Sunday, March 16, 2014

A political rally with a difference

Political party rallies aren't very different from one another, barring the party that organizes them. There are huge crowds; and an implicit assumption is that they have been hired, brought by the volunteers from neighbourhood villages and towns for a price. Speakers portray themselves as saviours of the poor and downtrodden while tearing into their opponents. Speeches dissolve into bland political rhetoric, notwithstanding the speakers' high vocal pitch and oratorical theatrics; finally everything sounding like pots calling the kettles black.

Today, I went for the Aam Aadmi Party's public meeting at Freedom Park, Bangalore. It was a political rally with a number of differences.

I reached the venue at 3 pm. There was a fairly a good crowd. At a booth near the entrance, one could pick up the AAP caps. They were for free, but the organizers expected a contribution -- of any amount -- towards the party. One could also register as a volunteer or even formally join the party. I made my way towards the podium, through the crowd, with some difficulty. I noticed that there was a barricade separating the audience -- women who had come alone or along with men, and senior citizens on one side; and men on the other side.

The composition of the crowd stood out. They were definitely not brought to the town from neighbourhood villages. No one paid them. But on the contrary, the members of the audience had offered whatever they could to the party's kitty. The audience comprised middle class and upper middle class people in the 25 to 40 age group. But there was a significant number of elderly people as well. Definitely not the ones who would normally go to such rallies, they were the new breed political followers who were evidently attracted by the pitch of the greenhorn party.

The huge crowd of young middle class and upper middle class people who had come to the AAP rally in Bangalore 
The atmosphere was festive. It made me feel as if I was at some college reunion or some youth festival. On the stage were youngsters with musical instruments like drums, keyboard and violin, playing well-known patriotic songs and a few ones composed by the party's lyricists mocking the current political culture. The rhythmic numbers and the young lady moderator's exhortations steadily electrified the atmosphere, with the crowd continually breaking into handclap and loud cheers. There was also a performance of "broom dance": a few young men and women doing an amateurish jig with brooms in their hands, and a song resonating with AAP theme playing in the background.

The podium wasn't covered. Obviously, since the party doesn't have the money to get an ornamental pandal and decorations. Everyone was sitting in hot (by Bangalore standards) sun.

At 4.10 pm, Arvind Kejriwal arrived to a thunderous applause and cheers of the crowd that had swollen to huge numbers by then. The AAP candidates were introduced to the crowd and there were speeches by a number of people, including a 96-year old person, Doraiswamy, if I remember the name right. He spoke so vociferously and passionately on the state of the nation lamenting the lack of progress even after decades of independence from the British. A former career diplomat, who resigned after the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, too spoke, singing paeans to Kejriwal's dream of a new India.

Around 4.45 pm Kejriwal began speaking. It was the usual tirade against Congress, BJP, Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and many others of both the national parties, besides Mukesh Ambani. Most of the attack was targeted against Modi, since he is tipped to the next prime minister going by multiple opinion polls. He read out names of many politicians of the BJP and the Congress who were allegedly involved in corrupt deals. He kept asking why Modi had to have people involved in dubious backgrounds in his ministry or in the party.

Arvind Kejriwal addressing AAP's Bangalore rally
He said he would consider himself fortunate if he had to lay down his life for the country. Mocking Modi for looking for a safe seat, he said if the party decides, he would contest against Modi in Varanasi. The speech went on for close to an hour. There were constant cheers on the lines of "Kejriwal, we are with you!".

This was definitely a political rally with a difference; at least for the following reasons:
  • The type of crowd, comprising young, educated middle class and upper middle class people. 
  • The lack of any decorations at the venue. There was no shade or even chairs on the the podium.
  • The festive atmosphere, with music, songs and dance.
  • The determination of speakers to plough a new and different track in India's political discourse. 
  • Speeches free of old rhetoric of freeing the country from poverty, a staple of usual political speeches; 
  • Projection of common man's problems as the most pertinent political theme. 
AAP's ideals sound noble. They reflect the frustration and disappointments of common people. Kejriwal seems to be a good leader, is a good speaker and knows how to steer political agendas. He has positioned himself as a politician with a difference; and AAP as a political party with a difference.

But the challenges before Kejriwal and AAP are huge. Because they are not fighting an issue or two. They are taking on an entire system which has run the country all these years, and to which we all have got used to.

Not many realise that this is a challenge not just for Kejriwal and AAP but for all the common people too, since they all will have to get used to a new system crafted by Kejriwal and AAP. Fired-up party leaders may be ready for the required sacrifice, but are the common people ready for that sacrifice?

Only time will tell, but surely, a beginning has been made -- a beginning that will, for sure, have a bearing on the results of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.


  1. Thanks for this first hand account, Pradeep.
    A beginning has been made by sincere and purposeful individual(s). It behoves sane and sober, level-minded and patriotic citizens to help them carry the mantle forward for the benefit of all. Having said that i will add: If there indeed are such sincere, untainted individuals who wear other political colours, it's time for them to stand up and be counted.

    1. Very true. Yes, if the objective is better governance and better standards of living, then I don't think anyone should have any objection.

  2. honest reporting... as honest as kejriwal seems to be.
    But what is the the sacrifice that the common man has to make? isn't he just a beneficiary of the struggles of ak? (he seems to be enjoying his struggle) the ones who have to sacrifice are the beneficiaries of the present corrupt systems! and that is punishment long overdue!

    1. The change-seekers have to be change-makers too.

      The change that Kejriwal talks about simply can't happen overnight. Ironically, the common people are also the beneficiaries of the corrupt system we have.

      Mere laws won't make much difference. Unless a sense of accountability comes in, a sense of sincerity and commitment to one's work sets in, most of the talk of AAP will just remain wishful thinking or Utopian dreams.

      The change can come about only if aam aadmi also is ready to make the sacrifice to change the system which everyone is cribbing about.

    2. 'aam admi' is not knowledgeable; they have adjusted to this 'reality' of india (do they have a choice?); they snatch whatever they can get out of the system; just like what everyone else is doing; everyone milks the system:

      someone with commitment to the aam admi can only change that. AK seems to be committed; knowledgeable, intelligent; hardworking; honest; seems to have a good team too. there isn't anyone like him in politics today!

    3. I only wish, AAP stayed on in power in Delhi... and demonstrated conclusively and convincingly how its politics and governance paradigms are different from that of Congress and BJP. The Jan Lokpal issue gave rise to widespread belief that Kejriwal had political motives in mind. And I think he was trying to do too much too fast. Anyway, there is a lot of curiosity to know how many seats AAP manages to pick up nationally.

  3. Interesting perspective,Pradeep. Thanks for the same,from someone who had a first hand experience of the AAP rallies.

  4. Purely Biased reporting. #AAP is supposed to be against Corruption & bad Governance, UPA &Sonia & MMS must have been on AAP's firing line.But AK never speaks against Sonia/Rahul, AAP members are included in NAC, supreme council. There are no corruption charges agnst Modi & he is praised by all for good Governance. AK if Sincere Must have supported Modi, and Decimated Congress Corruption. Sorry to say. this Write up seems to be a 'Paid Job' by a Journo.