Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the new kid on the block in the Punjab assembly polls, seems to have formed quite a following among tiny tots. A gaggle of children in white topis and capes shouting “Inquilab Zindabad” is a common sight at AAP rallies, especially in the countryside. Party leaders claim they aren’t doing anything to draw children like magnets, even as opponents call it part of a strategy. But the kiddie brigade does liven up the electioneering, and adds a dash of innocence to an increasingly abrasive campaign.
Calling children “bhagwan ka roop” and a good omen, Sanjay Singh, AAP’s Punjab affairs in-charge, says, “It was the same in Delhi too, where our candidates had children flocking to them in every street.” He claims children in Punjab are even breaking their piggy banks to fund party supremo Arvind Kejriwal. “I have pictures to prove this,” he says.
While the elders in the party have been quick to discard the party’s trademark topi in the turbaned Punjab, children are lured by its sheer novelty. Girls and boys both like to slip it on to their heads. “I guess, for them, it’s like putting on a fancy dress,” explains a mother.
Children also seem to appreciate a hearty laugh. This explains their presence in large numbers at the rallies of comedian-politician Bhagwant Mann, AAP candidate from Jalalabad. Jaskirat Mann, AAP convener for Canada, who’s been campaigning extensively in Malwa, admits that Mann’s rallies always have a smattering of children in the audience who raise spirited slogans. “I heard a three-year-old shouting ‘Bhant Mann zindabad,’ ” she laughs, but is quick to add that the party is not deliberately encouraging this Lilliputian following.
Garry Birring, campaign manager of the AAP for Punjab, attributes it to the party’s attractive campaign gear, which includes caps, mufflers, flags and cutouts. “I’ve observed that children do make a beeline for our material whenever we are distributing it at any party office,” says Birring. The party’s simple and catchy jingles too are kids’ stuff. “Be it ‘Kejriwal, Kejriwal, saara Punjab tere naal’, or ‘Jharoo jharoo, button daba do’, our jingles are easy to recall and sing, as compared to those of other parties,” adds Birring.
Opponents, however, do not see it as that simple. Maheshinder Singh Grewal of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) says, “It’s a strategy in the sense that they want children to go home and sing praises of jokes cracked by Bhagwant Mann or slogans raised by other leaders. But it is cheap to try and influence such young, impressionable minds.”
Dr Jagroop Sandhu, head of the political science department at Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsar, has a more pragmatic take on it. “Most of the AAP supporters in the villages are young, and they take their children along when they attend a meeting or a rally.”
The phenomenon goes far and wide. The US presidential elections too saw a fair sprinkling of children with some candidates such as Republican nominee Ted Cruz taking along his daughters as young as 8 for campaigning. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was known to encourage questions by even six-year-olds at town hall meetings. In India, however, mere presence of children during campaigning is frowned upon. In 2013, the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR) took serious note of a BJP candidate using children during a political function.