We have spent the last week on the campaign trail with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi.
It has been a fascinating experience – walking shoulder to shoulder with volunteers from all walks of life, in the most elite but also the poorest colonies of our nation’s capital. The buzz in the air is electric – one can feel that history is about to be made. Driven by ideals and integrity, the Aam Aadmi Party is shaking the foundations of the political behemoths that dominate Indian politics. If they win, and surveys show them gaining pace rapidly, this will send a clarion call through out the nation, that the common citizen can stand and win an election, without the money and muscle power that have made Indian politics a closed club.
Selected through a rigorous, transparent and bottom up process , the candidates are at the core of the campaign.
We were volunteers for the campaign team of Saurabh Bhardwaj, AAP candidate from the Greater Kailash constituency. An engineer and lawyer, he worked as a software systems engineer with a reputed multinational, before resigning to join the India against Corruption movement. Resident of Chirag Delhi village, he is soft-spoken and grounded. The son of a DESU engineer and grandson of a respected local lawyer who fought for the rights of the neighbouring Chirag masjid, Saurabh is greeted warmly in the 4 Lal Dora villages of the constituency. “Yeh hamaara hi beta hai” say village elders as they place their hands on his head in blessing. But he is equally well-liked in the posh drawing rooms of Panchsheel Enclave and Greater Kailash. He listens attentively to the issues of residents and invites inputs for the local manifesto that each AAP candidate is drawing up for their constituency. “It is nice to finally have someone we can actually talk to” was the common feedback.
Candidates come from varied backgrounds. We had the opportunity to meet Irfan, AAP candidate from Okhla, the lively and vivacious journalist Shazia from RK Puram, and supreme court lawyer and prominent civil activist Somnath from Malviya Nagar. What is common amongst them is the intensive door-to-door campaign that each has undertaken over the past few months to meet their constituents and understand their issues. By contrast, as at yesterday, barely a month before the Delhi state assembly elections, other political parties have not yet shared the names of their candidates.
Interacting with Saurabh’s volunteers was a simply delightful experience. N the talented guitarist and software engineer from IIT, was the soul of a flash mob that had all of GK M- block market swinging, though his regular task is handling the IT systems. A, a PhD scholar from Kolkatta was pitching in to help with data analysis, but also persuasively explaining to residents of Chittaranjan Park that there was no option “Ebaar AAPer jone vote korte hi hoi !”. M, who quit her job with an NGO is a full time volunteer at the campaign office. Messrs S, L and A, all in their late 50’s have put their businesses on hold while they volunteer their time and resources for the campaign. S and I, elegant ladies from Delhi’s old and genteel families, are helping Saurabh bridge with the elite of Delhi, but also campaigning tirelessly door-to-door in their colonies. What unites them all is the conviction that the time for change is now.
We also had the opportunity to meet volunteers at the central office and of other constituencies. Driven by the same passion for change they are pouring in from all parts of the country – and many from abroad as well. An eminent neonatologist from Chicago has put his practice on hold for 6 months to volunteer. R, a software professional from Houston is helping with the Comms backbone…Volunteers turn up at the central office and are assigned tasks/ constituencies. They pay their own way, arrange their own accommodation and food. Those who are unable to do so, are accommodated in the homes of Delhi volunteers. There is no talk of money – there is no need to.
The perception that AAP attracts only the poor, marginalised voter was completely de-bunked. There is no question that the poorest voters have embraced AAP as their own party. The smiles on their faces as we were welcomed into their homes said it all. However we were pleasantly surprised at the extent of goodwill towards both the candidate and the party as we interacted with more well-heeled residents of Delhi.
Mr S, a retired diplomat from the IFS explained the reason he supported AAP : ” Every hoodlum and anti-social element in this colony is on the pay-rolls of one or the other major political party. Ishraaf Insaan yahan sans bhi nahin le sakta.” Mr SG, who had served many years with the legendary Kurien said “I was fortunate to witness the milk revolution, now I want to see the revolution for clean politics“. This positive sentiment was echoed by young school children waiting at bus stops who gave us the high five; retired seniors from the armed forces, railways, banks and multinationals whom we met on their morning walks; heads of Residents Welfare Associations (RWA’s); and housewives everywhere.
The issues of water (both availability and price), exorbitant electricity bills, rising food prices (particularly milk and onions), and safety for women were the top agenda items wherever we went, though their priority varied. Problems of garbage collection; the lack of footpaths, over-bridges and bicycling paths (Sunita Narain’s serious injuries while cycling were fresh in everyone’s minds); the covering up of the nullahs with cement concrete and consequent dengue menace and foul odour; the poor quality of construction (and collapse) of parking lots; the wastage of money on granite gates for parks, erected for the sole purpose of displaying the name of the local MP /MLA/ Councillor were amongst the common discussion items.
What was refreshing was the willingness of voters to engage – while they complained about their problems, many also constructively offered solutions. AAP’s strategy of a local manifesto for each MLA constituency (since adopted by one of the major political parties) is both engaging and sustainable – it creates a charter of accountability for the candidate on local issues, and a process for continuing dialogue with citizens on an ongoing basis. It is the first time in India, that I have seen such a serious and well thought out plan that implements local self governance in urban areas. If this succeeds it will be a beacon of good governance for the entire country.
How you can be the change
I have inundated with messages, asking how you can participate. These are my suggestions :
As a voter in Delhi :
- Invite the AAP candidate from your area, and all your neighbours to your home, and jointly formulate your local area manifesto. Irrespective of party affiliation this is an essential step to drive good governance in your area, and frame the agenda for future action
- Organise an a-political gathering in your colony and invite all candidates to an open debate, and Q&A session on local issues. This will help you arrive at a first hand assessment of the candidates in your area.
- Make sure you and everyone in your family is registered to vote and go out and vote on election day
As a supporter of AAP (either in or outside Delhi )
- Help with funds : AAP is short of funding, both for candidate campaigns and basic advertising, in this critical last phase of the Delhi elections. The war-chest of the major political parties is now evident in the blitzkrieg of advertising unleashed over the past few days. It is simple to donate (either on-line on the AAP web site, or by cheque); it is 100% tax free; and you receive both an acknowledgement and receipt immediately. But there is a sense of urgency, so if you plan to donate, do so now.
- Make a call : AAP supporters have set up a website http://myaap.in/emc3, through which you can call Delhi voters and campaign for AAP. For those without an Internet Facility, you can SMS 9958323665 and request phone numbers. 10 random phone numbers will be SMS-ed to you, which you can then call. There are daily Conference Call Training Sessions on how to do so effectively. (so far over 7500 Volunteers from all over the world, including NRI’s from Ghana and Khazhakistan have made over 1 Lakh Phone Calls !)
Many of you have asked me whether I have joined the Aam Aadmi Party. The answer is no.
During my campaign for the Lok Sabha in 2009, I was deeply grateful for the support I received from volunteers, most of whom were initially strangers. Their support and faith in what I was standing for, meant a great deal to me. My husband Ashish and I felt it was therefore right to volunteer our un-conditional support to AAP.
In the process we were fortunate to have the opportunity to campaign for Saurabh who is an outstanding candidate and to meet many wonderful and inspiring people who have joined his campaign team. Best of all, we have returned to Mumbai filled with hope and energy for our 2014 campaign for South Mumbai !