One of the days while campaigning for AAP, Suchita and I stopped in a village market to buy a cotton scarf. We were wearing AAP caps and a tall man in a white turban, standing outside the store, asked, “Have you come from Delhi?”
“From Gurgaon, although some others have come from Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kerala, from Philippines.”
He said, “Our vote is with AAP. All of us, our entire village of xyz is with you people.”
“Not with us, with AAP (meaning ‘you’). We are not politicians, we are just like you, common people, … mothers, working women, students… just volunteers… ” Meaning every word.
“No other party comes here and talks to us.”
“We didn’t think we would ever do this, but we decided that if we didn’t step out now, this situation will never change… ”
Lots of complaints. Absent and unavailable representatives, unfulfilled promises. More men joined with their grievances.
I asked, “Then what made you think AAP was better?”
They said (amongst other things) a lot of men in Mewat are truck drivers, and for the first time in sixty years, they did not have to pay to the police while entering Delhi (probably some kind of hafta) – for 49 days while Arvind Kejriwal was the CM of Delhi.
Some women knew of Kejriwal too. They had truck drivers in their families. Some women we met didn’t seem to have ever seen a polling booth, many seemed surprised that we were talking to them about voting. Many women said they would vote for whoever their family and community elders ask them to vote.
But some women (maybe the wealthier ones? ) seemed aware, disappointed and keen to talk about why they were angry with their representatives. They wanted us to take their messages to AAP, and they wanted jobs for their sons.
But here in that market that afternoon, the gathering crowd was all male.
We had to go further, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk to aware voters.
I said, “If they spend on winning elections, then they have to spend five years earning that money back…”
“Please sit. Have tea?” He insisted.
“No, thank you! We must move, we want to meet as many people as possible…”
We were on our way to a village further ahead, to talk to the women there, and I was wondering how safe we were here in the middle of this market. Two men were not in white, they were dressed in shirts and trousers, stopped to watch, grinning, and although they said or did nothing more…
I said, “We are visitors here, your guests in Mewat, neither our language nor our culture is the same. But we all belong to one nation, we all want the same things… we will all need to do our bit, no miracles are going to happen… ” Looking at the two men.
The old man in white turban stood taller and said, “I can guarantee you that you are welcome here in Mewat. You are our guests, please do sit in the shade, have tea.”
“No, please don’t bother … (but sitting down) How safe is Mewat? Gurgaon and Delhi have a lot of crime.”
“You don’t want to have tea with us… 😦 ”
So we agreed to have half a cup of hot, sweet, milky, and very refreshing tea.
We felt safe. There were women working everywhere – in the fields, filling water, carrying heavy loads on their heads, taking care of children, even cutting fodder, doing some tasks that I have never before seen women do. And women in public spaces, even silent women in public spaces, did give a sense of safety.
The man in white turban told us how proud the Meo (people of Mewat) are. In the past a woman could wear all her jewellery and walk alone on the road, in the middle of the night, now it wasn’t that safe, but it wasn’t that bad either, he said, ‘some odd bad elements are everywhere’.
So we had chai par charchaa 🙂
We reminded them that we were all equal and needed to work together. We had all been complaining, and hoping that this cycle of voting for the Evil and Lesser Evil ends, now we should do our share and participate in the change that can happen, but only if we do our bit…
Then I asked if they were offered cash or gifts for votes.
“No, nothing like that..” There was no threat or fear either.
And then he made the same strange request many others had been making, “You should come here on the 10th of April. Be here on the polling day.”
“Campaigning is not allowed after the 8th … You… We. We must all vote for ourselves, for schools for our children, for the road outside our houses, for water and electricity… If somebody pays us, then they have made an investment, and they would want it all back with interest, the money for our children’s schools will go in their pockets, and we can’t question because they have already paid us for our votes… but if you feel pressured, take the money but vote only for the candidate you think will work for you…”
“Be here on the 10th.” He repeated.
It was almost like an appeal, the same request.
Infact I felt, when they were moved by what we said, they asked us to be there on the 10th.
I didn’t understand this strange request until I read this post by Vidyut today, and I have no doubt this is exactly what they meant.
All the time we spent in Mewat, all the warmth, all the children who pestered us for caps and badges, and all women who held our hands – all those discussions, the looks that said, “We are with you in this fight for what we believe is right, and is our Right’ , frequently ending with, “Be here on the polling day’.
We were so naive. We were feeling so proud of having contributed, of having participated in the electoral process of the world’s largest Democracy. This battle is going to be tough and maybe long.
The future and AAP – SHIV VISVANATHAN