‘Chhota aadmi’ set stage for aam aadmi

While the aam aadmi slept, the “chhota aadmi” were hard at work, setting up Ramlila Maidan for Kejriwal's oath taking ceremony.

Written by Ajay Shankar | New Delhi | Published: February 15, 2015 2:56:59 am
aap, arvind kejriwal, aam aadmi party, arvind kejriwal oath Team Kejriwal after the swearing-in at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on Saturday. (Source: Express Photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

In the hours after midnight till the first noise of dawn on Saturday, while the aam aadmi slept, the “chhota aadmi” were hard at work, their faint silhouettes fading in and out of the grey haze that covered the Ramlila ground.

An LCD unit helper, a CCTV technician, a chair supplier, an electrician, an MCD peon, a private security guard. Rajat Kumar, Kamlesh Kumar, Mohan Saxena, Ashutosh Biswas, Balram Prasad, Asif Mohammed. Ages 22, 34, 45, 51, 55, 60.

“BJP nahin, Congress nahin, AAP bhi nahin, hum to bas chhote aadmi hain (No BJP, no Congress, no AAP, I am just a small man),” Mohammed said.

All of them, except Saxena from UP, said they had voted for the AAP last week. No one had read the party’s manifesto, five of the six didn’t know the name of the candidate they had voted for, one said the last time he had voted before this was for Jyoti Basu, and another didn’t even know in which constituency he had cast his vote.

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But all that didn’t matter. There were just happy to be there, preparing the ground for the swearing-in ceremony of the man they all described as: “Umeed”.

“The jhadoo and Arvind Kejriwal, that’s all I know, and that’s what I voted for,” said Biswas, from the outskirts of Kolkata, now staying alone in a slum near Maharani Bagh. He last cast a vote for “Jyoti babu, many years ago”.

Three of the rest said they stayed in jhuggis too, another in an unauthorised colony. All insisted that they’ve never brought home more than Rs 25,000 a month despite some of them doing more than two jobs. And each one had one defining reason why they believed Kejriwal and his broom would change their lives.

“Why only Muslims?” asked Mohammed. “Aam Aadmi means Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian… Kejriwal will work for everyone, everyone will benefit. We know that the other parties offer us things because of our religion, we are not fools.”

Mohammed, a guard who stays near Turkman Gate and doubles up as a mechanic during the day to feed his wife and six children, had to call his brother Sadiq to know that he had voted for the AAP candidate from Matia Mahal, Asim Ahmed Khan.

“Kejriwal will stay for five years, and this time the whole of Hindustan will stand with him. Who else is there for the poor, for the man who sleeps on the footpath? You don’t get a meal for less than Rs 50 in a hotel these days. Why? Because the owner has to pay bribes to government officials, the police. Ab poori Dilli chamkegi (Now, the whole of Delhi will shine),” the 60-year-old said.

LCD unit helper Rajat Kumar is 22, stays with his parents in a “pucca house” and “doesn’t know anything about AAP’s politics, or any politics.” He voted for Kapil Mishra from Karawal Nagar because he wants AAP to “start the free wi-fi service as soon as possible”.

Biswas, the 51-year-old electrician, simply wants to make enough to bring his wife and three children from Bidhannagar to Delhi. “That will happen only when the rents come down and I can save more. I hope Kejriwal can do something about this.”

Kamlesh Kumar, 34, stays with his wife, parents and two children in a two-room unit in Sangam Vihar, the country’s largest unauthorised colony. All of them are from Bihar’s Madhubani district, and he works for ESSI Integrated Technologies, one of the companies contracted to set up CCTV cameras at the venue.

“All the parties have promised to regularise the colony, and I know that is not going to happen. But I want Kejriwal to give us better roads, regular water, and at least one proper hospital,” he said, adding, “I am sure he will, I just hope he doesn’t turn out to be like other politicians who just talk and don’t do anything.”

If there’s one skeptic in this group, it’s Saxena, the 45-year-old chair supplier. “But that’s because I am from UP, from the land of the two Ms who have ruined my state,” he said, with a loud laugh.

“Let this Kejriwal fellow do something first, then we will talk. But let me tell you, if he actually makes a difference, nobody will be able to stop him in UP either. Anyway, we will come to know soon, many of our brothers are working here,” he added with a smile.

Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) peon Balram Prasad, who is just five years away from retirement, gets angry when told that his organisation might pose the biggest hurdle for AAP over the coming days.

“Who says MCD is not with him? Where else did Kejriwal get all those votes from? Let me tell you, all Class 4 employees in MCD voted for him… peons, sweepers, helpers, everyone. I know the BJP controls the corporation but we will help him. Let the politicians dare come in AAP’s way, we will teach them a lesson,” said Prasad, who works near the venue and voted for AAP from Laxmi Nagar.

“Small people (“chhota aadmi”) like us do all the work, it’s the big people who take bribes,” added Prasad, whose seven children are all “12 pass”.

Prasad is crunching peanuts furiously in a tent reserved for the MCD and Delhi Jal Board (DJB), and his anger is interrupted by a loud voice from the adjacent Delhi Police tent. “The power companies won’t let him survive, but what he says is correct, eat what you earn rightfully and be happy with that,” the voice declared.

“Dekho, policewaale abhi se sudharne lage (Look, the police have already started reforming),” said Prasad with a wink, smiling finally.

In the tent on the other side, the lone AAP volunteer wakes up. Bleary-eyed, he surveys the scene before him, the empty chairs and the “chhota aadmi” scurrying around to wrap up in time.

“These people have so much expectations from our man that it’s scary. They gave him 67 seats, can you imagine? I just hope he can fulfill at least some of their dreams. I wonder though,” said Rajan, 18, who grew up in a government orphanage after he woke up in a train one day many years ago to find that his family had disappeared.

“I am now with AAP full-time,” he said, adding that he is now associated with party leader Gopal Rai.

Rajan has a dream too, that he hopes “our man” will fulfill. “I hope we can do something to improve the situation in our orphanages, the beatings, the cruelty,” he said, before refusing to discuss his “personal life” any further.

“Chalo, ab hum aam aadmi ka khaas aadmi aayega, dekhte hain (Now our special man will come to power, let’s see),” he said, shivering suddenly, turning to look at the empty dais. “I just hope he doesn’t get crushed by all their expectations.”

At 6.23 am, the phone rings. It’s Mohammed, the guard. “They have started coming, I saw them, aren’t you coming over?” he asked, shouting in excitement. He was not going home, he said, he was going to stay back — the night was over, and the “chhota aadmi” had become the “aam aadmi”.

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