Lok Sabha Giridih: AAP goes to villages

Aam Admi Party workers recruit members at Pandri haat, Giridih. Photo by Manob Cahowdhury

Aam Admi Party workers recruit members at Pandri haat, Giridih. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

In January, while Arvind Kejriwal led a dramatic protest against the Home Ministry occupying a garden outside Rail Bhawan in New Delhi, far away in Giridih, on Bihar-Jharkhand border, protestors gathered at the centre of the old mining town. As their numbers increased to nearly a hundred, the Aam Admi Party supporters marched to Ambedkar Chowk and set fire to an effigy of Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Giridih does not feature on AAP’s website yet. But over 20,000 have enrolled here as members, among the highest in Jharkhand. Most of the campaigns are organized from the office of Career Campus, a coaching institute, which effectively serves as AAP’s district office. Rajesh Sinha who set up this coaching institute 17 years ago joined Baba Ramdev’s Bharat Swamibhan Manch in 2008. Through it, he joined the India Against Corruption movement in 2010, organizing lectures and distributing CDs in colleges in Giridih. He stayed at Ramlila Maidan for two days, and when Baba Ramdev and Arvind Kejriwal parted ways, he stuck to Kejriwal.

“Baba got distracted, he should have stayed with Kejriwal. Last April when we started visiting villages, some knew of Ramdev but no one had heard of Kejriwal. Now in the same villages, we have 200 members each,” says Sinha, who has a wiry built and is dressed in jeans, and a sweatshirt. In the small ground floor office, there are advertisements for coaching for public services exams and a large poster of foreign students in graduation gowns on the wall. AAP pamphlets are strewn around.

AAP's Rajesh Sinha who runs a coaching institute in Giridih. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

AAP’s Rajesh Sinha who runs a coaching institute in Giridih. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

Sinha is organizing a visit to a village haat (weekly market) as part of the party’s rural campaign. Mansoor Ansari, one of Giridih’s AAP 20 “Core Committee” members, will lead the meeting at the haat in Pandari, 18 km from the town. In the previous weeks, he had visited Leda, Kasiyadi, and Peertand villages, close to where a Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow and three panchayat officials were abducted by CPI(Maoist) in January.
“I heard AAP leaders speak on TV. A TV reporter told me where Rajesh bhaiya lives, so I got in touch. Because of him, the electricity department which initially demanded Rs 40,000 bribe for replacing a transformer in my village did it for free,” said Ansari who works as a LIC agent and joined the party in December. AAP’s district committee treasurer here is Sushil Kumar Sonu who works as administrative staff in a B.Ed. college. “BJP has a history of instigating communal tensions here, their focus is on big capitalists. Congress is opportunist and corrupt,” he says. Sonu explained that he usually voted for Jharkhand Mukti Morcha but had found a better alternative to the two national parties than JMM in AAP.

Over 75 percent of Jharkhand’s population lives in villages. Two-thirds villages have no electricity and have little access to TVs, crucial in AAP’s quick connect and reach in cities so far. Giridih’s sitting MP Ravindra Pandey is from the BJP, and the party has won here five times since 1989. The town, Coal India Limited mining site, produced coal and exported mica between the 1960s and 80s. Most mines have now been replaced by highly polluting coal-based sponge iron units.
Rajesh Sinha says he is hopeful that a campaign demanding civic repairs, jobs for local workers in Giridih factories, and against pollution from sponge iron plants will dent the culture of alcohol-induced voting and connect with voters, at least in peripheral villages equally affected by these issues. Drawing in student volunteers, for instance by offering free books, informal coaching sessions to 500 adivasi students, is part of the strategy, says Sinha, whose institute at present has 6,000 students at six centers. Recruiting villagers, talking to them at community spaces like the haat, is another.

At the colourful market in Pandari, when Mansoor Ansari and AAP workers try to get the villagers’ attention, at first there is little response. “We are from AAP. You may have heard Arvind Kejriwal had formed the government in Delhi. Membership is free at present, Rs 10 may be added later,” they announce. Adivasi, muslim, Bhokta dalit villagers from the hamlets nearby continue their chores, chimney stacks of sponge-iron plants visible in the distance. Baldev Pandit asks aloud if they are distributing pension forms, Sadhori Devi selling fresh tomatoes says she is unable to read what the banner says.

Soon after, Mohammad Tahir Ansari a college student and an acquaintance of Mansoor goes over to listen. He says he had read about AAP in the papers. Pritam Yadav, an electrician signs up for membership. “I have seen the AAP caps on TV,” he says, though he is uncertain who their leader is. Two B.com. students from Giridih College also recognize AAP from TV and sign up. “What party? Kejri who?” asks Shiv Lal an old farmer holding a bunch of spinach in his hands.

Kalicharan Soren who works as a night-guard since he lost his job his job in a factory listens carefully when party workers describe AAP will demand jobs for locals, fight against industrial pollution affecting the villages. But he remains sceptical. “We will see whether they will really challenge the factories,” he says.

An edited version appeared in The Hindu Sunday magazine.


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