Tea stalls are the best place to discover the ordinary citizen’s views on politics. Trains are just as good, with a little prodding from reporters
For many, the lifeline of travel in the Capital is the Metro but it has an older cousin connecting the neighbouring towns of the City —the Delhi Suburban Railway.
Taking the 8 am train to Ghaziabad, we joined the morning rush hoping to overhear conversations about the biggest exercise in democracy — the Lok Sabha elections 2019.
But it was all subdued. The morning breeze and the prospect of the long day ahead looked set to put everyone in a slumber.
We met a few on that train who had to be persuaded to speak but once they did, there was no stopping them. It was a journey surprisingly short, ending in half an hour. Shorter than the long tedious hour it takes on the Metro.
Back from the hustle to the grind of Delhi, we decided the evening rush hour was one which we definitely had to encounter. We boarded a train to Faridabad at 6 pm and lo and behold, the atmosphere on that train was electric.
There was one bogey that called to us: people sitting around beating on drums and clashing symbols, singing bhajans as they went home. It was an experience worth having, but here too there weren’t any political conversations taking place.
We went to the next bogey and decided to crash a party. Here, commuters didn’t need any persuasion. By the end of our journey, the entire bogey’s attention was on us and the discussion on who will make the next government come May 23, when the results will be announced.
While the majority aggressively chanted the name of the present prime minister, a few commuters were not so vocal. They refused to answer questions and upon much prodding, it became known exactly why – their loyalties lay with Opposition parties and they were too afraid to say this aloud, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the majority.
From Delhi to Faridabad
Beginning with the journey we enjoyed the most…
In we walk to the train taking us to Faridabad. Here we meet a group completely absorbed in their game of cards. We approach them a little reluctantly, but they don’t think twice before starting a discussion the instant they hear the word ‘election’.
The eight unanimously chime, “We want a BJP government”. When we ask why, Madan Lal of Faridabad says out loud, “Why? Because he is running the government well and he is a better leader for the country”.
Another man sitting by the window seat says, “To put it in a single sentence: The country needs Modiji”.
They back their theory by citing the Balakot airstrikes in Pakistan territory — in retaliation to the Pulwama attack in Kashmir. This makes everyone speak excitedly over each other. As one says, “Every day, terrorists are entering our country…” another says, “If Modi is there, then anything is possible.” This makes everyone happy and the sounds of agreement blur our audio recording.
We then proceed to ask them their thoughts on Rahul Gandhi and the Mahagathbandhan, and the reaction is a little bit more of outshouting each other, to urge the country to not even think about that scenario. Lal says, “For 60 years, the Gandhi family has been ruling the country and yes, many voters have liked them, but then why haven’t they put anyone else up to be the leader? It has always been them.” He points to this as the main bone of contention. “India kya unki jaidad hai?” (Is India their property?)
Another adds that everyone knows the Gandhi family, Akhilesh Yadav’s family and even Mayawati’s but no one knows Modi’s: “He has nothing. He’s the only one who left his family for the country”.
Who will tell them that Modi left his family long before becoming prime minister? We move on and ask about the Rafale deal and charges of corruption against other leaders of the BJP. “The Opposition keeps saying these things, there’s no truth to it. The country needs Modi, it needs Rafale. That is the work of the Opposition, to keep putting blame”.
Lal backs the importance of a strong pposition “to keep the government in check”, but that does not mean he says, “that you should use abusive words. They say Modi is a chor”.
We point out that the vitriol is from both sides, but they fail to concur. “Who said it? Never, never has Modi used bad language against them.”
Another says, “Modi calls him ‘Rahulji’ and Rahul calls him ‘Modi’. This is not good”.
As the conversation seems to be going nowhere, we take a chance and ask, “Who here will vote for the Congress”? A man amongst them, who till now was agreeing with everything they were saying says, “I will”.
This brave man is VK Sharma, a voter from Chandni Chowk constituency. Why brave? Because the rest then start screaming, the one next to him grabs him playfully but aggressively.
With eyes a little wider than before they ask him, “You want free money? You don’t want to work anymore? Give this reporter your address, they’ll print it so that even the Aam Aadmi Party can send money to your bank account…” The accusations fly thick and fast, but Sharma laughs, nudging people away as they get a little closer, to physically show their discontent.
He then goes on to say, “This is my right; it is my right to support whomsoever I want…” and the public just laugh and accuse him of being a freeloader who supports a family of thieves.
We then turned our attention to the group opposite us who have just been silent spectators, unlike the rest of the commuters. “Please tell us what you think about the present climate of politics”, we say but they don’t look up, shaking their heads in refusal. We finally persuade a man to speak without being photographed or named. He accepts.
“The situation is not like 2014”, he says, “it’s not one-sided anymore.” “There is no wave. People are now divided. Earlier, people were falling for whatever was being said.” Now, though, he adds the situation is different.
We ask him if he is happy with the present government. His reply says it all, as he asks us to tell him what promises have been fulfilled: “They are not even talking about their manifesto from 2014”.
Now, with the BJP again raising doubts on Rahul Gandhi’s citizenship, Satish Sharma is suspicious. “Why didn’t they ask this before, why now? This is all a game right before the important votes are cast”.
He thinks the raising of this issue may work against the BJP. “They should have raised it earlier, why were they sleeping?” he asks. “Now because of the elections they speak these things. What was the Election Commission doing, what was the media doing?”
Dilliwala from Faridabad
While the commotion in the other group carries on and threatens to break the rusted roof of the coach, Rahul Sharma, 34, stands up from the crowd, and says, “I know a lot about Delhi. Ask me whatever you want to ask.”
Sharma is a resident of Faridabad; however, he says, he spends most of the day working in Delhi, and has the confidence of a Dilliwala. He says he is a “small contractor.”
“I will be keeping in mind the mood of the whole country before casting my vote,” tells Sharma. He starts talking about the exits in AAP: “Whoever could have been a danger to them (AAP) have been side-lined by the party, whether it’s Yogendra Yadav or Prashant Bhushan. They have worked on development, but he (Kejriwal) forgot about ethics. Though I still feel he’s a good person.”
“Deoli town, which did not receive continued water for over 50-60 years, was provided water by laying down pipelines by the AAP government,” says Sharma.
Sharma is in a confused state over his vote, as he thinks that the Aam Aadmi Party may not be able to win the seats it’s contesting in Delhi and Haryana.
“See, the country is in danger right now. Nationalism is dominant these days, and it should be. Nation should be protected first. All other issues go for a toss before this,” says Sharma.
Sharma recalls the days after demonetisation, when his business took a significant hit. However, he is happy with the drive of implementing digital money. “Earlier, I used to do cash transactions, and although I receive my payments in the form of cheques at the end of the month, there is little room to give commission to others.”
Asked about the current unemployment in the country, which is at a record high, he replies, “I know the BJP won’t be able to provide jobs. And one cannot create jobs so easily. The best they can do in the next five years is to provide loans to the youth”.
He also mentions that he supports the BJP’s promise of revoking Article 370 if the party comes back to power.
“And things will play very differently in Haryana elections. Because of the fact that the politics in the state is more about face value and not the party. Kahin pe aapka Chautala hai aur kahin pe aapka Hooda,” he concludes. (Somewhere you have your Chautala and at other places you have your Hooda.)
No to AAP’s socialism
As the train speeds up after touching Okhla, Ram Prasad, 56, attributes the quality of roads in Delhi and neighbouring cities to vikas.
“Aaj highway ya road dekh lo, aapko woh road milengi jismein badia solid maal laga hua hain. Toh woh vikas hain,” says Singh. (Today you see a highway or a road and you will come across roads which are built well. That’s development).
Turning against the Modi tide in the compartment, Prasad says that he will welcome any other candidate from the BJP too. “It depends on the work of that candidate and how he or she works,” says Prasad, when he is asked if his support for the party will remain intact should there be a different candidate from the BJP.
As Prasad is giving his answer, a man in his 40s, jumps into the conversation and announces, “No one will become a candidate as long as Modi is there.” Prasad counters the man’s statement by explaining the ethos of democracy. He says “It’s democracy. Anyone can come and go. Whoever will work, will stay.”
As accusations and defences of the party leaders fly back and forth, the two men go off on a tangent and start discussing the policies of the Kejriwal government in Delhi, ridiculing it in its entirety.
“AAP has done a lot of work in Delhi, but Sheila Dikshit also worked a lot for Delhi. There’s no doubt that both have worked for the city. However, it cannot also be considered work when you distribute all the money amongst people. For example, if you have Rs 10 lakh, you try to save it in the treasury, and not spend all of it for your schemes,” says Prasad, obviously a non-believer in socialism.
Here, Prasad is pointing at the free water and free electricity policy of the AAP government in Delhi. He dismisses these policies, calling them a “motivation for the public to become feckless.”
Other men sitting in the coach also ridicule these policies of AAP government calling it “bad politics.” When they were asked about their mandate for the 2019 general elections, almost all of them say, “It’s the party which matters and not the MP candidate.”
Right after hearing this, some men start chanting “Party, party, party.”
Prasad raises his voice, trying to gain attention, and says, “Democracy says to give mandate to one: If you consider one PM today and another some other day, we will start fighting, ruin India and deplete the treasury. First, see how that chosen one works for five years and if you don’t like it, then change that person.”
He also points fingers at the very basis of AAP. He says “How did Kejriwal came in politics? On what basis? They were shouting for Lokpal. Is he following the path of that route? He also forayed into politics. He (Kejriwal) said all parties are thieves and he will change the country, but he too got settled amongst them.”
Suddenly a man in his sixties, starts shouting at the top of his lungs, saying that Kejriwal joined hands with Congress. This, even though he wanted to put Sheila Dikshit, the former CM, in jail on grounds of corruption. “Is there a worse situation than this?” the visibly angry man asks.
Hearing this, the man’s companion, says “they (AAP) claimed all parties are corrupt and that’s why they wanted to bring Lokpal bill. People voted them and gave their mandate in huge numbers. But now you see them talking to Congress and Mamata didi. They (AAP) are now meeting everyone and folding hands in front of everyone. Asking them to give the party a share in seats. Kyun bhai?”
The discussion, alas, comes to an end as the train slowly pulls into Faridabad. People start putting their things together and getting on with their daily routine. We realise it’s time to move out and go back home.
From Delhi to Ghaziabad.
An early train to Ghaziabad, where the shadow of the previous day hangs in the air.
Looking for people who seem a little open to conversation, we finally run into Mohammad Shamim sitting nonchalantly with his two friends in the empty coach of the Delhi-Ghaziabad EMU train. The three friends are construction workers and work in Delhi-NCR. They have reached a consensus when it comes to 2019 general elections — AAP should form the government.
“If Kejriwal forms the government at the Centre then it will be good. When they (AAP) have done so much development in Delhi, like quality of education in schools have improved. And if they also have government at the Centre, their work can continue forward.
Shamim who lives in Bhagat Singh Park in Delhi, is part of a family of 35 persons. And says the consensus in the family too generally remains the same when it comes to voting in any election any year.
From Ghaziabad to Delhi
As the afternoon heat rises, we decide to hop out of the train we are on and go into another. But not before speaking to a woman sitting all by herself, one ear covered with a huge gauze tied over her head.
Her warm smile pushes us to ask her if she wants to speak on the elections. She agrees. A resident of Uttar Pradesh, she has already voted. So it’s interesting to know who she voted for and why.
Pat comes the reply: that she voted for the BJP. Why? Because “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has criminalised triple talaq”. Knowing we are taken aback with her answer, she adds she is a Muslim woman and thinks this is a decision that most favour.
We ask her about the present situation where the country has seen heightened attacks on minorities. She agrees that this is so, but says the introduction of the divorce law won her over.
The mother of three says just this decision alone has worked in his favour for her, and many other women from where she comes.
A graduate herself, she wasn’t allowed to work by her husband but now she says his mind has changed when it comes to their daughters. She wants both of them, one in her first year of college and the other in final year of BSc to come to Delhi and study. And then when that is done, she’ll send her son to study in the Capital’s schools because “education is better here” especially now, with the AAP government.
How does she know this? “I have relatives living in Delhi whom I often visit. Their children study in Delhi government schools and their level of education is better than what my child gets in a private school in Amroha”, she explains.
For now, she is content with visiting Delhi every now and then.