At 1.30 am on Saturday, Arvind Kejriwal and his close aides are busy discussing the day gone by and planning the next day’s road show. Upbeat at an impressive road show at Amritsar and Gurdaspur on Friday, the team is dismayed by a news report in a section of print and electronic media on his “regret” at having resigned as Delhi CM. Overnight, media interactions are cancelled.The route for the next day’s road shows, too, are changed thrice, keeping even the candidates — both lawyers, HS Phoolka, a Supreme Court lawyer contesting from Ludhiana, and HS Shergill (Anandpur Sahib) — guessing about the change of plans en route.
As the not-so-aam aadmi cavalcade of Kejriwal comprising an open gypsy, Innova car, a few tempos and small cars passes through the Banda road in Nawanshahr to Khatkar Kalan, the native village of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, it chokes the already congested highway.
Most of them wearing AAP caps and shouting slogans are not people ferried to the venue but volunteers from different walks of life — from daily-wagers such as carpenters, mechanics and autorickshaw drivers to retired professors, government employees, students and farmers — wanting to be part of the change they want to see.
On entering Banda, Kejriwal shifts from the Innova to the open Gypsy and waves to the crowd shouting slogans of “Jaag paya wai jaag paya, aam aadmi jaag paya (the common man has woken up).”
An eager volunteer tries to jump on to the Gypsy but is asked by Shergill to get down. Though the police security is following Kejriwal in a van, AAP volunteers form a chain to surround him lest anyone gets too close to the leader to try another assault.
The traders whose shops are en route don’t form part of the crowd, while a few curious onlookers say they just want to see the man who has taken on the might of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and the Gandhi scion (Rahul).
Youths on motorcycles and bicycles join him, capturing the moment on their mobile phones as he heads for Khatkar Kalan and pays obeisance at the martyr’s statue. There is no time to visit the ancestral house of Bhagat Singh or see the museum. It almost seems a paradox as the Aam Aadmi takes over Kejriwal.
He is mobbed, almost fuelling fears of a stampede. If it seems to be annoying, he does not show. His throat is too choked to speak and he leaves without making a speech. But few complain in Khatkar Kalan. They are content with catching a glimpse, says Balwant Singh (72) who came back from Germany to Punjab many years ago. “I have seen it all. When the BJP comes to power, traders make big profits by hoarding.
The Akalis have taken control of reta (sand), bajri (gravel), land, buses… they have only left ash, which doesn’t sell. AAP is the only hope,” he adds.
Kejriwal’s road show throws up more paradoxes. Some elitist young managers accompany him in the car and decide who he talks to and meets, “strictly on loyalty basis”, while an old Umesh Saxena from the Delhi help desk is part of the crowd, calculating the response and poll prospects. Kejriwal is ushered out of the village without giving a hint of his next destination to the waiting media, citing “bad experience in Amritsar”.
After an hour, his convoy enters Ludhiana through the choked Samrala bypass and it is here that Kejriwal speaks. As AAP volunteers again form a human shield around him, he highlights the power of the common man. “Has it ever happened in the history of this country that a new party has formed the government in the state within one year,” he asks the crowd.
Sparing the Congress, he targets the Akali government, saying that it has no right to stay in power for “pushing its hard-working youth into drugs”. He reserves his main salvo for Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia and again asks the crowd: “Punjab ka ek minister bhi drug trade mein involved hai. Kya naam hai uska? Badal ka kya lagta hai? (a minister of Punjab, too, is involved in the drug trade.
What is his name, how is he related to the Badals?).” Prodded by the crowd, he says, “Haan Majithia. Badal ka saala lagta hai. Par jab paap ka ghara bharta hai toh upar wala apni jharu chalata hai (Yes he is Majithia, Badal’s brother-in-law. When ill-deeds of people overflow, God picks up a broom to sweep them out).”