On candidate trail: Pehle AAP, phir 'AAP kaun?'

While other parties are shying away from door-to-door campaigning, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party is using it as its strongest weapon. Jasleen Kaur trails the party’s candidate for Rajouri Garden constituency, Pritpal Singh Saluja, from whom the party has withdrawn support in a sudden twist of events. Read on...

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | November 27, 2013


Raising the poll frever pitch.
Raising the poll frever pitch.

Pritpal Singh Saluja, the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) candidate from the Rajouri Garden constituency in west Delhi, begins working at 7:30 am with a few meetings with volunteers and party workers. At 10 am he starts the ‘paidal yatra’ in the constituency which goes on till 6 pm.

However on Tuesday, his yatra was delayed by two hours as he was called in for an urgent meeting with senior party members over a complaint filed against Saluja by other party candidates.

At around 12.15 pm Saluja, dressed up in a white kurta pyjama and wearing a pink turban with a band of AAP tied on it, reached Khyala village from where the yatra was to start.

 A volunteer who moved ahead of Saluja in an auto-rickshaw went around introducing the party and Saluja as the ‘pehredaar of Kejriwal’.
The party’s posters on the auto-rickshaw call chief minister Sheila Dikshit and BJP 'baimaan' (cheats), urging people to vote for an 'imaandaar' (honest) government.

With less than a week left for campaigning before it comes to close on December 2, Saluja is sure of being able to cover the entire area.

While other political parties have so far avoided door-to-door campaigning, AAP is depending heavily on it. Party workers and volunteers have done several rounds of campaigning to ensure their party's visibility, he says. “Teams of volunteers have been regularly visiting the area urging people to vote for change,” says Saluja, who was visiting Raghubir Nagar personally for the first time.

During his yatra, Saluja tried his best to personally connect with the residents. While his party workers helped him to meet and greet people on both sides of the road, he did not miss taking blessings of the elderly.

Volunteers, some wearing the AAP cap and some with brooms in their hands, distributed pamphlets and badges and shouted slogans, “Pehle lade the goroN se, ab ladenge choroN se (First we fought the British and now we’ll fight against the thieves)” and “Na kamal ki naa haath ki, Dili hogi aap ki (Delhi neither belongs to the BJP nor the Congress but it belongs to you)”.

The challenge is immense, says Saluja, as the constituency includes both the big bungalows and the resettlement colony of Raghubir Nagar. Every corner has its own needs, he quickly adds.

“We are not making any fake promises. We are telling them we would do things, which other parties failed to. The jhuggis have the problem of open sewerage and piles of garbage. You can see there are no proper roads and garbage is spread all over. There are areas where people are using parks as stables. The current MLA doesn’t do anything because of the vote bank,” he says.

As Saluja neared the jhuggis, young children called on to their elders informing them that the “jhadoo waale” were here.

The campaigning vehicle, the auto rickshaw, was a source of entertainment for young children, who danced around it and shouted, “Vote lagegi jhadoo pe (People will vote for the broom- the party’s symbol).”

People assembled and welcomed Saluja, who with folded hands urged people to “vote for change”.

Saluja, who is fighting elections for the first time, told people, “I would ensure that the area is cleaned and you have access to clean toilets. I have seen the space and would ensure that toilets are made as soon as we come to power.”

When asked why he thinks people would vote at all, Saluja says, “They vote because they think that would help them get things done, which other parties promise but fail to fulfil. They have seen what others have done; now they will vote for us, for the change we are promising.”

Meanwhile, the other parties’ campaign vehicles covered with posters from all four sides are playing their records and roaming around in the ward.

Puran, a 65-year-old labourer, listened carefully to Saluja. He later said, “Saari party ek jaisi hai. Election aate hai to din raat hamare paas aate hai varna koi poochta bhi nahi hume. Kal Chandela ki biwi bhi nikali thi yahan gaadi se, haath dikhaya aur bola vote dalna (All the parties are the same. During the elections, they come to visit us day and night and later on they don’t even care to ask about us. Yesterday, Chandela’s wife had come in her car waving and urging us to vote for her party).”

Puran takes the card with a picture of Saluja and Kejriwal printed on it and keeps it in his pocket. “Isko to rakhenge hi, kya pata kal kaam aa jaaye. Ek nahi sunega to doosre ke paas chale jaayenge (It is important to keep contacts. In future, if one person doesn’t listen to us, we can go to the other).”

However, other people in the jhuggis claim that Dayanand Chandela was always available to them during his tenure as ‘Pradhan’.

For Puran’s wife, Shanti, 60, the vote means to retain her ration card and cheap ration. “Vote nahi daalenge to khaana kaise khaaenge? Bahar se khareedne ke paise kahan hai hamare paas (If we don’t vote how will we eat? We don’t have enough money to buy groceries from the market).”

Her neighbor, Rupi, who works as a domestic help is very excited about the elections. She says, “Yehi time hai jab hame barabar samjha jaata hai. Hamara bhi vote hai aur kothi waalo ka bhi, ek hi cheez to hai jo hum dono ke paas hai (This is the only time when we are considered equals. Casting our votes is the only thing that both the rich people living in bungalows and we have).”

Lakshman, 55, says he would vote for the person who has helped them. “If we would not choose our representative, where would we go when we need some help? Pradhan (MLA) is like a god for us. He helps us from all the trouble.”

Though AAP is trying hard, yet it is not entirely clear if the party’s message of bringing change with a broom, is reaching to the people it claims to represent.

And then... AAP withdraws support

Meanwhile, later in the evening, Aam Aadmi Party announces the withdrawal of its support from Saluja as the matter of a dowry harassment case against him came to light. AAP in a letter mailed to the media said that a chargesheet for dowry harassment was filed against him by the Lucknow Police in August 2013.

A notice was issued by the trial court to him on November 11, 2013, which did not reach him before November 14, 2013. Therefore, his declaration in the nomination form that no criminal case was pending against him, was technically correct. The party has argued that none of the charges against Saluja have been proven in any court of law. Also, Saluja claims that he is innocent and will fight the chargesheet in court.

The last date for filing of nominations and withdrawal has passed and therefore the withdrawal of party support at this stage would mean that Saluja would continue on the ballot as a candidate of the party but it would effectively mean that the party would leave the seat vacant.

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