It was a Saturday morning, three months before an election, and the sight before them was all too familiar. A group of policemen blocked their path, enabling a convoy to whiz by without stopping. It had more than a hundred vehicles, most of them large and expensive, with even a BMW in the mix.
Each car had a sticker that paid homage to their leader. The posters were similar to a large billboard that stared down at them, sponsored by a local party worker hopeful of a ticket. The aam aadmi of Uttar Pradesh watched as nothing, not even toll booths, stopped Arvind Kejriwal’s roadshow. Impressive as the show of strength was, some quietly asked the question all of them were thinking. The Aam Aadmi Party had started with the premise that they had arrived to change politics. What if politics had changed them?
Over three days, the convoy, ever changing as it was, covered more than 1,000 km. For most of the journey, Kejriwal travelled in a Toyota Innova, only to emerge on top of an open jeep when he addressed the crowds in towns along the way. Those who followed him identified themselves by stickers on their vehicles, juxtaposed with their own pictures and welcoming him on his first visit to UP. These vehicles betrayed their wealth. A few were in a rickety jeep, or a tempo, but most rode in Toyota Fortuners, Mahindra Scorpios and Toyota Innovas. One ticket hopeful from Meerut followed Kejriwal in a BMW. As they passed, a local laughed: “How can these be the aam aadmi?”
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At several places, local volunteers waited, garlands in hand. They made a beeline for Kejriwal, often stopping other traffic on the busy national highway. At most places where he chose to step out of his vehicle and address the townspeople, he did so right by the main road. What ensued was long traffic jams, and to avoid them many used the wrong carriageway. In Bareilly for instance, once Kejriwal had passed by, traffic came to a standstill.
If people had to stop for the Aam Aadmi Party to pass by, toll booths didn’t slow the cavalcade down either. At most booths, nearly every vehicle, including those of the media, just sped by. Booth attendants waved the vehicles on, with no money or receipts exchanged.
Some of those asking the questions were Aam Aadmi Party volunteers themselves. On the way back to Delhi from Kanpur, Kejriwal’s cavalcade turned into a small clearing in Aurraiya, where a group of 50 had collected to listen to him. He didn’t emerge out of the car. One man in an AAP cap ran to Kejriwal’s Innova and asked, “Utar ke do minute baat kar lijiye sir.” The answer he got was that there weren’t enough people to speak to.
In the three days that marked his first foray into UP, bar the one at the rally in Kanpur, each speech mirrored the other. He spoke of himself, and his Aam Aadmi Party as a collection of “small people, without money, or influence.” The cars, the billboards and the police that lined police argued against him.
Meeting with Tauqeer Raza
Months after his meeting with cleric Tauqeer Raza stoked a controversy ahead of the Delhi elections, Arvind Kejriwal met Raza again Tuesday. After the last meeting, the BJP had alleged Raza was known for issuing fatwas, including one that Taslima Nasreen should be beheaded; Raza had then denied this.
Raza, who called on Kejriwal at his home Tuesday, said the meeting was aimed at finding a secular option to fight an election being waged “almost completely on communal lines”. “We aren’t ruling out the possibility of aiding Kejriwal’s party,” he said.
He belogs to a family of clerics with a large number of Sunni followers in Bareilly. He also heads the political Ittehad-e-Millat Council, which won an assembly seat in UP in 2012. This year, Raza said, his party is not looking to contest.
AAP sources said his support might prove decisive. “Historically the Muslim vote in UP has decided who wins,” said a leader.