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Unstoppable campaigner

Last updated on June 1, 2019

Manju Jain, housewife and cancer survivor, is a shining example of the type of AAP worker who forms the backbone of Delhi’s ruling party

As the frenzy over the Lok Sabha elections recedes, the country’s Capital is already gearing up for another crucial contest which comes up next year — Delhi Assembly polls.

While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had a huge win in 2015, bagging 67 out of the 70 seats, its loss this time around casts doubt on the young party’s future. But if its idealistic foot soldiers remain dedicated to the cause, a second term cannot be ruled out.

Manju Jain, a 68-year-old resident of Bhopal who has campaigned three times in Delhi, is the type of party worker who can be a role model for others. A national member of AAP since its inception, she believes the party must step up its game and also step cautiously — without the misplaced confidence it displayed this time around.

Jain campaigned for South Delhi candidate Raghav Chadha in the Lok Sabha elections this year. Earlier, she was part of the 2013 Assembly election campaign for Rajesh Rishi in the Janakpuri constituency and then in 2015 for Ajay Dutt’s seat from Ambedkar Nagar.

The campaign was alive and thriving, she says so it is difficult to accept the rout. Freebies from the rivals which could have done the trick, she says, or the fact that many people were unsatisfied with some incomplete work of the Delhi government. Others may have voted for the BJP because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What she is sure about is that her party must do everything right now to make voters happy — for instance, address the grievance of those who are not receiving their widow pension.

Personal trauma

Manju Jain’s life has not been an easy one. Her husband died at the age of 57 of oral cancer — which had spread to other vital organs — in 2007. After that she says, she was “completely broken”. She did not want to step out wearing the customary white saree of widowhood, so she stayed at home “like I would die”.

Her life, however, got new meaning when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement reached Bhopal. Her sons and daughters-in-law were all involved: “They convinced me to join”. First, she assisted those who were on hunger strike. The new-found activism became more pronounced when she joined a group of about 25 persons (including five women) to protest outside the then Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s house.

“The police were beating the protestors and I shielded a young boy to protect him from the police”, she recalls. They were taken to central jail and kept in detention for two days and one night. “Arvind Kejriwal got to know that women too had been arrested and he did everything to get us released,” she says.

In 2012, when AAP party was formed to take forward the fight politically, sans Hazare, Jain was picked as a national member.

Jain’s early life saw her married off at the age of 15 when she had passed her 8th grade, and had her first of four children at 19. The man she was married to “was an alcoholic and did a lot of substance abuse. He became mad, would hit people. We had to put him in an asylum in Gwalior for
a year.”

And while he came out “okay”, he continued to be an alcoholic and indulged in other intoxicants, contributing little to the running of the household.  Jain did her 11th grade in 1961 but stayed in the marriage. “I didn’t want to leave my kids without guidance. What if they too had slipped out of my hands?”

So, she started stitching clothes from home and that is how she raised her four sons. All her husband did, she tells candidly, was “beat me at home, on the streets, taking my money. But I had the passion that I had to make my kids study”.

For 20 years, she says, she “didn’t see the world” — it revolved around her children. “I would teach them, sit at home with them, go to films with them, take them out here and there and it was just us”.

After growing up, her kids told her to live for herself — they had done BCom and MCom and set up  businesses. That is when the new chapter in her life began. She had something to fight for, and personally brought respect from others. She laughs as she tells us that she wears her AAP badge everywhere. “People see this and respect me and work gets done. I went to get the pension for a lady and it was done so quickly. If some work is not being done, I just tell them that I am with the AAP and they know we will protest if they don’t do it fast… people are scared”.

Life throws a curveball

However, a new problem cropped up. In the early stages of her association with the party, Jain was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had her first mastectomy in 2013 and had healed enough to participate in campaigning.

By December 2017, she started to feel ill yet again. “But I didn’t want to stop. On December 20, Kejriwal was coming to the state to start campaigning for the Madhya Pradesh elections.”

So, she waited till the 21st, when a PET scan revealed the cancer had spread to her lungs. In January 2018, she had her second mastectomy. “The doctors warned that it would not get cured until I did chemotherapy but I was — and am still — dead against it. I have seen people suffer and die from chemo itself”.

During her recovery period, AAP members came to see her, looked at her reports and arranged for her to come to Delhi to get a second consultation at Rajiv Gandhi institute. Here too, she was asked to undergo chemotherapy.

So, she just left the hospital and now lives with the cancer. “But you have seen me, I am strong, right?” she asks laughing. “I am strong and resolute and will work for this party and push myself because when there’s good work happening you must support the cause”.

As many as 400-500 people from MP came to Delhi to campaign, Jain says. “Earlier in the Assembly elections I paid for myself and this time too, I’m certain, many would have come to campaign at their own expense.” This, she says, is a vital difference between AAP and BJP/Congress.

“I would ask people to join and they would say: BJP has given us Rs 500 per day and even Congress pays, how much will you give? People move with the wind. Many have left and joined the opposition”. But this is the beauty of the few that remain, Jain thinks, as they are there for what they believe in.

Hard work didn’t pay

AAP stands for the right to education, water, electricity and healthcare, Jain says, but why people did not understand that, is a question ringing in her mind.

Juxtaposing that, she alleges is Modi, who “does not want people to be educated”, and instead wants the uneducated to remain so, else “he would have supported Kejriwal (in Delhi)”.

During the campaign, she got the impression that at least 80% votes would go to AAP. “Till the last day we thought two will definitely win (Atishi and Chadha) and Dilip Pandey was also ahead in the race. So, for three persons it looked very good. For others, we didn’t think the loss margin would be so huge”, she reveals.

As our discussion goes into the second hour, she thinks harder about the defeat. “Many asked us why we thought of joining hands with the Congress. We said we wanted the BJP to lose”. Then there were other problems voters pointed out, “like a deficit of leadership”.

For now, she says, morale is low. She has tried to suggest to leaders in Delhi to start a helpline like that in Bhopal. When complaints are lodged at the CM’s helpline number 181, Jain says, they are taken very seriously.

It should be noted that the official website cites 83,24,417 as the total number of complaints with 79,96,224 unsolved. Through this number, Jain says, she has been able to get 20 truckloads of garbage removed from areas in Bhopal.

Asked why she hasn’t been able to give this advice to AAP leaders, she softly declares, “No one picks up the phone. Only Naresh Yadav (Mehrauli MLA) and Rishi ji pick up the phone”, adding “This may be why they didn’t get votes”.

At the same time, she realises voters were thinking: “For PM, Modi. For CM, Kejriwal”. So she waits for the party to mobilise workers to start campaigning.

In Bhopal, her son runs a printing press for letter pads, pamphlets and visiting cards. “People from different parties come to get material printed and even they say I’m in the right party, one that respects women. Others apparently don’t. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But this party wants to
do good”.