A few weeks ago, I moved from Singapore to campaign for Narendra Modi through the India 272 plus volunteer platform of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Little did I know that it would entail being attacked by Aam Admi Party (AAP) goons inside the party headquarters – my safe haven thus far.
When I made the choice to be a part of a political campaign, family and friends were concerned about my safety. However, I had assured them, especially my children, that I would be free from harm. I knew that as elections approached, there could be misinformation and smear campaigns by opposition parties, which would affect me mentally. However, I believed there would be no physical danger, especially since I was going to be inside the BJP headquarters. Alas, I was wrong.
A day disintegrates
On Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at the National Digital Operations Centre (NDOC), which is at the back of the large BJP complex. It was a peaceful day since there was no big event in the premises for a change. Various teams were going about their campaign related tasks. Some of our female volunteers had come across for a briefing, and to collect posters. We talked about the plans for the coming week, over cups of sugar-laden tea, and enjoyed the spring weather. After the meeting was over, I decided to escort the women to the main gate.
As we neared the gate, we heard some commotion. But we were still not aware of what was going on. At the gate, we found out that a group of around 500 AAP thugs had turned up unannounced. They were shouting abusive slogans and vandalising our office area. Before we could begin to process what was going on, there was mayhem. Some of those people began to try and climb our wall. The security guards had barred entry, so they tried to beat down the gates. It seemed like a manic crowd would breach the barrier and soon descend upon us.
At that point, the police van stationed outside started the water cannon. It was aimed at the mob outside but we got wet from the spray. We scrambled for cover. Then we realised that small stones were flying in from outside. Before we knew it, it started raining bricks, stones and sticks. Hell had broken loose as our side started throwing some of those stones back. My terrified volunteers ran back to the safety of the NDOC unit. I took shelter against the high wall, and watched the scary turn of events, stupefied.
Mercifully, the police took stern action, put up barricades and gradually brought the situation under control. Once my heart rate was back to normal, I climbed on big cartons, perched our boundary wall precariously, and took photographs. Our people were injured and many had cuts on their faces, hands and heads. Some were rushed to the hospital. Our compound was littered with the scary debris of the violence. I had never seen anything like this in my life, and nor do I wish to be a part of such madness again.
My colleagues and I were stuck in office till late, first due to the violence and later because there was no transport available. We were bombarded with calls from concerned people, asking if we were all right. Eventually, we all managed to get home safely.
The larger issue
We all know that political violence in certain pockets has been a problem in our country. It is one of the reasons many citizens, especially women, have traditionally shunned politics. Most of us agree that this system needs to change. However, what is interesting is that the violence is now being perpetrated by a group of people, who have supposedly entered politics to change it. They promised to bring in a new type of politics, which would function in a different way. Now I wonder, what is this new system? Anarchy? Mobocracy ?Arbitrary disruption and violence?
I would like to remind my readers that around six weeks ago, the same group of people, led by their Law Minister Somnath Bharati, had illegally and shamefully attacked some African women. Later, they carried out anarchist demonstrations in the heart of Delhi, just before Republic Day celebrations. In fact, at some point, they even wanted to disrupt the Republic Day parade, to make a political point.
Given their history, the AAP’s reliance on drama and anarchist methods was hardly surprising. However, what was shocking was the fact that they were brazen and uncouth enough to storm a party head office. Note that at any given point of time, in addition to party members, the headquarters also has visitors and volunteers from all walks of life. They are “aam admis” (common folk) – the very people the AAP supposedly represents.
Our volunteers and I are ordinary citizens of India. We have put our lives on hold to chase a dream of a better India. We have not done the AAP people any harm. Our only “fault” is that we have a political view that is different from theirs. Thus we were at the receiving end of their scary wrath.
As I write and look back at the events of the day, I feel sick rather than scared. A fundamental rule of decorum has been violated today, and the omen is bad. The intolerance and abrasiveness that was on display is disturbing. If this is an example of how democracy is now going to function in India, God help us all.