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From 100 to 25000, Aam Aadmi on a roll

- Silli rally celebrates stunning Delhi debut

Ranchi, Dec. 9: A rickshaw-puller inaugurated the Aam Aadmi Party’s Ranchi office, a bare bones rented room with a cabin and toilet, in April.

At the time, many sneered at the Arvind Kejriwal outfit for overstating the obvious and stretching its common man credentials a bit too far. Today, those with caustic tongues were nowhere to be found as AAP members trooped to their Kutchery Chowk office, wearing big smiles on their faces and the now familiar “Main hun aam aadmi” Gandhi caps on their heads.

AAP members, mostly professionals and teachers, were getting ready to celebrate their stunning Delhi debut with a victory rally at Silli, home turf of former deputy chief minister and Ajsu chief Sudesh Mahto, around 60km from capital Ranchi.

“We spotted Kariman Bhuiyan pedalling along Radium Road and thought who better than a rickshaw-puller to represent what we stand for. When he inaugurated the office, we were barely 100. Now we have around 25,000 members across the state with Ranchi district alone accounting for 1,800,” said Ajay Choudhary, AAP’s Ranchi district committee convener.

In about eight months, the AAP has also managed to fan out to Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Dhanbad and Giridih districts. But Choudhary, a triple MA in Hindi, economics and human rights, said the party needed to have a presence in at least 13 districts to formalise a state committee.

“We will be able to form a state committee in the next one or two months. So far, we are concentrating on Silli,” said the convener who is now pursuing a PhD on rights violations in Jharkhand jails.

Choudhary, who met Kejriwal in Delhi on December 6, hasn’t been able to speak to him ever since the poll results were declared yesterday.

“Today we are busy with our Silli victory rally. I may contact Kejriwal later,” he said.

The one-room office, taken on a monthly rent of Rs 15,000, at Ashok Path was getting crowded. Clearly, the four red, plastic chairs are inadequate. A mattress on the floor made up for that. As for furniture, there’s a steel cupboard.

On one of the walls is a notice board with names of new members.

Navendu Kumar, an active member from Nawada, Bihar, tried to explain the Kejriwal phenomenon. “We haven’t joined for profit, but for immediate loss. People are coming with us leaving their careers. But we are hopeful things will improve in India in the long run,” said the young man working in a Pune-based BPO that has set up shop in Ranchi.

He contributes Rs 1,000 per month to the party fund from his salary, which he describes as “moderate”.

A couple of Ranchi University lecturers, who said they joined AAP recently, dropped by, asking about the day’s programme.

Two prospective members were looking around, especially the notice board, to try and find out how to join and how much to pay.

There’s a register with members’ names, their contribution to the party fund and their mobile phone numbers. On the notice board are names of K. Oraon, S. Jaiswal, Navendu Kumar, Hemant Mishra, D. Lohiya and S. Budhiya, all of whom have pledged to contribute Rs 500 or more every month.

Suleman Lakra, a post-graduate from IGNOU, is an active member.

“Today, every other politician is a symbol of corruption. It seems society has accepted them, but the undercurrent is different. They have more resources and are more powerful then us, but ultimately youth power, which is fighting against corruption, prevails,” he declared.

Choudhary has already identified Jharkhand Public Service Commission (JPSC) and Jharkhand Academic Council (JAC) as the focus of AAP’s “clean-up”.

Both have been in the news for the wrong reasons: JPSC, the apex body that holds examinations to recruit staff to government institutions, including colleges, is under the scanner for nepotism and corruption.

The composition of JAC, the state education board that conducts secondary and higher secondary examinations, in addition to other examinations, is in dispute.

Assembly elections in Jharkhand are scheduled for next year. If the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance government survives the remaining term, the state won’t have to deal with polls till November-December next year.

But then, Jharkhand isn’t a role model of political stability. As the Congress is left to lick its wounds, and the BJP steers its NaMo Juggernaut, it is regional parties like Ajsu and JVM that see in Kejriwal the opening up of a new world of possibilities.

Ajsu chief Mahto said AAP’s success was the success of youth and that the message was clear — only parties and individuals who were committed to the welfare of the common man would survive in the 2014 elections.

“It’s a message for the national parties… how a small campaign started by a handful of youths against corruption overthrew the mighty Sheila Dixit government, despite hectic campaigns by all top ranking Congress leaders,” he said.

Salkhan Murmu, a former MP and chief of Jharkhand Disom Party, agreed. “AAP has rekindled hopes and the spirit of democracy under Kejriwal’s leadership in Delhi where democracy has almost been defaced by major political players. Hopefully, this will catch the imagination of the people of India,” he said.