As she signed up for membership of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) under a makeshift ‘canopy’ at Patna’s busy Boring Road intersection, Shalini Priya’s deadpan expression gave away no clue about her inclination towards any kind of activism.
Asked what prompted her pay Rs. 10 for the AAP membership, all Priya, 23, had to say was she wanted to do “something useful” that would take her away from the confinement of her seemingly mundane existence as a coaching institute assistant.
Her enthusiasm grows when told that Rakhi Birla, just a few years older than her, had become a minister in the AAP government sworn earlier in the day in Delhi.
“That’s why I have joined AAP,” Priya said, as she wrote her name and address in a booklet at the stall.
Before her, 18-year-old Tej Pratap Yadav, also became an AAP member. A student of SP Jain College at Sasaram in western Bihar, Yadav is preparing for IIT-JEE at present in Patna.
When a youth tells him that former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad’s elder son was his namesake, Yadav said, “I surely will become Bihar chief minister. I am not sure about him.”
Priya and Yadav are among the 300-odd persons who signed up for the membership at the stall, where a large banner with AAP slogan 'is baar chelegi jhadu' (the broom will sweep all this time) scribbled across provided the backdrop. The broom is AAP’s election symbol.
A vast majority of the new recruits were young students, fired by the vague notion of wanting “to do something” and to have a say in the decision making processes, even if they didn’t know exactly how that would happen.
“All I want is for an aam aadmi like me to have a voice in governance,” said Nilmani Kumar Kesri, a coaching institute student with infinite worries about what the future holds out for him.
“This can also be an effective platform for stepping into politics,” said his friend Gaurav Kumar.
It is this sentiment among the young that has raised worries for all political parties in Bihar.
AAP offers the young and restless multitudes a voice that established parties do not. Having witnessed the meteoric rise to high office of the Arvind Kejriwal team of non-politicians, they sense a never-before opportunity.
The rise of AAP has created a new political space for voiceless millions, especially in the urban India, which has the potential to cascade across the country, said DM Diwakar, director of Patna think tank AN Sinha Institute.
“The experiment may not last, considering even the JP-led 1974 Bihar movement for systemic change through ‘total revolution’ fell by the wayside in the subsequent years. But for now, the parties have a lot to fear from what the AAP’s rise symbolises,” he said.
For its part, AAP runs the risk of a failure to meet the political ambitions it has generated among the young, many of whom have few opportunities lining up their future.
Every second young man who turned up to secure AAP membership at the Boring Road wanted to know whether the party would contest any or all of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.
Going a step ahead was an SBI employee, 41, who landed up at the membership stall after offering prayers at a nearby ‘Shani’ temple.
He wanted to know if, in order to become an AAP Lok Sabha poll nominee, he needed to sign up immediately or a little later would do as well.
“I am in touch with Kejriwal online,” he announced, as he rolled a ‘paan’ around his mouth. He walked away without signing.
“We target enrolling 7 lakh members in Bihar in the run up to the Lok Sabha poll. But seeing the huge turnout at our stalls, we may exceed that target,” said Arif Raza Masumi, convenor of the Magadh zone unit of the AAP, of which Patna is a part.
He claimed that in the wake of huge rush the number of AAP canopies (membership stalls) in Patna had been raised from 10 on Friday to 14 on Saturday.
But till late afternoon on Saturday, the one at the Boring Road intersection was the sole ‘canopy’ this reporter could locate.