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What’s AAP? Rally but no ripples

music: hit carnival: hit
fest: hit rally: semi-hit

A young mother walking down BB Ganguly Street with her five-year-old son on Sunday afternoon suddenly pointed in the direction of a smartly dressed man holding a familiar object and exclaimed: “Woh dekho, jharu (Look, broom)!

She wasn’t introducing her little boy to the broom — just acknowledging its newfound significance in the political landscape as Arvind Kejriwal’s giant-killing Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made a quiet rally debut in town.

The man wielding the broom was among the 600-odd faces who had joined the march from College Square to Metro Channel. But for his broom and white cap bearing the words “Main hoon aam aadmi (I am the common man), the software professional could have been mistaken for a Sunday shopper.

There were no leaders in the march, and no speeches either. Some in the procession hadn’t even planned to be part of it. They saw the group filing past and joined in.

“The turnout was low compared to any rally of a mainstream political party. But you must give us credit for mobilising so many people with the help of just text messages and social networking sites,” said Pankaj Kumar Choubey, one of the six AAP “mentors” in Bengal.

Most of the volunteers who had assembled at College Square had come to know of the march through Facebook, Twitter or text messages. Entrepreneur Ranjana Singh was among those who had helped spread the word.

“Since we don’t have a network like other political parties, we had to rely on social networking sites to create awareness and the response was good,” she said at Metro Channel, where the procession ended at 3.30pm.

Ananya Sen, a third-year college student, said she came to know about the rally from a Facebook post three days ago and immediately shared it with her friends.

Teacher Mohua Mukherjee wasn’t sure about joining the AAP rally but was curious enough to turn up at College Square with an open mind.

“I came here after hearing about the walk but wasn’t sure at first (whether she would join). But when I saw there were no lumpen elements that one normally sees at political rallies, I decided to join in. All these people are professionals and driven by a common goal: to eradicate corruption,” she said.

In Bengal, the success or failure of a political rally is measured solely in terms of crowd count. Therefore, ferrying supporters from the districts in lorries and buses to make a rally “successful” is a ploy used by all parties, ruling or Opposition.

Most of the AAP volunteers in the Sunday procession came in their own cars and two-wheelers or hitched a ride with someone.

“I am glad this rally isn’t about people being lured by the promise of food and liquor at the end of the programme,” said Yashwant Singh, an IT professional in the procession.

Mrityunjay Pandey, a 35-year-old businessman, called the rally “just the beginning”.

“Slowly this movement will bring into its fold common people across the country, who are fed up with rising prices, corruption and the high-handed attitude of our politicians,” he said.

The self-conscious sloganeering showed that many in the group were participating in a rally for the first time. “I have only heard people shouting slogans, never done it myself. I tried but found it difficult,” said Om Prakash Mitra, a retired state government official.

If the AAP’s first Calcutta rally was low-key, the response of political parties ranged from polemical to patronising.

CPM state secretariat member Mohammed Salim said it would take time for the AAP to gain ground in Bengal. “Voters in our state are polarised and this is why it is difficult for an NGO-based party like the Aam Aadmi Party to build a base here.”

State Congress president and MP Pradip Bhattacharya said: “The Aam Aadmi Party has no takers in Bengal. People of our state are very politically conscious and that is why parties like AAP, which is solely fighting against corruption, are not acceptable to people here.”

Panchayat minister and Trinamul Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee said he had not “seen” any AAP members in and around the city. “They are not visible in the city. So it is not possible for them to present a massive show of strength,” he said.

While the AAP may not have been able to build a big crowd on its debut in the city, the buzz on the ground would have encouraged the mentors of the fledgling party that many had written off until its performance in the Delhi elections.

Motorists stopped their cars and cheered the AAP volunteers. Bystanders were seen enquiring how they could join the “movement”. Some signed up on the spot, saying they would surely join the next rally.

Shob political party ke dekhlam. Ek baar AAP-keo dekha jete pare (We have seen the performance of all political parties. AAP can also be given a chance),” said Kaushik Gupta, who stopped to watch the procession passing by Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.

 

 

MIRZA ASGAR BAIG, 69, businessman
It’s enough. Corruption has crossed all limits. These politicians have taken us for granted. This cannot continue for long. Time has come to start a movement of the common man

 

 

 

 

RANJANA SINGH, entrepreneur
We have to sweep the corruption and corrupt politicians out of the system. The youth will take the lead in doing this and today’s rally was a start that could lead us to bigger things

 

 

 

 

MOHUA MUKHERJEE, schoolteacher
We often sit in our homes and criticise others. But how many of us get out on the streets and try to make a difference? I decided to join the AAP march because I am fed up with what’s happening in the country. I cannot take it anymore

 

 

 

MRITYUNJAY PANDEY, 35, businessman
This is just the beginning. Slowly this movement will bring into its fold common people across the country, who are fed
up with rising prices, corruption and the high-handed attitude of our politicians

 

 

 

YASHWANT SINGH, software professional
I am glad this rally isn’t about people lured by the promise of food and liquor at the end of the programme. All these people have come on their own because they want to be part of the movement to eradicate corruption in the political system

 

Text by Zeeshan Jawed, pictures by Bishwarup Dutta