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Exclusive: Here’s What I Saw On Ground While Campaigning For Kejriwal in Kashi

More from Digant Raj Kapoor

By Digant Raj Kapoor: 

I ventured to Banaras from 6-10 May to campaign for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and candidate, Arvind Kejriwal. Given my short-stay and the fact that it was my first visit to Varanasi, my goal was to contribute to various field efforts rather than help the back-office team (who in my opinion are the unsung heroes of AAP’s campaign). In this piece, I will share my experience and provide insights and commentary on trends that cannot be gaged from traditional TV and print media.

AAP’s Campaign

Based on what I’ve seen, AAP had the most comprehensive ground campaign in Varanasi. This is not just based on the area covered or number of people reached, but also in terms of the number of volunteers who contributed their time to engage with voters, and the methods used to reach voters. Over 60,000 volunteers contributed to the campaign in Varanasi. A successful back-office took care of logistical, technical, financial, and legal matters necessary to execute the campaign. I met volunteers who conducted door-to-door campaigns, canvassed along busy streets, participated in road shows, and set-up gatherings of various sizes. AAP also set up a phone-call campaign for volunteers who could not physically travel to Varanasi. Over 25,000 phone calls were made through this system.

During my time I rarely spotted BJP, SP, or Congress workers campaigning. Depending on which part of the city I wandered into, I noticed BJP, SP, or Congress flags, as well as hoardings. This type of campaigning is both expensive and impersonal. AAP volunteers could be seen canvassing and engaging with voters throughout the city throughout the day. AAP’s volunteer-fuelled approach is highly personalized and is a major reason that the nascent party is able to challenge a supposedly unbeatable leader’s ‘tsunami’ in a traditionally safe constituency. If Kejriwal wins in Varanasi, then it will be a testament to the power of passion versus the power of corrupt money in electoral politics.

I volunteered on various streets in small teams of 4 (you need the Election Commission’s approval if more than 5 volunteers are gathering in a public place) where I mingled with local vendors and pedestrians. Armed with brooms, flags, and AAP topis (caps) our goal was to establish AAP’s presence throughout the city. I generally preferred to volunteer right under large BJP hoardings to symbolize the power of passion versus money.

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Busier streets enabled us to interact with a large volume of people passing by on bicycles, rickshaws, autos, vans, trucks, cars, and jeeps. I looked into the eyes of countless Varanasi voters, an overwhelming majority of whom smiled back, raised their thumbs in support, stopped to chat, give words of encouragement, and don AAP caps. Many reached into their pockets and showed their AAP caps, commenting that they cannot wear them in public due to various reasons.

I participated in various street campaigns, whether it was on trucks with Raghu Ram and Vishal Dadlani, on a motorcycle as a part of Gul Panag’s motorcycle rally, or on a jeep in Arvind Kejriwal’s roadshow, which culminated gatherings of different sizes: nukkad sabha, jan sabha, or vishal jan sabha. The first is a small gathering of up to a 100 people along a narrow street. The second is a gathering of 500-800 people on a major street, and the final has over 1,000 people in a vast open space. While Kejriwal was the main attraction, my favourite speech was Kumar Vishwas’ hour-long delivery in Lanka, mostly because of his creative use of rhetoric and humour.

Compared to campaigns organized by other parties, AAP’s was largely characterized as a spontaneous collaboration requiring a can-do attitude. Indians from around the world came together because they admire Kejriwal’s courage to challenge Modi and the BJP’s rs. 5000 crore campaign in a tough constituency. Volunteers respect the party leadership’s proven adherence to the Gandhian principles of non-violence. Despite claiming to be nationalistic the BJP leadership is indifferent towards the violence employed by their supporters against other Indians. The 2014 election season witnessed numerous examples of BJP supporters attacking AAP leadership and volunteers. Attacks on Arvind Kejriwal, Ankit Lal, Nandan Mishra, Prerna, and Raghu Ram are just a few examples.

Local Reactions

Politically undecided residents, and AAP-supportive residents admired the distances AAP volunteers travelled, as well as our efforts. AAP volunteers (including myself) could be seen manning the streets of Varanasi throughout the day, braving the 40-degree plus heat for hours at a time. It was not uncommon for local vendors to be won-over by our hard work. One such vendor offered us masala Pepsi (out of a lota). Mai kafi der se dhek raha hoon. Aap log bohoth mehenat kar rahe ho (I have been watching for a while, you all are working really hard). Such instances were a common occurrence in Varanasi as many volunteers have been working in the constituency for over three weeks. The party preferred to dedicate its volunteers to certain parts of the constituency to maximize relationship building and familiarity with voters.

BJP workers employed the language of ‘outsiders’ in a hostile manner. Aam Aadmi Party ke pass itna paisa kahan se aya hai? Kitna mil raha hai aapko? Wapas jao jahan se aie ho (Where did AAP get all this money from? How much are you getting? Go back to where you came from). Being a holy-city for many Indians, and a popular tourist attraction, I did not expect to encounter such sentiments. It reminded me of conflict-inducing ideology employed by BJP’s political ally, the Shiv Sena. The irony that their beloved candidate is as much a Varanasi outsider as me was lost upon them. Juxtaposed to the geographic origins of AAP volunteers, which spanned the globe, the inclusivity and binding aspect of the Aam Aadmi Party is one of many things I admired about the party. I met volunteers from the US and the UK as well as several Indian States including Kashmir, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Delhi.

During my conversation with locals, I shared my observation regarding AAP and BJP caps. I commented how in my opinion AAP caps empower individuals and acknowledge their value. They simply state, “I am a common man, I want Swaraj.” BJP caps simply say “Modi for PM.” The difference in messaging is indicative of the political ideology of the two parties. AAP empowers people and asks them to think critically, whereas BJP requires submission to Modi.

What does the Media show us?

TV channels are quick to point out that the BJP, Congress, and SP executed large street rallies. Coverage of these one-off mass events cannot be considered authoritative accounts of on the ground realities. The media acknowledges that the crowds seen on TV, supporting various parties, are a mix of constituency residents and Indians from other states. But no channel has provided commentary on the nature of the crowds and their impact. It is rare to come across accounts of AAP’s comprehensive ground campaign throughout the Varanasi constituency.

It is not a challenging feat for established parties to gather ‘large’ crowds for a one-off event. A relatively small crowd of 200 people can congest the narrow streets of Varanasi, and fill-up TV screens. Moreover, given the simple lives of Varanasi’s residents (the lack of alternative entertainment), any road show is bound to draw-out people to the street side immediately outside their homes. The number of bodies on TV screens of shots focused on the political leader does not capture the mood of the people or the true size of the rally. Nor are the images able to explain the motivation behind the convergence of the crowds. The best reporting I came across is NDTV’s Prime Time, in which Ravish Kumar dedicated entire episodes to covering the political campaigns of the BJP and AAP.

Scores of locals said that they had never seen a rally the size of AAP’s on 9th May. Kejriwal’s rally lasted for the longest time, had more vehicles, and more people than any other rally. Moreover, all the major leaders were approachable by the public. People were excitedly rushing up to Manish Sisodia and Kejriwal to shake their hands.

Gunda Raj, Streets Politics, and the Politics of territory

Many people, including my relatives, asked me why I was going to Varanasi. What difference would it make? My answer is that a concerted effort is required in order to change the way politics operates across India. By asking volunteers to flock to Varanasi, AAP ensured it had the numbers necessary to challenge the Uttar Pradesh politics of Gunda Raj (Gangster rule) and intimidation. It is my belief that without the 55,000+ volunteers who came from outside the constituency, AAP would not have been able to campaign in many parts of Varanasi. I refer to this as the politics of territory or street politics, which I think plays the biggest role in parts of India where the voters lack the resources or ability to access information online, or express their opinion safely.

Lanka, home to Banaras Hindu University, was the most violence prone area of town. To counter the dominance of violent BJP supporters, AAP held massive rallies in this area. Being severely outnumbered, the BJP supporters did not utter a word, and local residents were able to attend AAP events to hear unedited messaging from the AAP leadership. In this regard, I respect and thank the Central Security Forces that were called in the constituency and protected us during large events.

AAP volunteers from outside the constituency can afford to get attacked by BJP workers. They can return to the safety of their distant homes. Without the scores of volunteers, local residents would be slow to come forth, join the movement, and express themselves. While numbers provided strength and largely prevented outright violence, it led to a rise in pick pocketing. Many people’s mobile phones were stolen in the massive rallies, including mine.

As a testament to the volatility and uncertainty of the area, my trip was cut short by a sudden ‘Prashasan’ demanding that people should  leave. My hotel informed me on the evening of the 9th that I would have to check out the next morning, even though I had a booking for another night, because they had been given orders to not allow any non-Varanasi Indians to reside in the hotel any longer. On 10th morning, the hotel was unable to arrange a taxi to the airport because taxi drivers were scared of being intimidated and harassed by police. I find it absurd that hard working honest citizens are afraid of the very people who are supposed to protect us. While it was disappointing to cut my trip short, I definitely had the experience of a lifetime.

You can view photos and videos I have shared from my visit on Instagram (@drkapoor).

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author only

You must be to comment.
  1. Prashant Kaushik

    Very Nice, Good to see you working so hard.

    Now Please also PROVIDE SIMILAR GROUND LEVEL EXPERIENCE, if any of the AAP cadre like you, were also sent to FOLLOWING CONSTITUENCIES –

    1) Salman Khurshid – Farrukhabad
    2) Kapil Sibbal – Chandni Chawk
    3) Ashok Chavan – Nanded
    4) Mulayam Singh – Azamgarh

    Or was it only Modi and Varanasi which was on your and 55,000 plus volunteer’s radar ?

    1. john2find

      Ye saare sawal jara BJP se bhi puch liya karo :ke Namo Kyun nahi lade Rahul Gnadhi ke khilaaf khud.

    2. Piyush Aswani

      In case you don’t know, Modi Ji was the first one to declare from where he will fight the elections; giving, in my opinion, an open invite to anyone who dares compete.

      Kejriwal, for the drama-queen he is, followed suit, declared two days after that he will fight from Varanasi and said Modi Ji is going to lose only by roaming two days in the city.

    3. Ashish

      Bro, Question is why modi didnt filed nomination from amethi or raibareli? Why easy seat like varanasi?

    4. Nagoor

      Aravind Ji had openly challanged Mr. Modi, very long before the elections were announced in Varanasi, and asked him to contest from only one constituency but as Mr. Modi knows about his results the other things followed.

    5. Chayan Sarkar

      I completely agree that the AAP style of campaigning brought a lot of awareness among many people and it also involved many people directly to the process, even though it is not a new thing.
      My question is – is it really feasible to do such things in every constituency? I mean how can you involve 55000*543 volunteers with less expanses than the traditional style of campaigning.

      Who is going to pay for these volunteers? Considering they are true volunteers and no body is paying them (I believe many of them), is this not a waste of serious work force? During election, all the government official becomes stand-still anyway. Adding up this super enthusiastic work force – result is a larger loss of productive man-hours.

      At least banners and hoarding can save some productive man-hours and some money too.

    6. KC (@kamal0705)

      No, its not feasible to such campaigning in every constituency. They did this kinda campaigning in Varanasi bcos it was against Modi. And its justified. Bcos BJP=Modi now, so if you wanna defeat BJP its a good idea to defeat Modi only, rest will fall automatically. That was the strategy of AAP. I appreciate AK’s thought process.
      And you are talking about serious waste of workforce? Do u really know how many ppl in our country go to bed with empty stomach? do u also know how many under privilege children can be fed & educated for how many years with the kinda money Cong/BJP spent on election? So dont worry abt workforce AAP used. We volunteered bcos we are privileged and wanted to make sure that others will have a better future in this country. More over no-one was forced to volunteer.

      Banners & Hoardings: now, imagine u have a question for ur party or any party, do u expect an answer from a Banner & Hoarding? We are the stake holders for all our politicians, they are there to serve us , and not show us some piece of papers….

    7. Dipak Kumar

      Any way BJP or Modi wont get self volunteers who would spend their money and campaign for them only paid volunteers

    8. Nagoor

      This is election for democracy, and this attitude only represents the sentiments of most enthusiastic youths. The sentiment which asks for change of attitude and empowerment of common man.

    9. Nagoor

      Depends on the ground!

  2. Aslam

    Literally this election is turning to be a one sided battle.

    Every political idiot including Kejriwal, Lallu, Pappu, or Didi say there is no Modi wave and all the shit they can bring up about modi.

    While every press conference and every rally they do the only target they can get is Modi!! My simple question to all #AAPtards, if modi is not at all a factor then why campaign so much against him?? Instead campaign against those who really pose a threat to u!!

    Bloody hyppocrites!!

    This battle is between
    Chaos and Ideas
    Confusion and Action
    Subsidization and Transformation
    Shouter v/s Doer

    Basically
    Anarchists V/s Nationalists!!

    And whatever the majority decides shall be respected!! However I as a citizen have done my duty and urge everyone to make the right choice and not fall for an Anarchist!!

    1. Wade Barrett

      You’re a fake Muslim.

    2. KC (@kamal0705)

      All you could afford to do is just some ABUSE! Nothing else. Good for nothing!

  3. nayal16

    crossing my finger for results. Will cry if modi wins, and will be disheartened in democracy.

    1. john2find

      winning is not important , had it been Arvind and Dr.Vishwas would have picked easy seats
      Its the message: that Aam aadmi “sota hua sher he jaag gaya to chir faad daalega.”
      I want to believe that arvind will not loose , but even if he does he will surely will not by huge margin: and that will propagate the message too.

  4. Faraz

    Bravo sir! Hats off to people like you for making the Aam Aadmi’s voice heard.

  5. Kristofer Kamat

    Even if you give that guy a chance he’s only gonna give lame reasons later on for not doing his job properly. And you still want to support him!? You and your team of 55,000+ AAPwalas might be smart enough to be fooled again and again.. But the people of this country will not be fooled by these antics again. We want a Strong National Leader to lead us and solve our problems.. And not an Opportunistic Anarchist who will run away from his responsibilities giving lame reasons for the same.
    God be with you and hope you understand the difference.
    Jai Hind!

  6. naivekid9035

    what i analyse from the convenience of my house and behind my computer screen .
    The AAP movement is commended only for its ability to draw out volunteers
    we need politcial parties to be able to do this and end the GUNDA RAJ
    however , AK is just another guy , i dont think he deserves to lead this movement
    but god knows we need a movement in this country

  7. anand

    very inspiring piece . the journey has just begun and there are miles to go …

  8. kiran martis

    Well done! V impressed n heartened by the hard work,dedication and love put in by all of u. U all r doing the nation a great favour, Unfortunately most people cannot understand this n think they wud b doing AAP a favour by voting them in! Ironical! And of course our wonderful media has completely done us all in. Hope n pray that India moves towards AK’s vision n better sense prevails.

  9. Anil Magaji

    Dear Digant thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is really heart touching for every one of us here to understand hardship you all have gone through. Your efforts towards honest politics and to make honest voice heard really commendable. I must say here elections are one way of expressing our ideals and principles and not limited to it. Which in true sense you all have displayed. I salute All the 55000+ volunteers who have shown the way to rest of the Indians.

  10. Welcome NaMo-3 Days! (@Welcome_NaMo)

    Guys I pity the level of brainwashing which has been done with you. Have you ever listened to voice of Surjeet das or Ashwini Upadhyay; who were closely associated with Kejriwal since years and then had to leave?
    Do you know that Shazia, Ashutosh, Gopal Rai and Yogendra Yadav are more or less were connected with congress appointed NAC?
    Do you know the changing voices of Kumar Vishwas (I can bet on this he is the most sensible guy among AAPians.. and if somebody will take this party forward its going to be Kumar Vishwas)

    This all started when 700 odd paid full time workers started working and propagating things on social media. 25000 per month is an ok amount when you feel you are doing something for the nation.

    Have you wondered that how can a guy in such a short span of time can be pitched as a PM candidate? (Yeah in last two months all AAPians were posting Kejriwal for PM posters).. and now you know even the best of best result are not going AAP’s tally for more than 10.. then why not Mamta, Patnayak, Jailalita got that prime time coverage? Anyways they are going to be 15+ for sure.

    Guys there is limit of everything; Arvind got slapped because he has crossed his limits of spreading foolishness around. Crying-crying-crying that’s all the motto of AAPians..and abusing once most loved people like Anna, Bedi, Ramdev, VK singh etc has become a habit.

    Those who are working on payrolls, my humble suggestion; guys you are good, focus your energy in building India; try entrepreneurship.. use your skills to grow India.. No matter how much you abuse Mr Modi; he is pro business (lets consider he hates poor); so its good for you.

    I am making these comments, because I was so emotionally involved with IAC movement that I left my job and had no time to work like full time paid workers like you. I still believe there will reincarnation of AAP but not in next decade; Modi is coming to stick for minimum 10 years. Prioritize your options and I must tell you that we don’t need congress even as opposition. I wish you all the best and believe you guys will understand the deep sentiment inside.

    Thanks!

    1. kiran martis

      And do u know the level of corruption in BJP, do u know how many criminals r BJP candidates, do u know the front runners of the BJP have blood on their hands, do u know the amount of money spent on this election campaign by the BJP….do u think they r not going to recover it from u and me the minute they come to power..? Don’t underestimate and write off a people’s movement to weed out corruption in politics. Meanwhile do spread out the red carpet and bow to your master, before u know it, he will be stepping on u.

  11. alphonsomango

    A very moving piece about the AAP campaign in kashi. The hope for India lies in youth like you who selflessly dedicate themselves for clean and honest politics.

  12. Sameer

    Digant.. From a guy who supports Modi for PM, I must salute you for your efforts. But Given AAP’s success in Delhi, I must ask.. Why the hurry? I don’t mean to discourage. But AK hasn’t evolved from the activist mode to representative mode. He couldve stayed on, Reintroduced the lokpal in Delhi, could’ve made another push. But gave up in the 1st attempt. He had been given the mandate for 5 yrs to do it. Maybe its not his time now.
    Thanks to Congress, We are at a situation – so desperate and pathetic- where we want to believe someone with a proven track record can deliver. That’s the reason why ppl flock to Modi.
    I believe AAP can be better than the rabble rousing that we see on TV. But guys.. Seriously.. AAP needs to get out of the activist mode that they are in

    I believe though the best part about this election was the involvement of youth. After May 16th, let’s not just leave it all to the govt. Let’s pitch in and govern our own country. 🙂

    Cheers n respect

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