Nabha farmer and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporter Jaswant Singh Kapoor, 70, has his eye on Punjab assembly election results like many, but unlike most he is going the extra kilometre.
Since the February 4 polling, Kapoor has been driving his two-wheeler 25 km each evening from his home to Patiala city to keep a close watch on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) locked in a strongroom at a government college.
He spends the nights in a tent on the college campus and has for company other AAP supporters. Fellow AAP backers take their places during the day and the vigil continues 24X7.
Like Kapoor, many AAP supporters are displaying the same level of watchfulness across Punjab, which has 117 assembly constituencies. They are “guarding” all the EVMs kept in 59 strongrooms across the state.
Incidentally, AAP workers are the only ones doing so. Supporters of the SAD-BJP combine or the Congress are not displaying the same level of watchfulness, which some believe is unnecessary given that the EVMs are under the watch of the election commission.
Kapoor and fellow AAP supporters, however, are not taking any chances. AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had raised an alarm over an alleged shifting of EVMs from this Patiala strongroom, but the fears proved unfounded after an election commission inspection.
“We are contesting for the first time. We want to preserve the trust that people have bestowed on us,” said Kapoor. The vigil will continue till March 11, when results will be announced.
During the day, the AAP tent at Patiala is a hangout for poll discussion, but the challenge is staying vigilant through the night. Playing cards, chess and surfing the internet is what keeps the AAP supporters engaged. They often get calls from NRI volunteers at night to stay alert.
At the Patiala tent, post-dinner conversations are often filled with humour. As Kapoor reclined on a cot in the tent last Friday night, Rinku Singh, 27, who runs a recharge shop a few blocks away, cracked a few jokes with “Kapoor uncle”.
“He is the youngest and the most dedicated worker and stays up all night. We keep him busy by playing Punjabi songs on YouTube,” said Rinku, pointing at Kapoor.
At 10 pm, AAP’s Nabha candidate, Gurdev Singh ‘Dev’ Mann, a radio artiste and singer, arrived. He belted out the Bulleh Shah song ‘Tere ishq nachaya karke thaiya thaiya’ and the rest joined in.
“We have put in a lot of hard work. We can’t take chances,” said Mann. Inside the tent, party worker Puneet Arora kept an eye on CCTV footage from inside the building on two LCDs.
Around 11 pm, Dr Balbir Singh, AAP’s candidate against Congress’ Captain Amarinder Singh in Patiala (Urban), joined them. “We are assisting the authorities to ensure that the machines are safe. Not even jails in Nabha are safe,” said Dr Balbir, an eye surgeon. On November 27, 2016, gangster Gurpreet Sekhon and four others escaped the high security Nabha jail along with alleged Khalistani terrorist Harminder Mintoo.
The two candidates left around midnight. Kapoor and his fellow “guard” RS Brar, 65, decided to take turns to stay awake with young volunteers Rinku and Manjeet till morning.
Asked about this unprecedented vigil, Manpreet Singh Randhawa, AAP’s Punjab media coordinator, replied, “We have faith in the electoral process, but there is a long gap between poll day and the result day.”