This has been an action-packed couple of days in an otherwise leisurely life. Yesterday I went to the Aam Aadmi Party's office. I had volunteered my services, and they told me to join a volunteer meeting that day. So I got there, thinking I'd meet a few people, pick up some pamphlets, ask how I could help. Little did I foresee the two-day adrenalin ride I had embarked on.
"You have a car? Good" said the lady that greeted me. Three people hopped in, we picked up another along the way and they told me to keep driving. We reached a slum. "Your car should be safe right outside". I nodded.
We walked in through the tiny streets of the slum and came to railway tracks. Lots of people everywhere, ladies chatting, children playing. I waited for instructions. Would we now go to the designated meeting spot? There was an open sewer next to where we were standing, mosquitoes and flies buzzing everywhere. I tried not to swat them, not wanting to appear as uncomfortable as I felt. That didn't work too well, and I noticed that everyone was swatting too, so no problem. A few minutes passed, people in AAP hats were walking around looking busy. Then a man brought out a few straw mats. This was the meeting spot. We were having a neighbourhood meeting and ladies were being rounded up to attend.
As the lady who had first met me, Pushpa Singh, started talking, a substantial crowd gathered around out of sheer curiosity. She looked at me pointedly. "You're going to have to speak too" she said. She spoke, then another lady. I didn't hear a word they said. I spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out what I would say, and more importantly, how I would say it in Hindi. Not my first language. A distant second. Not to mention, I had never ever given a political speech before.
I started. [translating to English] I come from Bombay, so my Hindi is er.. different. But I shall make sure that I am loud and that you will understand. [giggles from the crowd]. Some of you mentioned earlier that you had concerns about ration cards. Let me inform you, that's where Arvind Kejriwal started. He left a high-paying job at the income tax office and spent the next few years working in slums to help people get ration cards and utilize them. In the process, his people were attacked, his office was attacked. That's where he started. Ration cards. Now he is famous, and has formed a party and is asking for your votes. One of you mentioned, How is this party going to be any different? They will say good things until they get power, then it will all be the same. Let me tell you. Each paisa received is made public. Who gives money to the big parties? Nobody knows and for a reason. Very rich people give them money to get elected, and then they want something in return. Where do the politicians find money to give them? From looting us. Aam Aadmi Party has accounted for each small donation and we know exactly who donated it. They do not owe anything to anybody. That's where the difference lies.
I don't know how the speech went over. I got a few pats on the back afterwards. People had stayed really quiet and seemed engaged. I was shaking. A woman came over from the crowd. "My son has been trying to take the entrance test to the Railways. He gave the exam twice but hasn't gotten through. Anything you can do to help?" she said. I smiled weakly and shook my head. She shrugged and walked off.
The next day I met the volunteers again for a door-to-door campaigning session. The veteran campaigners arrived with voter lists and we got started. One of the ladies I had met the previous day, a tough 60-year old yoga teacher was leading us through her immediate neighbourhood, so everyone knew her and was welcoming. Of course we will vote for the jhadoo was the gist of the meetings. One person, an old man who had seen much, said that he would vote for AAP, but didn't think they would be able to resist the compromises and corruption that comes with power. I listened with interest, didn't talk much. We got most people to sign up to be members of the party, even got a little donation from one person.
From these conversations and others, I am getting the sense that the elderly are hearing a lot about Aam Aadmi Party from their children, most of whom are living far away. People are excited, but a little hesitant. Rightly so, I'm sure. But they also know that this is the only glimmer of hope. And this is the only small window of opportunity (elections for Delhi Vidhan Sabha are on December 4th).