responsibility to ensure a safe Delhi for women.
“Every time a girl is assaulted in Delhi, our Chief Minister says that she cannot do anything because the police are not in her hands. But when AAP volunteers protest outside her residence, she uses the same police to lathi-charge them,” he says.
He adds that as many as 16 MLAs from the ruling-Congress and nine from the Opposition BJP have been accused of rape and murder.
Then to deal with price rise, he proposes the Jan Lokpal to bring down corruption in public life.
When many audience members complain about power rates, Mr. Kejriwal assures them that he will bring it down substantially by auditing private power distribution firms through the Comptroller and Auditor General.
The AAP leader is confident of defeating three-time MLA Ms. Dikshit. Besides “extreme anger” against the mainstream political parties, he relies on his own calculations to back his confidence.
Of the total 30,000 houses in the New Delhi area, he claims to have covered 24,000 during the ongoing election campaign. “Of these, 12,000 households either gave us a donation or became our volunteers,” he adds.