In Modi backyard, AAP finds feet, for ‘being different’

Since Delhi win, Ahmedabad office has enrolled 1,25,000 members, donations stream in.

Updated: January 12, 2014 6:57:25 am

Aayojan  Nagar is a quiet upper-class neighbourhood of Ahmedabad, with very few visitors outside its bungalows. But since December 8, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stunned the country with its Delhi election performance, the silence of Aayojan Nagar has been broken — by visitors and mediapersons thronging one particular house, H-2, AAP’s Gujarat headquarters.

Naresh Parmar, 45, an autorickshaw driver, is one such visitor. He arrives at 10.30 am, parks his auto in front of the main gate, and walks in. He is glad, he says, to see that the office is “spartan” — a desktop, a laptop, two almirahs, three tables and a few plastic chairs. But the broom, the party’s election symbol, is everywhere — stuck on the main gate, on the bulletin board and even the tables.

The bungalow belongs to Kishorebhai Desai, a former college principal and founder member of AAP in the state who now stays in Surat as its South Gujarat in-charge. He has let the party use his bungalow “for free”. “Everything here — the furniture, computers, etc — has been gifted by party sympathisers,” says Sukhdev Patel, one of only six volunteers who work full-time at the party’s three-storey office.

The six, wearing AAP’s trademark Gandhi topi, have well-defined roles — Mushtaq Belim, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, updates the list of members on a computer; Mitesh Patel, a 26-year-old businessman, drafts media statements; Firoze Kanpurwala, a 65-year-old retired government employee, hands out membership forms to visitors; Sukhdev Patel, a social activist and state party convener, greets visitors and gets a detailed account of each; Jagdish Patel, a 45-year-old who runs an electrical hardware business, and Sylvester Christian, a 36-year-old who quit his IT job in an MNC, are office secretaries.

Parmar tells them he wants to join AAP and work for the party in his area, Dudheshwar. Sukhdev Patel directs him to Kanpurwala, who gives him a form and an “undertaking” that asks him to abide by 12 requirements — including putting the party’s sticker on his vehicle, wearing the AAP T-shirt, wrist band, badge and topi in public, distributing publicity material and arranging meetings in his neighbourhood and among friends’ circles, participating in public programmes and campaigns, inviting at least 10 friends to join the party, and helping the party financially.

Parmar signs the undertaking, fills the form, and pays Rs 10 to Kanpurwala as membership fee. He then pays Rs 15 for three AAP caps — one for himself and two for his auto-driver friends. He dons the cap and promises to return with his friends to enlist them.

I like the simplicity of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and other leaders. Just see how easily accessible they all are,” says Parmar, hopping out, adding that he had earlier been a BJP volunteer.

Sukhdev Patel says that taking on the Narendra Modi-ruled state is important to “puncture the Chief Minister’s false claims”. “He is misleading the country by claiming that Gujarat has developed only under him and he will repeat the success in the rest of India. We will expose him,” he says.

Of the total of 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat, 16 (including two seats of Ahmedabad) are with the BJP and the remaining 11 with the Congress. “But this will not happen in 2014. AAP will ensure that Narendra Modi’s juggernaut is stopped in Gujarat itself,” he claims.

The Delhi performance has put a new spring in their steps. Since January 2013, when AAP set up its office in Ahmedabad, to December 8, when the Delhi Assembly election results were announced, the party had managed to enlist “less than 6,000 members”, says Belim. “But in the last one month, we have registered over 1,25,000 members,” he says.

In the last one week itself, former BJP MLA Kanu Kalsaria, former minister in Keshubhai Patel government Jaspal Singh, and danseuse Mallika Sarabhai have joined AAP.

Among those who follow auto-driver Parmar into the AAP office are businessman Manish Upadhyay, 42, and his friend Hetalbhai Joshi, 40. They have come from Maninagar, Modi’s Assembly constituency, to join AAP “because of its transparency”. “We want work, not big names,” they say.

Engineer Amit Gohil comes with his eight-year-old son from Sola, drawn by “AAP’s clean and secular image”. “They fielded a Muslim from a Hindu-dominated constituency in Delhi, and the candidate almost won, busting the myth that politics can be done only by dividing the society,” he says.

Sanjay Solanki, 25, and Jayesh Vahan, 21, have come from Nadiad in Kheda district. Solanki runs a canteen at the college where Vahan is a student. Solanki is joining “because only AAP can end corruption”. “I have worked on a contractual basis in the Mahesana district collectorate and I know how deep-rooted corruption is. The BJP has not been able to check it,” he says. Vahan hopes for “change” through AAP. “I feel reform is possible only with it,” he says.

At a press conference held in the lawns of the bungalow, Sukhdev Patel and party state secretary Sanjiv Srivastava, an IITian who quit Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation to work for AAP, expounds on the futility of spending

Rs 2,500 crore on erecting Sardar Patel’s statue. “This could have been spent on schools and health facilities in remote, rural areas,” says Srivastava, adding that they will expose corruption in Gujarat.

Even as visitors stream in, the office phone keeps ringing with callers offering donations or making membership queries. One Amirbhai Memon calls to ask if someone can collect money from his home in Muslim-dominated Sarkhej. “Memon donated

Rs 5,000 through a bank cheque and promised to contribute Rs 1,000 every month to the party. He fractured his leg, so he’s asked us to collect the money,” says Jagdish Patel, who immediately gets up and leaves on his bike for Memon’s home. In the five hours that we spent at the AAP office, some 50 people joined the party. And this is just a few days before AAP announced a waiver of the Rs 10 membership fee, between January 10 and 26, to boost recruitments.

The party has been in a high-decibel mode since they formed the government in Delhi. On December 28, when the AAP Cabinet was taking the oath in Delhi, party workers were sweeping the Jamalpur wholesale vegetable and flower market, one of the dirtiest areas in Ahmedabad, to celebrate their victory.

TV channels also frequent the AAP office now, local as well as national. A reporter from TV9, a Gujarati news channel, asks Sukhdev Patel, “How can AAP defeat the BJP in Gujarat when the party has no presence in the state, and when the politics of Gujarat is also different from Delhi?” Patel tells him that AAP leaders in Delhi were asked the same question. “There was a joke that AAP can’t even field candidates to fight all 70 Assembly seats in Delhi. You may say the same about us in Gujarat but we will field candidates from all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the parliamentary elections, and I promise you the results in Gujarat will be as surprising as in Delhi,” he says.

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