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An army of volunteers awaits commands

As the country prepares for the mammoth task of electing the 17th Lok Sabha, the foot soldiers of the BJP and Congress await the bugle call, while AAP volunteers are already in the field. Sashikala VP and Shubham Bhatia speak to those who have had a long run in their respective parties, campaigning in election after election. They speak about what first attracted them to the party and what makes them continue their work despite not getting a much-desired ticket. AAP workers, however, do not admit to any such ambitions

Deepak Sharma, Congress

For me, the connection with politics happened very early on because of my family and its ties with politics. My grandfather Vaidraj Raghuveer Dutt was a freedom fighter.

My father who worked in State Bank of India, took part in the Nagar Nigam elections from the Rotash Nagar Vidhan Sabha in 1982. Though he lost, as a 10 or 12-year-old I wanted to be a
part of politics.

When I turned 17, my father got me to join the team working with HKL Bhagat in 1993, and since then I have been with the Congress party. Back then my work focused on the East Delhi constituency.

Our party couldn’t win seats in the East Delhi constituency. One could put it down to a deficit of leaders in Delhi during that time. All us party workers would wonder what went wrong because we worked so hard.

Our task of reaching out to all was of mammoth proportions but Bhagatji would go to every meeting and meet people of every area and of course we went along. Back then there were no fixed timings, we would keep going as long as we could. If we started our work early in the morning at 6 it could go on to 2 am at night. Sometimes even our families would join.

We would have breakfast at a party workers house, lunch and dinner somewhere else. And back then we didn’t have cell phones, only landline to correspond with each other. So, things were tougher.

Then finally a win came in 2004 under Sandeep Dixit. By 2008 East Delhi was divided and I started working with the North-east constituency. And we got an MP seat when Jai Prakash Agarwal won in 2009. Now campaigning is very different. We don’t have our rallies going into the night and of course we have a much smaller area to cover. With the advent of social media, we have started using it widely to reach out to people.  While we still go to areas, we do make sure to call media persons so that the word can be spread around.

At the moment, while the Lok Sabha elections are just around the corner there is no campaigning yet.

The top leaders make very late decisions in choosing candidates so the ground workers feel dismayed.

If there will be a gathbandhan with AAP they must decide soon.  Although most of us ground workers do not want this gathbhandhan because we think it would work against us.

Unlike AAP which is just a local party, Congress is a national one and has its own recognition and thus we should fight the elections on our own merit.

Also, there are many leaders across the Yamuna who have a lot of hope of getting a ticket. There are some MLAs who have been in that position for three or four terms and have enough clout that if they were to stand for the elections they would win.

But if this gathbandhan happens then how will their name ever come up?

I too have been attached to the party for so long. I have been working for over 20 years but we get nothing. We work only for the Congress party, then an outsider or newcomer comes and takes away what’s ours. Even the party should think that the ones who have devoted their time for so long must be given something. But this gathbandhan is inevitable. Central government leaders want it to happen while the Delhi state leaders don’t want it to.

Lastly, I would like to point out that the difference between Congress and the other parties is that party workers here are unable to meet the top brass. People want to as they have their own thought to put forward but it doesn’t happen.

Robin Vatsa, Congress

In 1993, Subhash Chopra was the MLA of our area and I liked his leadership and so decided to join the Congress. Growing up, my family was not political at all. It is in my social life that I came across politics and joined when I was 25 years old. I had studied Bcom. I looked at the problems in the area, like water scarcity and thought I must do something.

I was in charge of four booths in the Kalkaji DDA flats, but that year lost. Despite losing, we would be attentive to the needs in the area, like getting slumdwellers to move out of an area in which a weekly bazaar used to take place on Thursdays. People would come up to tell us about any problem they were facing and we would take the matter to the relevant authorities and this is how we stayed in touch with the people.

Then in 1998 when the elections happened, we won. For us, ground level work remains the same. In 2002, when Virender Kasanaji stood for counsellor elections, I was in charge of his office and looked after his campaign. When he won, I was moved to the front office.

We did work in CR Park, Greater Kailash and Sheikh Sarai phase 2, so people knew us. Now although we are not in power, we have a lot of experience. And we will soon start our campaign.

I am also using Facebook to publicise our work, which we upload on the social media page. Like when we fixed a sewerage issue, we uploaded the pictures so that the public can see everything.

I’m almost 50 now and have my own trade as a property consultant. I have two sons who both studied in private schools because central schools were too hard to get into. Now one has recently become a graphic designer and the other is finishing his course in architecture.

My wife is a lecturer in Women’s Polytechnic College. None of them are interested in political life but family gets involved automatically as we have held several meetings at home over the years and my family has seen and knows everything.

Coming to the current elections, our leadership (Rahul Gandhi) has gone through a tremendous change since 2014. The biggest reason is that he is working a lot from the ground level. Like Narendra Modi, he cannot be an orator but he has worked (in politics) from a young age. Two people who are different because of their backgrounds cannot be compared.

These people are from such a big family and so educated, so it won’t take them long to learn. In 1998 when we won the MCD elections, it was very new to us but we are educated so we understood quickly and learnt.

But public gets swayed by drama and not by facts, and these are wavering votes. The dedicated votes will remain with the party but the wavering votes change with the direction of the wind so only time can tell.

Presently, it’s very good that the party has not tied up with the AAP because all they know is to play blame game or hitting someone in the head. As a party worker I don’t think it should be done. But the top leaders look at the entire country, so overall if they decide something, we will understand their point of view.

Madhav Prasad,  BJP

I have been associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1989. During the Lok Sabha election, Vijay Kumar was the candidate from Delhi Sadar constituency and I was 22-23 years old at that time. I used to like the Sangh (RSS) and ever since I got my voter’s card, I voted for BJP.

I have been working for the party since the 1990s and for my area Model Town and ward Sangam Park.

I was keen to do social service, and the area — Sangam Park — is not well developed. It has slums, from which people come for small requests related to things like ration cards. Since the area (Sangam Park) has 56 booths, with about 76,500 voters, whoever wins Sangam Park wins the Model Town Assembly seat.

I worked extensively in the rallies, campaigns and protests in my area during the 1993 Delhi Assembly elections. Starting from mandal level, I also fought the 2007 Municipal Corporation elections.

Before the election, people used to say “Yeh pagal hain” and that I will lose whatever Rs 10-20 lakh I’ve collected as savings. Since it’s a reserved constituency, there are lots of people from the Dalit community. I campaigned for myself door-to-door and won the election, getting 1,400 more votes than the opponent.

Since 1947, nobody won the ward or Assembly election from this area. Earlier there were 36 booths, but when I fought again in 2012, there were 3,839 booths.

I was attacked during the Municipal Corporation election in 2012. During an open meeting, Congress  physically attacked me. I went to the police, and while filing the FIR, a murder happened in some area and I was accused of it. I was arrested and my campaign was stopped, however, I was on parole three days later and controlled the situation.

The public supported me, there were some 5,000 people who participated in my rally and I won the election with 3,500 votes. Meanwhile the investigation continued for over eight months, with charges under Section 302 IPC levelled against me. Finally, I was set free because the accusations were false.

I worked really hard for the party over the years. For the Assembly seats, I worked for the candidates, built their image in the public eye. The major problem was that with each upcoming election, new faces were fielded.

Since the slums lacked toilets severely, I got 28 toilets built and 1,200 lights installed in 2009. Some funding came from the government, while the rest of it came from public meetings and also from some big NGOs.

Although I was not given a ticket for the 2017 Municipal Corporation election, my loyalty remains intact for the party. For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections I have 16 booths in Model Town under my control. Currently I am working on a report which focuses on the development and the public mood in the area.

In my family, I am the only one associated with politics. Of my two children, one is an engineer with his own business, while the other is studying LLB.

KS Duggal, BJP

I joined the BJP as a party worker in 1977. I was around 16-17 years old when the movement against Indira Gandhi began after the Emergency, so I joined. While my parents were not inclined towards politics, the sloganeering of zindabad/murdabad was something that as a young teenager, I connected with.

After the riots of 1984, being a Sikh I became a more resolute member. I remember taking part in the campaigning for Subhash Arya. We rented a taxi, put a mike on top and all day long and at night we would drive down the streets campaigning.

Amidst this all, I dropped out of college in the middle of my studies. I have my own real estate business and have grown up kids. They have no intention of joining politics. Maybe if I had become someone,  they would have been interested. But I have not got anything, I have only lost.

See every person who works for the party wants a ticket. And the BJP has not given anything to its workers, they have been left behind. I was just now watching TV and I saw Jaya Bhaduri got a ticket. That’s okay but what about the BJP worker who has held their flag for 10-20 years, what about them?

In the 2017 MCD elections, I didn’t get a ticket. Forget about me, there were four others too waiting in the wings who didn’t get it. Sanjay Tiwari, who was a Congress-minded person — not just minded, he was a Congress person — was given a ticket. He didn’t even join the BJP but the party gave him a ticket. It was the party’s wish so we worked for him and he won. When my kids see I’m not getting anything, they say you’re wasting your time and money. But I continue my work with the party. We will soon strategise for South Delhi when the candidates are announced.

Now the campaigning process has changed. It’s all about the media, especially WhatsApp. Earlier when we had to meet a voter or find someone, it would be very difficult. Now there are groups on WhatsApp and in two minutes you can trace someone. If news has to be conveyed, it can be done in two minutes, even through emails.

Earlier the election campaigns used to be very tough. First you had to walk from street to street but now it’s not like that.

I don’t remember the year that I first helped in the campaigning for elections, but I do remember that it was for Vijay Kumar Malhotra who was contesting from Rajouri Garden. After that I also campaigned for Subhash Arya ji and Dabar Sahib, who is now a Mandal head of Rajouri Garden.

Now I live in Sainik farms so I campaign in Mehrauli, in the south Delhi Constitutency. In 1993 there was the Assembly elections where we did full-force campaigning for Brahm Singh Tanwar. He won after all the hard work put in.

Over the years, we won many times but just as I remember the wins, I remember the losses too. Tanwar lost in 2003, but he still has a name in the area because of the work he has done. Take my friend Shahnawas Hussain who lost — even so, in his home there will be 150-200 people meeting him and having tea. The same is the case with Tanwarji.

Presently, I have full confidence that the BJP will win. Narendra Modi will get at least 351 seats and the BJP will be in power for 25 years. And this is because Modiji is doing great work.

While businessmen may be worried, it will not last long. Before good times come, there’s a tough time. People have enjoyed earlier under the previous government, avoiding taxes and various other things.

When you tie up a free animal, it will be irritated for a while but after some time it understands that the owner will look after him, give him something to eat and drink.

Janvi Gangwani, Aam Aadmi Party

Exactly eight years ago in April 2011, when Anna Hazare went on hunger strike during the campaign against corruption, my sister was an enthusiastic participant in the protests. When the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government was formed, it assured us that it is serious about providing a clean government. The speeches of its leaders convinced me that the issue of corruption is important — unlike the promises of the two big parties, which are on the lines of religion, caste and class.

AAP won a huge majority in the February 2015 Delhi Assembly elections on its unique platform. Many of us realised that this party will change the face of politics. When I took membership of the party in 2013, I was working and continued in my job till 2015. I used to give excuses to go to the protests. Once I even lied that I am suffering from jaundice and took three months leave so that I could work for the Assembly elections, though I was not holding any position in the party.

Then I resigned my job to work for the party full time. Before quitting my job, I discussed it with my parents, who were not very keen on the idea. However, they had to say yes.

Since my convincing power is strong, I am best known for working in AAP’s door-to-door campaign. Any house I go to, I don’t leave until it’s confirmed that their votes will come to AAP. On the campaign trail, you get to listen to insults, see doors being shut on your face, people asking for accountability. At first people used to insult us, shut their doors on our faces, and level accusations that we couldn’t be working for free. Some entertained us, some didn’t.

This time around, the party decided to make padh adhikaris and I was given duties starting with handling my mandal (ward to Assembly seat) and ending with the Lok Sabha constituency.

I love the work and I’m doing it out of any compulsion. I do it because I know I’m best at it — not like other volunteers I’ve met who joined because it’s easy to get entry to the AAP, which is not possible with parties like BJP and Congress.

Currently, I’m working for East Delhi Lok Sabha candidate Atishi Marlena. I’m handling 10 Assembly segments. My brief is to make more and more women recognise Atishi’s face and work. A good thing about her is that she has studied at Oxford (University) and is highly educated. Since she has experience in the area of education, she is doing good work in the field. People are liking her.

My parents used to tell me to get married, say that I’m 28 and should look for other things. Their wish was that I enter any field of work except politics. However, I don’t relate to anything else, neither marriage nor anything else, but, this (politics). My sister who joined the party before me, left to work in the aviation sector.

Since I don’t get any remuneration from the party, for a long while my savings from my previous job helped me survive. Besides that, my parents, friends, sister and her husband continue to help me financially. I don’t expect anything from the party, they feel I’m capable, that’s why they give me work.

In other parties, you don’t get to see volunteers like me joining politics. They have some or the other roots in politics.

BPS Walia, AAP

By profession I’m a photographer and filmmaker. I happened to walk into the protest for the Lokpal while I was on a morning walk. I realised that these people are doing something good. I felt that they don’t have much manpower and their photographs are not coming out good. So I offered my services.

When I campaigned for the MLA Rajesh Rishi in Janakpuri, that was the first time I ventured out to work for a political party. Before that, I never even dreamt I would do such a thing. Then I worked for the party in the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections, 2014 Lok Sabha campaigning, 2015 Assembly poll and then 2017 Punjab Assembly campaign.

Speaking of photography, I made short videos of people I met during campaigns, which AAP ran on its party website and Kejriwal’s page. Although they gave me no credit at the end of the video, I had no problem with it.

I also contributed to the door-to-door campaign in every election they fought. I remember during the first election, the Opposition candidate was passing by with some 150-200 people behind him. In contrast,  we were just four volunteers. A woman said, “They have so many people, who are you?” I replied, “On result day, you will know who is who.”

During the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, we didn’t have money to pay for meals for our party workers, so everyone brought packed food from home. People used to taunt me saying, “Kya bhooke mar rahe ho inke saath.” Members of the public also used to offer us tea.

Other party people used to bully us too — once they took off our topics and a volunteer’s spectacles too.

My wife used to worry and say that if BJP wins, their party workers will bother us but that didn’t happen. She doesn’t worry anymore.

Around 2013 Assembly elections, when we didn’t have speakers, we used to clap to gain attention and scream our lungs out to deliver the message. There was a shortage of caps, kids used to come and ask for our caps, but we needed to wear them ourselves, so made excuses.

Other party workers used to bring people on hired e-rikshaws, while we used to bring them one by one on scooters to the polling booth. Since they were in power, they used to misutilise it by taking the e-rikshaws inside the premises, while complaining against us and asking the police to seize our scooters. They (BJP workers) were nowhere to be seen when we won the election.

When not campaigning, I focus on infrastructure issues pertaining to my area. People also come to me for school admissions. It’s tough to make them understand that we can’t help with private schools.

For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, I am looking after the social media accounts of the party, managing photo libraries and rallies too. I don’t get paid for it, but I don’t expect anything either — I have my business.

I have gone to 41 countries on work, I earn good money doing industrial photography, and when I’m not working, I click the party people. I even close my office for a month before elections, so that I can devote all my time to the party.