A very special 100 rupee note sits in my drawer. Whenever I see it, I am reminded of all that I won in an election I lost. I was the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from the South Delhi Lok Sabha seat.
In the searing heat of June 2018, as I finished addressing a public meeting in Deoli behind Sainik Farms, a 75-year-old woman named Vimladevi, waded through a crowd to come up to me. She held out her hand, opened her fist and thrust a 100 rupee note in my hands, saying, “Poori bahaduri se ladna,” she said, “in logon se darna nahi.” (Fight bravely, don’t be afraid of them.)
‘Did I Fight as Bravely as Vimladevi Wanted Me To?’
At 29, I gave an entire year to fighting this election, every waking moment, walking door to door to personally ask two million people to vote for me. Having lost the election, I try not to open the drawer and look at the most precious 100 rupee note I have ever had. Did I fight as bravely as Vimladevi wanted me to? Did I deserve her trust? It’s a burden too heavy for my shoulders.
It brings a lump to my throat to think how much the people are willing to do for you if you give them hope, speak of their hardships, listen to their dreams and help them overcome their nightmares.
Our volunteers would put up stalls in busy markets to help people register themselves in electoral rolls. In one such market in Ambedkar Nagar near Saket, a woman running a tea stall objected. She didn’t know what our stall was for, and complained it would affect her business. She was poor, she pleaded, and her son suffered from cancer.
The volunteers agreed to move our stall, but explained they weren’t going to sell tea. They were doing a voter registration exercise. When she heard this, she insisted we don’t move our stall. This was the perfect location, she said, insisting we stay.
Again, what came through was the voter’s immense faith in the democratic system.
They’ll do anything for it.
‘My Hands Were Tied; I Guess They Didn’t Vote for Me’
People weren’t always blind in their trust. Often they wanted me to earn the vote by proving myself. A group of people belonging to the Gujjar community came to meet me one day. The BJP candidate, Ramesh Bidhuri, was from the same community. These voters were in fact from Bidhuri’s own village. Despite such kinship, they said they would vote for me if I could get one of them a job with the Delhi government. They kept following up with me, week after week, until the election.
My hands were tied; I can’t just get anyone a job with the Delhi government at my whim and fancy. I’m guessing they didn’t vote for me.
In Sangam Vihar, Asia’s largest unauthorised colony, over a lakh of people cross the arterial Ratiya Marg road to reach the city outside. Ratiya Marg has been flooded forever for want of a sewage line and a pucca road. I discovered that men going to work carry an extra pair of trousers in their backpacks since their trousers are bound to get soiled on Ratiya Marg.
The struggles of the people of Sangam Vihar were overlooked by successive governments.
I couldn’t help them immediately, but I’m happy to report that the Arvind Kejriwal government stepped in and rectified the situation.
However, I found that if one approached the voters of Sangam Vihar with a sincere promise for change, then, despite their miseries, they would embrace you with soft smiles and warm hearts.
Here’s Why I Wasn’t Voted Despite Solving Some Pressing Issues
There were occasions when I was able to help right away. A slum at the Tughlaqabad Railway Station was facing demolition. The slum dwellers asked me what I could do to help them. I mobilised lawyers to get a stay order against the demolition of their slum. The grateful slum dwellers turned up at my office again, this time to ask how they could help with my campaign. Similarly, people would come and say they’ll vote for me if I could get a drain laid outside their house, a sewage line laid in their colony, a pucca road perhaps. In many cases I was able to help them.
Polling booth data after the election result showed many polling booths did not vote for me even, when I got some of their most pressing problems resolved.
I know why.
On election day, a man standing in the queue outside a polling booth in Badarpur hugged me, praised me, and said that young people like me were the future of India. That means you are voting for me? I asked. “Dekho beta,” he replied, “yeh chunav Modi ka chunav hai. Lekin Dilli chunav mein Kejriwal ko doonga” (Look son, this election is Modi’s election, but I’ll vote for Kejriwal in the Delhi assembly election.)
The people of south Delhi chose Modi over me, but I still feel I am in debt of their love and affection.
“Tu neta nahi beta hai,” is a line I have often heard (You are not a politician, you are like our son.) When I look at Vimladevi’s 100 rupee note in my drawer, I tell myself: I don’t ever want to be a politician. I want to be a good son to the people of this great country.
(The author is a former candidate from South Delhi Parliamentary Constituency, General Elections 2019, for the Aam Aadmi Party. He tweets @raghav_chadha. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)