Ground report: In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has still got it
But a freebie is a freebie. “Bhaiyaa ek topi la do (Brother, get me a cap),” a street urchin in a grubby 'Being Human' t-shirt asks. I ask him if he knows whose picture is on the banners.
“Kejriwala,” he says confidently.
We are standing on a street corner in the busy Rani Bagh area of NorthWest Delhi waiting for the first day of Arvind Kejriwal's Delhi road rally. This is a busy middle class shopping area with old Punjabi standards like 'Chadha Handloom, No.1 Patiala Salwar and Leggings' alongside the 'Laging Hi Laging' store as well as newer arrivals on the block like 'The Republic of Chicken' franchise.
]Sandip Roy/Firstpost Kejriwal and Ashutosh look more like unlikely bridegrooms: Sandip Roy/Firstpost Kejriwal himself does not have the sheen of the new kid on the block from a few months ago. That was before he became the 49-day wonder. Now there's a touch of skepticism.
Sudha, a middle-aged housewife, stands at the edge of the crowd. She was out for a little “marketing” she says and got sucked into the road rally. She says she supported him but the Somnath Bharti shenanigans and Kejriwal's resignation gives her pause.
“He is a kachche khiladi (a green player)” she says doubtfully. “Too impatient.” But she still holds a handful of marigold flowers someone has thrust into her hand to shower on Kejriwal. She has not given up on him completely.
“I sense a second undercurrent,” says AAP volunteer Swaraj enthusiastically. “Especially after coming from Ahmedabad. I think Ashutosh will win here 100 percent. He's a down-to-earth person.”
When candidate Ashutosh and Kejriwal arrive the crowd goes wild. Festooned with heavy marigold garlands and big red turbans, the duo look more like an unlikely couple of bridegrooms instead of political candidates.
Kejriwal looks sunburned from days on the campaign trail. He seems pumped and confident but the shadow of those 49 days still lingers. He comes back to it again and again in his stump speech.
“To leave a chowkidar's job requires a lot of hardship,” he says. “But to leave the chief minister's job requires kaleja.” At another point he says it requires jigra (heart). He is making a virtue out of the runaway label his opponents want to pin on him.
“Lord Ramachandra was lucky the BJP was not there when he went into exile,” he says. “Otherwise they would call him a runaway too. “ Same with Raja Harishchandra.
“I am not running away to Pakistan,” he says responding to Narendra Modi's jab. “I am not running away anywhere. I am staying right here. If I wanted to go to the Lok Sabha, I could have gone from Delhi. I am not going to Varanasi because I want to go to the Lok Sabha. I am going to Varanasi because I want to defeat Narendra Modi.” And then in case anyone accuses him of being only anti-BJP he adds, “And Kumar Vishwas is going to Amethi to defeat Rahul Gandhi. Only the can we liberate this country from mehengai.”
This Kejriwal is more aggressive than his mild-mannered well-behaved bureaucrat persona from the Delhi Assembly elections. He knows the freshness of his candidacy will not work anymore. He has to demonstrate results.
“Did your electric bill not come down?” He asks the crowd. “Did your water bill not come down? I did that for you but only till March 31.” Now the BJP and Congress, who he alleges are in cahoots with the electric and water companies, will double the price he warns.
His rhetoric works for 21-year-old Sachin Sindhu who has been following his work since his Magsaysay award days. He likes the fact that Kejriwal is not attached to his chair. He says he was attracted to Modi for awhile but then read up more about him and decided the Gujarat story was not as rosy as Modi was painting it. As for Kejriwal's impatience, he is okay with it.
“Josh is not bad,” he says. “As long as it is for good.”
]Kejriwal still inspires the crowds although the shadow of his 45 days still lingers: Sandip Roy/Firstpost Kejriwal still inspires the crowds although the shadow of his 45 days still lingers: Sandip Roy/Firstpost Raj Kumar selling bananas in a cart agrees. He is wearing his Aam Aadmi cap proudly. He says he has lived in Delhi for 28 years and he thinks Kejriwal is the one politician who can make a difference. “His rallies still work. The rickshaw drives tell me the last ones were so crowded even they could not get through.” Ironically Raj Kumar is a casualty of his hero's popularity. His banana stand has to be moved to make way for the crowds following Kejriwal's motorcade.
It's clear that while polls show mixed prospects for Kejriwal, he remains an inspirational figure for all kinds of people - from elderly sardarjis with hearing aids to fresh out of school youngsters like young taekwondo champ Deepika Chandel.
Deepika is one of the AAP supporters who actually filled out a form to become an AAP MP candidate. Her father, Amar Singh an ex-service man says he didn't have much to give his daughter. But he took up Kejriwal's challenge to find 1000 candidates for the party. When his daughter asked if she could be one he said he had to agree. “I wanted to tell her that if you really want it nothing is impossible in life,” he says.
Deepika didn't get the nomination but she's here with her broom to cheer for Ashutosh who did.
Kejriwal has always relied on this kind of starry-eyed enthusiasm. However that was easier to come by when he had no political track record. But Mayur Kapur, a chartered accountant who has skipped out of office to come to the road rally, says he is still optimistic.
“Maybe he is not ready for office at the centre yet. That is a big thing. But if 20 of AAP candidates win, that's 20 honest people in parliament. There's no hurry to be prime minister. The BJP wanted to keep him busy in Delhi. But he's broken out of that chakravyuh.”
Of course Kejriwal leaves in his wake his own chakravyuh, the mother of all traffic jams in the congested streets of Rani Bagh. My cycle rickshaw-wallah stuck behind him sighs and says his business will be hit hard.
But he still wears his Aam Aadmi cap.
“It's not just for the sun,” he says. “I will vote for his party.” more
God bless Kejriwal. more
1. We as AAP people understand this but haven't been able to channelize the same among others as good as we should have done it..I feel the responsibility somewhere lies upon AAP MLA's/office bearers. AAP going national cud be seen as a valid reason for not giving adequate time for such activities but thn as said "going to conquer the world doesn't mean u left ur fort insecure."
2. There are many among middle class who voted for AAP in Delhi keeping in mind "AAP for Delhi and Modi for center" and these includes a large chunk of traditional BJP supporters assuming that AAP fight is against congress. Now as they have found that the real fight is against corruption of both parties, they haven't been able to digest that AAP is fighting with BJP..specially Modi.. n hence further building wrong perception and spreading propaganda/lies... more