The venue at Dana Mandi, where Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal and senior party leaders were scheduled to arrive at 2.30pm was still 2km away. Yet with an hour more to go for the leaders to arrive, hundreds of private buses ferrying party supporters to the venue from far-flung villages of the state had jammed the road. Party supporters cheerfully walked the remaining distance to the venue, visibly happy to be part of a crowd dominated by men. A majority of them were farmers, including elderly.
“Nobody from the AAP called us. We have come on our own as we are inquisitive to know what this party has planned for the farmers in the manifesto,” said Dilbara Singh, a farmer who had travelled from Sangrur.
At the enclosure, the T-shaped stage was still 600 metres away, but nothing was visible as the presence of thousands of party supporters seated inside blocked the vision. Braving their way in the merciless sun, the visitors jostled to gain entry. Supporters had long since occupied space inside the enclosure as they had started gathering since morning. There was hence no way they could get an entry by 2pm.
Punjab Police had a trying time telling the supporters there was no space inside. The supporters then tried to gain entry from the rear side of the stage where cops stationed there kept screaming on top of their voice that the gate was meant only for VIPs. The metal detector installed for security purposes was pushed aside many times by the sheer force of the crowd, leaving the cops to repeatedly setting it. Some party men too were seen arguing with the cops.
Those who failed to enter the venue seemed undeterred. Many were seen jumping on the roof of a mini bus that had just been donated by a Canadian NRI to the AAP. Fifteen of them then climbed atop the roof of this van while others hung loosely on its doors. Three other private vans that were stationed near the stage were also in a similar state, overloaded with over 30 people at one time.
A fire tender stationed near the stage had around 30 supporters sitting atop its roof. At the five poles inside the venue, four supporters each were seen clinging themselves to the pillar as they had no space to place their feet on ground. Hundreds of others, who could not gain entry to the enclosure, patiently stood outside. They were seen making videos, clicking pictures and stood unperturbed in the sun for four hours till the programme was over.
Both Kejriwal and the party’s state convener Gurpreet Ghuggi publicly acknowledged that the supporters were bearing the brunt of the sun and standing for hours to hear them. “Ander to theek hai, par jo bahar hume support de rahe hain dhoop mei, hum unka karz kaise utarenge,” said Kejriwal during his speech.
Over 50 street vendors, a majority of them ‘golgappa’ sellers, gathered from across the town and dotted the venue with supporters relishing the delicacy as soon as they reached the venue. Sant Singh, a golgappa seller, said he used to put his stall on Kale ke road, but came here today due to AAP rally. Similarly, street vendors selling fast food, lemon water, cane juice, ice-cream and popcorn also made a fast buck.