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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

Kejriwal is in the drawing room

Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, December 29, 2013
First Published: 09:35 IST(29/12/2013) | Last Updated: 15:02 IST(29/12/2013)

How much does the new chief minister of Delhi weigh? With all that frequent fasting and the hectic campaigning, not more than 60 kg! Proverbially, though, Arvind Kejriwal is an elephant, present in every room these days, particularly in the drawing rooms of Chandigarh.

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Such is his reach that even when two guys meet up for drinks, planning to discuss Jacques Kallis's retirement and women's relationship statuses, this Aam Aadmi pops up into the conversation and stays till the last bottoms-up.

Uncles have always been obsessed with politics, and have now started discussing the utopia of the naïve-but-nice Kejriwal as an alternative to the sanctimoniously brash Narendra Modi of the BJP. Worse, even aunties knitting socks for their grandkids now find the Aam Aadmi cuter than the Congress's favourite headache, Rahul Gandhi.

As it turned out, the world certainly did not end in 2012, and the first year of the New World has belonged completely to AAP ka Kejriwal. Cynicism is going out of fashion. Idealism is sexy again, and Kejriwal is its symbol despite the way he looks.

But 2013 is nearing its end, you see. In another couple of days, we will wake up in 2014, many of us with horrific hangovers. Would we still be waiting for the messiah in the Lok Sabha elections that have come to define 2014 as India's Year of Reckoning?

There is certainly a case for it if we go by the numbers alone. More people in Chandigarh are getting interested in politics, a trend reflected nationally and in the increasing turnouts. The Lok Sabha voter turnout in Chandigarh in 2004 was 52%. In 1998 and 1999, it was only 42% and 47%, respectively. But breaking the record of two decades, the turnout last time was 65%.

Incumbent Congress MP Pawan Kumar Bansal has won the last three times, though his vote share dipped from 52% in 2004 to 47% in 2009. Much of the credit goes to the Congress having a stronghold in the rural and slum areas, which constitute nearly half the 5 lakh-odd votes here.

This strength was visible in the recent UT village panchayat elections where the party won half the seats of sarpanch despite being the incumbent. What further makes the villages and slums the key factor is that historically the poll percentage has been higher in these areas as compared to the sectors.

This is where Kejriwal comes in.

You don't need expert opinion to see how smartly Kejriwal understood that the middle class was hardly a segment to bank on. Combining his primarily middle-class following garnered through the anti-corruption movement with votes from the marginalised areas and people of Delhi, he sprung a revolutionary surprise.

That formula seems workable here too, as it does in several other urban and semi-urban constituencies across the country. It helps that the BJP is a divided house. With its leaders thinking that Bansal will most likely become a victim of the railway bribery scam and a pan-India anti-Congress vote, there are three chief contenders for the ticket in the BJP.

There is Satya Pal Jain, who has remained MP at one time but has since been reduced to sending lengthy press statements about every issue under the sun; then, Harmohan Dhawan, who is notable for his dressing sense and party-hopping skills; and city BJP chief Sanjay Tandon, who is a tall leader, but only physically so far. The BSP can already start counting its losses and the number of times its Lok Sabha candidate has said the F-word.

No wonder then that drawing rooms are abuzz with speculation over who will be AAP's Lok Sabha candidate from Chandigarh. The choice is tough as NGO-type do-gooders are aplenty here, and so are angry activists who bombard email inboxes of newspaper editors with three letters a day sometimes.

But does anger always mean votes? In a city known for neat roads and streamlined systems, there is hardly is hardly a local prickly issue. As such, the anger is more cosmetic than felt. The booth allotment scam never became hot enough, nor do we have our own CWG scam. The railway bribery scam already seems to have hurt Bansal enough to put him on the backfoot. But the BJP's internal bickering has left the field open still.

The fight in Chandigarh, therefore, will be more on the plank of perception than on a political plain, if the AAP throws its hat in the ring. It will become more about sending a message to the country than picking a representative for Chandigarh. Is the idea of AAP, in its very essence, strong enough? Chandigarh can give an answer.

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