AAP leader to break his 14-day fast today; to launch the second phase of his campaign
Once somebody enters Sundar Nagri, a locality in North-East Delhi, he or she doesn’t need to ask for the house of the Aam Aadmi Party volunteer Santosh where the AAP leader leader Arvind Kejriwal has been sitting on a fast against “inflated” power bills over the past two weeks.
Kejriwal posters, OB vans of news channels and the crowd, flaunting the AAP cap printed with “We need self-rule”, will sweep you to the queue waiting outside the house, eager to get a glimpse of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare’s former protégé. But the locality stands out also due to the conspicuous presence of police personnel at every nook and cranny.
Visibly weak after 14 days of fast, Mr. Kejriwal -- a diabetic -- manages to smile to the cheering crowd, while alternating between sitting on bed with the help of pillows placed against the walls and lying. The crowd comprising people belonging to all classes from across the city show its solidarity and tell him from a distance of a few metres from outside the grilled gate that they are with him and would stand with his cause.
Doctors attending on him said his health parameters were within “normal range”. He has, however, lost 8.5 kg since March 23 when he started the fast. His blood pressure was 110/80, pulse 73, sugar 123 and ketone 3+ on Friday morning.
During the day, Mr. Kejriwal announced that he would break his fast on Saturday while launching the second phase of his campaign. The first phase has been in the form of a “civil disobedience movement” as it exhorted people to break the law by not paying the power bills and restoring the power connections to houses which were cut by discoms due to non-payment of power bills.
Going by what the residents of Sundar Nagri had to say, it seems that Mr. Kejriwal has at least managed to capture the popular imagination of the public at large. Even if not overwhelming, the political support is quite visible and people want to know more about him, going beyond the media hullabaloo and the cacophony surrounding his protest.
Manoj Sharma, a government employee and resident of Durga Puri in the nearby Shahdara area, and Yaseen Hussain, an embroidery worker, are part of the same crowd.
“Living in Delhi has become costlier than what it was a few years ago. I stay with my brother’s family, paying electricity bill of Rs.3,000 per month, just for two rooms. As recent as two years back, we used to pay less than half of this,” said Mr. Hussain. A resident of Bareilly, he has signed the protest letter to Sheila Dikshit declaring that he won’t pay his power bills as they were “inflated”.
While Mr. Hussain stood on the one spectrum of the support base of Mr. Kejriwal, on another extreme was a shop owner in the Sundar Nagri market who expressed scepticism towards the campaign. “It’s a neighbourhood matter. You have to support it, doesn’t matter if the cause is right or wrong. It would be good if Kejriwal gets what he is fighting for, otherwise the campaign could fast lose its sheen,” he said, while not wishing to be quoted.
Just aside from the queue of curious supporters, one can hear the AAP volunteers, chalking out a strategy for restoring power connections from Saturday. One AAP volunteer, standing next to the loads of protest letters bundled and packed in files, cartons, plastic and bags, said: “People’s response has been overwhelming, so we are expecting that even in the campaign for restoring power connections, they will support us.”
The AAP claims to have collected over 10 lakh protest letters but many in the party wonder if this would fetch as many votes for the newly-recognised party.
While addressing his supporters on Friday, Mr. Kejriwal said: “One should not measure this campaign merely by the number of signatures we have received. These signatures signify that people are angry about inflated bills. Ten lakh people signing letters does not mean that all of them will not submit their bills. But a beginning has been made. Even if 10 per cent of them don’t pay their bills, it will be significant.”