I left home in the morning to cover the arrival of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal. The “common man” himself flew down to Mumbai, and then took an auto to Andheri station, where a huge crowd of AAP workers, fans and journalists, fought the everyday commuters for space on the platform. Kejriwal was taking the Churchgate slow from Andheri, giving me plenty of time to poke my nose, where it didn’t belong, around Churchgate station. But when I asked the station master about the ex-Delhi CM’s visit, he just gave me the standard reply. “We have no extra information; we just sit in the office here. He will arrive whenever he is supposed to. But the trains will be running as usual,” he said. Very helpful. Thanks Aadmi (man)!
So, my next move was to talk to people around the station; commuters, vendors, cobblers, policemen, anyone I could find. But what I got was mostly gesturing, rather than actual responses. When I asked commuters if they knew Kejriwal was on the train, and that he was to conduct a rally from Churchgate, the almost standard responses were angry grunts and groans. A series of grunts and facepalms in succession; it seemed like the aam aadmi wasn’t too pleased.
However, the cobblers were a little more helpful, and seemingly, a little more informed. Munching channa beside a few of them, I quizzed them about Kejriwal’s plans for the day. Deenanath Ram, one of the more well-read mochis gave me a run through of the whole schedule. “The BMC cleared all the street vendors this morning and the constables have been on duty here since 7 am,” he said. “Vo bahar valle ka din ka naukri toh gaya naa?”
I had little luck else elsewhere. The administration and policemen on site were tight-lipped. I ended up stalking a constable all the way across the platform, looking for an opportunity, and then struck up a conversation with him. He gave me the standard, bureaucratic, don’t-pester-me-media-person replies, that is, until I told him I was excited to meet Kejriwal. That’s when his face broke into a smile and he confessed to me that he was excited too. “Mumbai is under the Sena thumb this election, but it is interesting to see someone making an effort to stand opposite Balasaheb’s legacy. His (Kejriwal’s) USP is that he isn’t communal and doesn’t play minority games like BJP and Congress,” he said. “We lose our own men in communal riots and we can’t retaliate. Uniform ka sawal hai.” The constable then promptly went out of his way to help me, and asked a senior officer which platform Kejriwal would make his appearance on.
It wasn’t until a little before the man was set to make his appearance that the crowd started to realise that something was brewing at the station. Journalists started pouring in, security was doubled, camerapersons (read hatta khatta bouncers) staked their claim to the best viewpoints. Fiddling with their cameras, like Spartans sharpening their swords before a battle. This was war; war to capture Kejriwal’s every move, every word, and I knew I’d be forced into it.
The train came in at 12:15 pm, and that’s when all hell broke loose. An avalanche of people descended on the train, AAP caps mushrooming out of seemingly nowhere, the media spilling onto the already cramped platform two. And even with all that adrenaline in my veins, the sight around me was saddening. Women were being pushed around, senior citizens shuffling to the nearest bench to avoid getting caught in the stampede, local commuters hurling the choicest of abuses, in the aam aadmi’s language of course.
And after all that tamaasha, Kejriwal was finally able to exit the train, after his party members delayed the train to let him get out, and formed a human chain to keep the crowds at bay.
And then the man himself exited the station, amid cheers from fans, slogans from party workers blocking the exit door and the occasional abuses (choicest abuses in the language of the Aam Aadmi) from commuters just trying to get by them. Everyone trying to catch a glimpse of the man, as he made his exit in his trademark Wagon R. But he did leave the muffler at home this time.
Puneet Kaur is a correspondent with iamin.in.