Yesterday, on 11 April 2015, Arvind Kejriwal chose to unveil the next step in his political strategy with a carefully choreographed rally at Mundka in Delhi. During the event, Kejriwal announced that there would be a compensation of Rs 20,000 per acre of damaged crops for the farmers of the capital. This declaration was clearly made with an eye to a largely rural constituency outside Delhi, which makes sense given that the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) next electoral challenge lies in Punjab, and it hopes to make inroads into predominantly agrarian states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Caravan staffer Atul Dev reports on what took place at the rally that aimed to recreate the hype the AAP has learned to manipulate, even as members of the party sought to denigrate the media during the event.
On Friday, 10 April 2015, I made a call to the chief minister’s office to inquire about Arvind Kejriwal’s rally that was scheduled for the next day at Mundka in west Delhi. Met with stony silence on the other end to any questions I had to ask, I was categorically refused any details about the exact venue or the time at which Kejriwal would arrive without any explanation. It had been reported that the chief minister of Delhi had organised this gathering to announce compensation for farmers in the state whose crops had been adversely affected by unseasonal rains in the last couple of months. Left to my own resources, I reached Mundka by 9 am the next day, and called the party office in the area. “CM sir will come at 3 pm,” I was told by the member who took my call.
At around 2.45 pm, the time at which Kejriwal was scheduled to appear at the Sahib Singh Verma Memorial Ground in Mundka, the venue appeared to be shrouded in the lackadaisical haze of an afternoon lull. The rally had been publicised well in advance, but the promised relief package did not appear to have piqued the curiosity of its intended beneficiaries. The grounds bore a deserted look, witness only to AAP volunteers who were making preparations for Kejriwal’s arrival.
By 4 pm, the venue began filling up a little. The turban-clad farming gentry who threw wisecracks at each other occupied chairs in the first couple of rows and I spotted a few daily-wage workers taking a nap. Closer to the stage, women and children were sitting down with brooms—visibly new and unused. The open Ford jeep that was bellowing the arrival of “The Messiah of the Poor”—as the gypsy singers referred to Kejriwal during the rally—had clearly failed to lure people. The policemen I could see, sitting in large numbers at the back, played Candy Crush. A man from Azadpur, who had helped set-up the tent, yawned as we talked. “This event wouldn’t have cost anything more than 8 lakhs,” he authoritatively claimed.
Ten minutes later, a group of musicians—all men—materialised on stage. “Welcome to the culture of Haryana,” a person spoke into the mike, loudly enough to wake everyone up. I could not understand the lyrics, but the singer willingly provided some context as a prelude: “In the light of recent events, the first poem is dedicated to our Mother Cow.” The sudden spurt of activity seemed to have the desired effect, and soon more attendees started pouring in. By the end of the hour-long performance—largely enjoyed by the crowd—half the seats had been occupied. For the next hour, paeans to Kejriwal were read by anyone who was allowed to be on stage. Everyone agreed that he was going do something that no other politician had ever done. Except, of course, making it to an event on time.