Updated: February 4, 2017 10:07:48 am
Across lush mustard fields wait an elderly group in Kajjal Majra village, roughly 10 km from the district headquarters of Fatehgarh Sahib. An autorickshaw parked near them has a loudspeaker strapped on and a banner of Arvind Kejriwal. And when Santokh Singh Salana, the AAP candidate from Bassi Pathana, arrives in an Innova with two smaller cars trailing, there is no grand welcome, no garlands, just handshakes. In a state where AAP has fielded largely fresh candidates of limited means, their scale and style of campaigning is visibly toned down. Party sources said some 35 candidates have taken informal loans from friends and relatives or mortgaged property to contest.
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Salana, whose declared Rs 14.70 lakh includes ancestral land and a small house, depends on NRI funding and some well-wishers. “I can barely contest an election with my meagre savings,” said Salana, a Dalit activist sacked from his job. “I have taken small loans from friends that I will try to repay after the elections but most of my campaign runs on charity.”
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He tries to use the modest campaign as a strength. “See, I have come without any gunmen and if I win I will continue to meet you like this,” he tells his audience, while promising to “clean the system” and replicate the AAP government’s work in Delhi.
Salana lunches at the party office in Bassi Pathana, a local property dealer’s office. Across the dingy office is a vacant plot of swampy land that has been turned into a communal kitchen, where roti and a watery dal is served twice daily.
“A well-wisher has sent some 10 kilos sugar, wheat and pulses. Dal, roti and chai, what else does one need?” Salana says.
Aman Shahi, an NRI volunteer from Pennsylvania, pays for the Innova. “I have been living abroad for 29 years and most of my family is there. But I decided to come here for this election just to back AAP. Punjab needs change,” Shahi says.
In neighbouring Payal is Gurpreet Singh Lapran, 36, with declared assets worth Rs 4.98 lakh. He gave up his job as an engineer, which paid him Rs 6,500, to volunteer for AAP full-time, going on to become vice-president of its SC/ST wing. He ran a photocopy shop to sustain his parents, wife and two sons.
“I have an Alto and an ancestral house and absolutely no money for an election campaign,” he says. “Someone or the other comes to pick me up each morning. During the campaign, someone arranges for langar during mealtimes wherever I am. I had filed my nomination on January 16 and since then we have not spent more than Rs 5 lakh on everything – loudspeaker, fuel, pamphlets. We hardly have any posters and that has helped cut down on our expenses. The plan is to reach out to people directly, what is stronger than word of mouth?” Lapran says.
At Zirak, a dominantly Dalit village of some 1,000 voters, villagers gather at the porch of an empty house. For all his insistence of keeping it toned down, local youths bring in boxes of laddoos that are kept on a large weighing scale slung on a tree.
Among other such candidates are Gurdev Singh Mann, whose father repairs cycle tyres, and Swaroop Singh Khadiana, son of a watchman. Both slug it out with little loans and substantial help from NRIs.
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