Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Naresh Aggarwal’s remark that a tea-seller like Narendra Modi can never become the prime minister had made Balram Bari quite angry. A tea-seller by profession, Bari draws inspiration from the life of the BJP leader and is contesting the assembly polls from Chandni Chowk.
“Once Modi used to sell tea, today he has a good chance of becoming the PM,” he says.
Bari sells tea on the roadside in Gandhi Gali near Fatehpuri in the Walled City. The 47-year-old is a veteran of many an electoral battle: He has contested 16 polls — Lok Sabha, assembly and corporation — since 1989. He fought the first election (for Lok Sabha) from New Delhi.
Bari has never come remotely close to saving his security deposit, but this has had no effect on his desire to contest polls. He gave his best performance nearly four years ago in the general elections when he got 344 votes when he contested from Chandni Chowk.
“I used to be a Congress worker before I decided to contest election. Fighting an election gives me the opportunity to know people and for people to know me,” says Bari, who used to sell vegetables before he started selling tea in 1998.
These days, Bari is busy going door to door, seeking votes in Chandni Chowk. His tea stall — which also serves as his election office — has been taken over by his wife. He has so far spent about `15,000 on his campaign, mostly on getting 6000 pamphlets printed.
“Chandni Chowk suffers from many problems such as traffic mess, choked sewers, lack of potable water, etc. I have made seven promises but my priority will be to sort out the traffic mess if I am elected. I will also try to ensure unemployment allowance to the unemployed in the area and help widows get `3 lakh for their daughters’ weddings,” says Bari, like a seasoned politician.
In the middle of this discussion, a well-dressed local man requests Bari to help get a chocked sewer in front of his house cleaned. As Bari writes down his address and promises a solution, Bari’s friend and neighbour Satish Kumar, who irons clothes, gets agitated: “You seek our help, but give votes to others.”
Bari says every day many residents, most of them well-educated, come to him with problems. “I make sure their issues are resolved soon. All the officials in the area know me and listen to me,” he says.
But will this goodwill translate into votes? “I have helped hundreds of people and I hope to get their votes. In the last assembly polls, I got over 133 votes; this time I hope to get 1,500. But I will continue to contest. At least once in this lifetime, I am sure I will win,” he says.