It is 9 am and the office of the Aam Aadmi Party at Sarabha Nagar in Ludhiana is buzzing with people — retired colonels, lawyers, NRIs, students, professors, auto-rickshaw drivers and daily wagers the aam aadmi. HS Phoolka’s 29-year-old daughter Prab Sahay Phoolka is busy coordinating the day’s campaign schedule as complaints of administrative and police “excesses” pour in. As Phoolka prepares to leave, she rushes out to inform him — a tempo carrying caps and other publicity material of the party has been seized by the police at Harike Pattan falling in Fatehgarh Sahib as they asked the driver to show the bill.
Phoolka, a Supreme Court lawyer, is quick to reply. “The police are right. They should not have gone out of Ludhiana without a bill.” His election agent, HS Cheema, a retired professor of PAU, is asked to handle the problem.
His Innova car then leaves for Dugri market, the first stop in the day’s over a dozen areas of Ludhiana (west) he is scheduled to campaign on Friday. It has a jhaaru (broom), the party’s poll symbol, in the back seat and a small decorative jhaaru gifted by a fan atop the dashboard.
On the way, Phooka who has fought cases of riot-hit Sikh families of Delhi says winning a seat in Delhi would have been easier. “But Punjab is my home. I was born and brought up here. I have always wanted to live in Punjab.
People here are fed up with goondagardi (goons), drugs and police raj. The system needs an overhaul. This election will establish AAP as the viable third front in Punjab.”
On reaching Dugri, he walks down the first lane of the market lined with small kirana shops as a supporter announces on the microphone... “Niklo bahar dukano se, raj badal do baimano ka (Come out of your shops to change the rule of the corrupt)”.
Not many come out. Among the few who do is Gurpreet Singh, who runs a general store in the area.
“I have not voted for 10 years as I do not want to waste my vote. But now we have a third option and I will vote this time,” he says. Jaspreet Kaur, a kirana shop owner, holds both the Congress and BJP responsible for high prices. “They both benefit their own lobbies. We hope AAP is different,” she adds.
Phoolka then gets on to his open Gypsy for the road show; his small convoy is joined by a Scorpio car with Delhi number plate, a small Chevrolet Optra and a Tempo blaring campaign songs. Between destinations, he comes back to the Innova.
He gulps down a throat lozenge before speaking at Dugri Pind. Standing in his open Gypsy in what seems like a medieval set-up with narrow lanes and leaking taps, he tells them why he is here.
‘WE WANT TO MAKE A NEW SYSTEM’
“I want to tell you why the Aam Admi Party is fighting this election. You have seen the Arvind Kejriwal gover nment in Delhi. He did not need police security to meet people. We want to make a new system, where you don’t have to bribe or make many rounds of gove r nment offices to get your work done.”
Taking a dig at his poll rivals, Manpreet Ayali of the Akali Dal and i nde pendent candidate Simarjit Bains, he says, “This is not an MC election that is fought on who can get an FIR registered in a police station.
How can those who run away from debates (Bains has not been coming to any of debates being held among candidates), will debate on laws and issues in Parliament?” As he ends his speech with “Bharat mata ki jai, Waheguru ji ki fateh”, his aide tells the crowd, “Your children will ask you tomorrow: When there was a kranti (revolution) taking place in the country, what did you do.”
Youths on motorcycles and two more cars join the convoy as it raises a dust in the many congested streets and bylanes of residential and commercial areas. Phooka gets a call of their party’s board having been removed by the MC from the Chevron Hotel in the heart of the city.
Pointing to the defacement of the entire constituency, he says there is a poster war raging among the three other main candidates (Bains, Ayali and Congress’ Ravneet Bittu).
“They have not left a single house, shop, street or gover nment building without posters. They are tearing each other’s posters. We have put up a few boards with due permission but they too are being taken off by the administration.
“GS Kang, a retired commercial pilot handling his campaign, gets busy calling up MC authorities for taking away the board. A volunteer adds, “People are using Facebook to express their anger at the defacement.
One of them has posted that he will give them an answer on the polling day.”
As the convoy enters migrant colonies in Gill, a reserved assembly segment, small children come out of their houses to ask for AAP caps being distributed by young volunteers who latch on to windows of the cars when tired of the running around.
Inside the Innova, his aides discuss the poll arithmetic. “Sukhbir Badal (deputy CM) was in Ludhiana yesterday. Not even 200 people turned up.
The only crowd was his security,” one of them says. As TV crews of national channels come to cover Phoolka’s campaign, his aide says the local Fastway channel (rumoured to be under control of the ruling family) is using their video clippings after censoring what is said against the state gover nment. Another one cautions that the posters of other candidates can sway voters.
After completing the road show, he has a quick lunch of two chappatis wrapped with sabzi while his volunteers munch on energy bars and colas. Midway, he calls the Election Commission officer to complain of police harassment of one of his workers in a village.
“I was in Delhi yesterday to appear in the case involving Congress leader Jagdish Tytler. I could have avoided appearing but they (Akalis) are spreading all kinds of canards that I have withdrawn from the case.” His next stop is a church to wish Christians on Good Friday.
From there he heads to the office of the Anti-Corruption Federation of India, which has invited him to know his views before pledging their support.
PATIENCE, SKILLS TESTED TO THE HILT
Here, both the patience and skills of Phoolka, the lawyer, are tested to the hilt as he is grilled by one of them on why do they need an Aam Aadmi Party to fight for their rights when the country’s constitution and laws provide the Aam Aadmi all the ammunition to do so. He is also asked to clear his party’s stand on discretionary powers bestowed on the judiciary.
Phoolka says he has been a social crusader and in the 2012 Punjab polls, he helped the EC seize liquor in Punjab.
After a heated debate, where other members stand up for him, he declares, “AAP also has mentioned corruption in judiciary in its Jan Lokpal Bill. You have to know our agenda before you question my credentials. I will reveal a manifesto for Ludhiana soon.
If I am able to win this election without money and muscle power, it will prove that it is not needed to win elections.”
After an acrimonious start, the debate ends with bonhomie as Phoolka is requested to start a law college in Ludhiana after winning so that Ludhiana can produce more legal luminaries like him.”