The Tribune – Keeping pace with Kejriwal, as race reaches final stretch

Delhi Chief Minister knows his presence is important as Punjab heads to polls, and AAP supremo is not skipping a moment

Kuljit Bains, Tribune News Service

Panjab, 31 January 2017. Getting an interview slot with a star campaigner is never easy, and intercepting him becomes particularly challenging if he addresses more than five rallies a day, as does AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal.

Finally the call comes, and a Tribune team makes a five-hour dash to Bathinda from Chandigarh. It is already dark, and the AAP media team sends us GPS coordinates of the house where Kejriwal is scheduled to take a break before the last rally of the day.

As we follow the little pointer on the phone, the road keeps getting narrower. Is this really where he is going to be? Finally, we spot a small crowd outside a house, neighbourhood kids, cops among them. Soon enough, the guest is welcomed with flowers.

Since there is a rush of people trying to get in with him, the police cut in. As our turn comes, we see a bunch of road-beaten aides, but the subject of our attention is even worse off from his day out on the battlefield.

But “CM Sa’ab” will see us, we are told. Oops! Amidst a bull outside in the street, kids vying for selfies, we had all but forgotten this man is a Chief Minister. That’s when it strikes you, he’s indeed an ‘aam aadmi mukhya mantri’. Around Kejriwal, the aura of power is entirely absent.

The interview is off for the day, but we are promised a ride-cum-talk with him in his car (Innova Crysta) from Moga to Majitha the next morning. It actually turns out good, as we get a chance to hang about the house he stayed in Moga, the one that allegedly is owned by a Khalistan “terrorist”.

On the spot, however, the only excitement we notice is of young enthusiastic fans, who have arrived with small gifts. A young man who modifies old jeeps in Moga for a living has brought along a pen, with which he wants the “future prime minister to script a blissful future for the country”.

As Kejriwal tells us later, he is banking on the “hope that people have seen in AAP”. He is confident their government will be able to create the 25 lakh promised jobs, as they already have a detailed blueprint ready for industry, farming and dairy.

As we drive out, people in the street literally try and pour in through the window, and he knows it matters. The driver is asked to slow down for the last selfies. Out on the highway, the road is flanked by an unending expanse of deep-green wheat fields.

Asked if agriculture will continue to be sustained on subsidies, he cuts to question the very term, if benefits to industry are called ‘incentives’, then why not the same for farming? It has to be viable, he says; either pay more for the produce, or help with inputs, else the country will starve.

Would the Centre cooperate in procurement? The Delhi Chief Minister says there are rules that govern a “full state” such as Punjab. Moreover, if there is any issue, “then we know how to fight for our rights better than Akalis or Congress. Sada haq, ethe rakh”.

Mention of the allegation of “separatists” being among his NRI supporters touches a sudden agitation in the otherwise soft-spoken man with a nagging cough. Perhaps the controversy over the Moga house is bothering him. “How can you call every NRI a terrorist?” he asks.

“This is very dangerous for the country. If there is any particular case, please give us names,” he says. “NRIs are coming to Punjab out of love for the state. And are ready to invest or even do charity for the people back home.”

The cavalcade is headed to Majitha, an area where AAP does not have an upper hand, unlike the Malwa that he is leaving behind. But Majitha is important, for the prime target of the AAP campaign, SAD’s Bikram Majithia, is contesting from there.

It’s SAD and BJP flags all around, but that does not daunt Kejriwal from raising a full-throated “Bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal” at the end of every village rally.

The crowd that comes to AAP rallies in Majha is largely Dalit and poor, even as in Malwa every other car had AAP posters. Kejriwal is conscious of his aam aadmi base. When the lack of his party’s governance experience is pointed out, he says there are bureaucrats and experts for that.

“What a leader needs is good intention, and a feel for the pain and the pulse of the people. He should not be able to sleep if his people are suffering.”

A noticeable change in the rallies is the lack of topis. There are yellow turbans instead. Is this the effect of Sukhbir Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh calling AAP topiwallas? Not at all, says Kejriwal, “this is just them targeting what little they can, including my sandals and red sweater”.

So why do his political opponents see red in everything AAP? “Because we have offered a disillusioned people a politics of hope.”


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