After serving as an advisor to the Education Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia, Aam Aadmi Party’s Atishi is contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Four years ago, she would not have contested as she believed that she did not have what it takes to fight elections. But following her work with the Delhi government, Atishi has noticed how much difference it makes “if you have the right people in the right decision-making positions”.
Now stepping into the frontline of politics for the first time as a Lok Sabha candidate from East Delhi, she is quite a well-known face in AAP. “Most of us in India are armchair critics. Any discussion about the issues of the country and we come to the conclusion, iss desh ka kuchh nahi hoga. Why is it so?” she questions.
She goes on to say, “All important decisions are made by politicians, be it education, jobs, or security. But who are our politicians? They are perhaps the worst people in our society. Unless people like us come forward and say ‘hum badlenge (we will be the change)’, how are things going to change?”
The 37-year-old Oxford graduate is credited with being the brains behind the school educational reforms in Delhi. Atishi’s work in transforming government schools has drawn appreciation from the masses, which has made her popular.
Unlike her rivals, BJP’s Gautam Gambhir and Congress veteran Arvinder Singh Lovely, Atishi has been frequenting her constituency for almost a year now.
Contesting from East Delhi was a conscious choice made by Atishi. “East Delhi is one of the areas where a lot of work has been done in the education sector. Since I have been associated with a lot of this education work, it seemed only natural. Also, my house is in Jangpura, part of East Delhi constituency,” she adds with a laugh.
“In the last four years in East Delhi, the AAP government has built two new schools of excellence, two talent schools, two university campuses, 25 mohalla clinics, while 32 such clinics are under construction,” tweeted Atishi, asking Gambhir to share his vision for the constituency as well.
This came as an answer to the cricketer-turned-politician’s statement against Atishi’s allegation of Gambhir holding two voter cards. As per the statement, Gambhir says, “When you don’t have vision and have done nothing in the last 4.5 years, you make such allegations. The Election Commission will decide this.”
The two have been engaging in a constant tussle, especially on social media, and in fact, this is one of the several blows dealt by Atishi. She filed another complaint with the EC against Gambhir for allegedly distributing pamphlets, without the printer’s name, in violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
Taking a dig at him, Atishi says that it’s perhaps the first time that there is a candidate who doesn’t know how to contest an election, which further proves his lack of ability to be in politics.
Throwing an open debate challenge, she posed five questions to Gambhir: “What did the incumbent BJP MP Maheish Girri do for the promised East Delhi campus (DU)? What did he do for women’s safety? What did he do for affordable housing? What did he do to stop sealing? What did he do for choosing an alternative for the Ghazipur landfill site?’
Instead of hooking Atishi’s bouncer, Gambhir decided to duck it. In an interview with a news channel, he declines the challenge, stating that he doesn’t believe in dharnas and debates. Later on, addressing a rally he asked for 2.25 years to be prepared for an open debate.
When Patriot asked her if contesting against a popular face like Gambhir poses a challenge she promptly responds, “It probably could have been one, but it’s just that he is making one blunder after the other. As far his voter ID issue is concerned, he is bound to get disqualified. Why would anyone want to vote for such a candidate?”
“With celebrities contesting elections, people may come to see them, but they will not vote for them. People belonging to the lower middle class and people living in unauthorised colonies need an MP to sign the forms for getting admission in hospital and school, and to avail facilities that are provided to the EWS category. But when they have a celebrity MP like Gambhir, he will be in London or Mumbai and won’t be available on a day-to-day basis and I think that makes a difference,” she explains.
This thought also resonates among the people of the East Delhi constituency. They cannot recall seeing their incumbent MP Maheish Girri even once.
Currently, in the last phase of its campaign, AAP is rigorously organising padyatra across Delhi, starting from 8 in the morning. Moving across the streets of Shahdara in East Delhi with the beats of drums and flowers pouring down, Atishi goes around donning the signature Gandhi cap, with folded hands, greeting the residents of the area.
She promises women in the area that their safety will be ensured by Delhi Police. While some of these residents conveyed their satisfaction with Kejriwal government’s work on education, health, electricity and water, Atishi informs them that in order to continue development without disruptions, AAP needs their support to win from all the seven constituencies for achieving full statehood.
Despite her active campaigning that began almost eight months back, several voters in East Delhi are not yet familiar with her name. While many of the voters Patriot spoke to were aware of a “lady” contesting elections, others simply relate to Kejriwal and the jhaadu symbol. However, what linked them all is the acknowledgement of the work done by AAP in developing schools.
This has brought in several supporters from as far as Chennai, busy planning and dividing campaign work in the small party office in East Delhi that is always teeming with party workers.
With East Delhi going to vote in a week’s time, Atishi is all caught up in campaigning. Her only complaint: “I don’t get enough sleep. It’s an extremely hectic life,” she laughs.
This article was first published in Patriot.