It was an exercise in deterrence. Their camera phones were held outstretched, conspicuously. For hours leading up to the night, volunteers from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), many from outside Delhi and unfamiliar with the terrain, walked the narrow streets of slum clusters across the city, warning people by just their presence. People were told to spread the word that they had spycams, and would prevent any poll-eve inducements. The vigil would last all night. This was the final push.
In the narrow lanes of Sunlight Colony in Jangpura, groups of three or four people walked the streets, some drove past on two-wheelers. They were unfamiliar to locals, but easily identifiable.
“Look closely. Each of them has a phone held out, and some wire which they say is a spycam. Since last year, they have been coming here to carry out the exercise, and their numbers have grown. They will stay all night,” said Ram Kishan, a resident of the area. “But in the corners, people still distribute alcohol and money, although their vigil has curbed the practice,” he added.
A little distance away, under the Nizamuddin flyover, a group of youths sitting on the kerb had an unlabelled bottle with them. It was 12:45 am. Soon, two people on a motorcycle stopped by and spoke to them.
“They said they were from the BJP. They asked us where we got the whiskey from. We told them we bought it. They asked us again, just to be sure,” said one of the youths who refused to be identified.
Samir Ahmed, a 21-year-old auto-rickshaw driver, said he is usually back home, in Pandav Nagar, by 1 am. But on Friday, he returned by 11 pm. “Usually, a day before elections, they distribute food and sweets. For a poor man, it is like a festival. But things have definitely changed this time,” he said. “But parties have their own way of distributing freebies. We hear that some people are getting DTH connections,” he added.
Outside a dumping yard near the Shiv Mandir in Pandav Nagar, residents of the slum said parties had found ways around the new restrictions. “Freebies are now distributed more a than a week before elections and after polling,” said Santosh, a resident.
The police were also out in full strength. “We have been doing this for a long time, and we know what to do,” said a policeman at Shadipur.
At Madanpur Khadar, small teams of AAP volunteers moved through the neighborhood, looking for “strangers” and “strange vehicles”.
“My Hindi isn’t very good, but locals have been helping me. Over the past month, many people have told me that they are angry with both parties (BJP and Congress) for their arrogance — they want to prove that their vote cannot be bought so cheaply,” said K Ravi, an engineer from Bangalore.
At around 1:30 am, after it was alleged that a “white car was seen bringing in booze”, the AAP team rushed towards the JJ colony in the area. The police watched quietly from their PCR van. They later denied information of such manipulations. The allegations may have been unfounded, but a number of residents had already made up their minds.