IT’S 10.30 am and volunteers and committee members for Arun Bhatia’s campaign are at their desks working on laptops in the Camp office. One team is looking after his website and social networking campaign, while the other is busy dispatching pamphlets and campaign vehicles.
The 71-year-old retired IAS officer — who contested the 2004 Lok Sabha elections as an Independent and 2009 elections through People’s Guardian Party (PGP), which he established the same year — is apparently resting his hopes on the youth and middle class voters, who are visibly the important targets of his campaign. Bhatia had got around 70,000 votes in 2004 and over 30,000 in 2009.
Bhatia, a post-graduate from Cambridge University, was popular among citizens when he was posted as the Pune municipal commissioner because of his stern action against encroachments and corruption. He has also served on deputation with the United Nations.
On the office wall, a white board displays the number of ‘likes’ his Facebook page has got, pamphlets distributed, hoardings on buses and schedules of campaign walks. Bhatia’s routine campaign day begins around 7 am when he reviews the previous day’s activities. “At the end of review sessions, we have a lot of new lessons to act upon. Whenever I find time, I use it for interactive sessions and replying to queries on my Facebook page. There is a lot of criticism too. And the youth are asking a lot of pertinent questions on corruption, Modi factor, AAP and my strategies,” he says.
Bhatia reaches his office around 10 am and holds a meeting of the volunteers and core team members for planning the day. Nikhil Joshi, general secretary of PGP, says: “His experience as an IAS officer reflects in the way he organises and delegates works.”
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Nitin Bendre, who handles the media for Bhatia’s campaign, says: “All committee members know him for a long time. All of us have our own businesses or jobs.”
Around 2 pm, Bhatia’s team visits an office of an NGO, Women’s Welfare Centre, where he tells women: “Voting for big parties just because of the name has almost ruined our system. We have tried both Congress and BJP, and things have only got worse. Only voting for candidates with good track record will bring about a change.”
Bhatia is accompanied by his wife Preeti, son Dheeraj and daughter-in-law Suzanne, who actively participate in the campaign and day-to-day office work. “At times, I have to shout at him to eat on time. But in the morning, he makes sure he doesn’t leave on an empty stomach,” says Preeti.
Dheeraj, a lawyer, says: “For elections, I am handling the responsibilities of a back office boy. But these things are not new to us. We are used to him fighting battles against corruption and political pressure.”
Talking about his agenda of clean river project, slum rehabilitation, better city infrastructure and safety of women, Bhatia says, “If elected as an MP, I plan to set up hundreds of self-sustaining committees of citizens, which will monitor every activity of government establishments.”
Around 5 pm, Bhatia and his wife conduct a campaign walk on Fergusson College Road and interact with youth, people in restaurants and food stall owners. As Bhatia’s team is walking, a girl on a bike stops and says, “Sir, you are doing a great job. We are with you.” Bhatia says, “These people are our strength, our hope.”
And another campaign day ends with another review meeting of the committee members.