On May 9, #IStandWithAtishi was the top Twitter trend after a malicious and derogatory pamphlet against Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Atishi became public knowledge. “Gautam Gambhir’s team has distributed this pamphlet,” a choked-up Atishi said during a press conference at the AAP headquarters in Delhi. She was holding up a document titled, Atishi Marlena – Know Your Candidate. The pamphlet called her a “prostitute”, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a “dog” and made casteist slurs against Deputy CM Manish Sisodia.
Atishi alleged that the pamphlet was inserted in newspapers and distributed across Krishna Nagar, Vishwas Nagar and Vivek Vihar in eastern Delhi. AAP spokesperson Akshay Marathe told Newslaundry that it was also sent to Resident Welfare Association (RWA) presidents by post.
Gautam Gambhir was quick to deny the allegations. He even put his candidature on the line. “I declare that if it’s proven that I did it, I will withdraw my candidature right now,” he said. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from the East Delhi constituency has also sent a defamation notice to Kejriwal, Sisodia and Atishi, and has demanded an apology.
Two early-morning makeshift depots distribute newspapers in Krishna Nagar and Vishwas Nagar: one is located in Krishna Nagar’s Lal Quarter Chowk and the other near Shahdara’s railway station. Vivek Vihar has its own newspaper depot.
In the early morning hours on May 10, this correspondent met several distributors and vendors in these localities to find out if the pamphlet in question was distributed from their depots.
The place in Krishna Nagar where makeshift newspaper depots are set up every morning.
Uma Shankar manages the distribution of newspapers at the Krishna Nagar depot. He did not come across any such pamphlet being inserted into newspapers recently. “If any pamphlet is inserted into the newspaper here, I know about it, because I run this place. But I did not see any such pamphlet,” Shankar told Newslaundry. “There is a very slim possibility that some vendors are stopped and asked to put pamphlets in exchange for money after they take their stacks from here,” he added.
Uma Shankar speaks to Newslaundry about the Atishi pamphlet.
Several metres away from where Shankar and I were seated, young boys were busy inserting pamphlets in newspapers. Eight different pamphlets were going out this morning, including four political ones—one from the BJP, two from the Congress and one from the AAP. They were all in Hindi. The “Atishi pamphlet” was written in English.
The Congress’ pamphlets included a party manifesto and a poster of the party’s East Delhi Lok Sabha candidate Arvinder Singh Lovely. The BJP was circulating a printed poster of Gautam Gambhir, and the AAP’s pamphlet was a poster of Atishi. The rest four were about a local summer camp, Vedic mathematics, a physiotherapy clinic and a government school respectively.
Like everyone else at the scene, Shyam, a 50-something, who was putting pamphlets in newspapers, also dismissed the existence of any such pamphlet. When I gently nudged the possibility of a local pamphlet-for-money scam, he quipped: “It’s possible. If someone asks me to insert a pamphlet in return for money, why wouldn’t I?”
Boys inserting pamphlets in newspapers at Krishna Nagar. None of them came across the pamphlet allegedly distributed in the area through newspapers.
At 4.45 am, vans jettisoning piles of newspapers departed, and hawkers and vendors started arriving at the depot to carry away newspaper stacks on their bicycles and motorbikes. This correspondent spoke to a dozen hawkers about the pamphlet, but none of them had a clue about it. “I haven’t seen this parcha in the newspapers that I carry,” said Ram Avtar, taking a careful look at the pamphlet on my phone.
“There were promotional pamphlets from the Congress, the BJP and the AAP that went with the newspapers yesterday, but none of them looked like this,” said Jai Singh, a hawker.
Jai Singh, a hawker in Krishna Nagar in East Delhi.
Around 6 am, four men dressed in saffron turbans began lurking around the newspaper depot. These were BJP workers doing Facebook lives, boasting about how their promotional pamphlets on Gambhir were being distributed in East Delhi. “We have been doing this for 15 days now to make sure our voters know how hard we’re working,” said one Ashish Tiwari. When I brought up the infamous pamphlet, Tiwari said he did know about it from TV news but hadn’t gotten hold of it yet. He also denied the BJP’s involvement: “Nothing like this went from our side as they allege. It’s forged.” After Tiwari and gang were done with their FB live, they packed up and left.
Ashish Tiwari, a local BJP worker at the newspaper depot in Krishna Nagar.
A small number of newspapers distributed in Krishna Nagar and Vishwas Nagar also come from Shahdara. The early-morning depot is set up near Shahdara’s railway station. A drill similar to Krishna Nagar depot plays out here as well. “I haven’t seen this pamphlet anywhere. In fact, I wasn’t given any normal promotional pamphlets of the AAP to distribute. I don’t know much about this matter,” said Deepak Pandey, who supplies newspapers from this depot to Vishwas Nagar. His friend, who has been taking a keen interest in the pamphlet’s content, gawked suddenly: “Ye toh seedha qaum pe baat paunch gayi (this thing jumped straight to religion).” He was referring to the sentence in the pamphlet claiming that Atishi is “married to a Christian from Andra Pradesh ie a beef eater.”
Deepak Pandey told Newslaundry that he does not know of the pamphlet being allegedly circulated against Atishi.
The pamphlet-inserters in Shahdara had heard about the Atishi pamphlet, but they had not seen one themselves. “You see,” one of them smirked, “once May 12 is over, all of this chu**y**p will stop.”
Political pamphlets that were distributed with newspapers at the Shahdara depot on May 10.
The newspaper depot in Shahdara.
Ramakant is in-charge of managing the distribution of newspapers in Vivek Vihar. His testimony on the pamphlet contained no novelty. “I myself have been making sure that the AAP pamphlets leave with the newspapers in Vivek Vihar since the last eight days. But we never came across this one. I think Atishiji is a little mistaken or even misled,” he told me.
Political pamphlets being placed inside newspapers in Vivek Vihar.
Back in Krishna Nagar, I met multiple groups of local residents in the colony parks and asked them about the pamphlet. None of them had received it. “Sir, we did not get this piece of paper you’re talking about,” said one individual who claims to be a local RWA pradhan. “What we got what this ghatiya sa poster on Atishi,” he added, referring to pamphlet 1 (inserted above). Others around him nodded in agreement. Sandeep Sharma, the nigam parshad in Krishna Nagar who was once the general secretary of the area’s RWA, laughed off the pamphlet’s existence: “What you’re witnessing is dirty politics between two parties. That’s all.”
This correspondent’s conversations with locals in other parts of Krishna Nagar did not yield any evidence that the Atishi pamphlet (that was attributed to Gautam Gambhir’s team by the AAP) was distributed through newspapers. Most of them, however, seemed convinced that the AAP had distributed the pamphlet itself for electoral drama. “Ye AAP wale bas shor machate hai, inki baat toh aap mano hi mat. (These AAP people just make a lot of noise. You shouldn’t trust their claims),” said an elderly in the area’s Arya Samaj Park.
Local residents of Krishna Nagar in the area’s Arya Samaj park. None of them received the pamphlet in their newspapers.
AAP spokesperson Akshay Marathe told Newslaundry that a total of four people who had received the pamphlet by post reached out to the party. While he refused to disclose the identity of two of the individuals citing privacy issues, he confirmed the names of two others: Alam Gir, the RWA President of Rani Garden in East Delhi’s Geeta Colony, and Rakesh Verma, a local who resides in the constituency’s Surajmal Vihar.
Alam Gir’s copy of the pamphlet.
I met Gir at his house in Rani Garden to inquire about the pamphlet. “The version doing the rounds on social media is the one I sent them via WhatsApp,” he said. “I received it on May 2, around 3-4 pm. A postman came and handed me the post while I was standing outside the house,” he added.
“I don’t support Atishi or the AAP. I’m known in this area as the musalman who supports the BJP,” he chuckles. “But nonetheless, the language of this paper is disgusting,” he says.
Gir also told this correspondent that he had reached out to a Munish Kaushik, an AAP party worker, about the pamphlet he had received via post. “I had met Munish Kaushik several months ago through my friend at an event at the Ambedkar Institute of Advanced Communication Technologies and Research in East Delhi. So when I received the post on May 2, I called him. He said he’ll take up the matter with Sisodia and asked me to ignore such posts. That’s how the news of this pamphlet reached AAP,” Gir said.
Gir also stated he was confident that the pamphlet didn’t come from the BJP. “I don’t believe they’re doing this. Not that politics is clean but I’m confident they’re not behind this,” he said.
Alam Gir outside his house in Geeta Colony’s Rani Garden.
One can only speculate why Gir was chosen to receive the pamphlet. He is quite well-known in Rani Garden—most locals knew him by name and could also direct this correspondent to his house.
Rakesh Verma, a resident of East Delhi’s Surajmal Vihar, also claims to be well-known. Not too keen on meeting the media, he told me over the phone that he received the pamphlet on May 2. “Our family is well-known in the area, so they probably sent it to us after they couldn’t reach the RWA president. I was perplexed. I don’t know why I received this. We don’t even support the AAP, but I handed it to my neighbour who has connections with the AAP people. I don’t even have the copy now,” Verma told Newslaundry.
Asked if he thought the pamphlet came from the BJP, Verma said that his guess was as good as anyone else’s. “We don’t have any political loyalties, not to the BJP, the Congress or the AAP. I have no idea who sent this,” he said.
This correspondent met two other local RWA presidents in Krishna Nagar and contacted another two in Vishwas Nagar. All four claimed that they were not sent the pamphlets by either post or through a newspaper.
Upon speaking to newspaper vendors, distributors, local residents, Alam Gir and Rakesh Verma (two of the four people who received the pamphlet) in East Delhi, we found no evidence to prove the AAP’s claim that the infamous pamphlet was distributed through newspapers. Additionally, those who did receive it by post, do not believe that it came from the BJP or Gautam Gambhir’s team, contradictory to the AAP’s claims. However, Indian Express reported this morning that a vendor claims he was paid to insert 300 such pamphlets inside newspapers distributed in Yojana Vihar and Savita Vihar.
When asked about the absence of evidence among local residents and newspaper distributors we spoke to, AAP spokesperson Akshay Marathe told Newslaundry that no vendor or distributor would admit to circulating such a pamphlet given the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct. “There’s no vendor who would put their neck on the line and admit to something so illegal,” Marathe said. But then what’s the basis of the AAP’s claim that the pamphlet was given away with newspapers and that Gambhir’s team was behind it? “Some people in Vishwas Nagar were handed the newspaper with the pamphlet in a park, one of them was a journalist from a Hindi daily. He told us that mujhe phasao mat (don’t get me involved), so it’ll be hard to put one in touch with him,” Marathe explained. So is it just hearsay? “You can say it’s hearsay because it is indeed hearsay,” Marathe admitted. “We can’t produce any recording of Gambhir’s team discussing this pamphlet, or documentary evidence of them circulating the pamphlet. It’s not something you can show evidence for. What we’re looking at is a motivated rumour and a whisper campaign meant to smear Atishi and the AAP.”
He added: “We think this pamphlet was generated by the BJP because it reeks of communal and misogynistic tendencies that the BJP has displayed in the past few years. Who else could it be?” Why not the Congress, I asked. “The content of the pamphlet is so bigoted that no one would say, ‘her husband is a Christian from Andhra, so vote for Congress’,” Marathe said.
He also directed me to the last line of the pamphlet which he thinks absolves the Congress of any blame: “We assure you that even if the Congress and the AAP join hands, not even a single candidate of theirs will win in Delhi,” it reads.
Marathe concludes: “All this is being done for the benefit of one party at the cost of another. And we’re the party that is bearing the cost so we believe that it is the Opposition who is doing this.”
This correspondent met one Mr Alam Gir for the piece. Gir is a resident of Rani Garden in Geeta colony, who had received the pamphlet by post on May 2. This pamphlet bore the rubber stamp of the local post office. The pamphlet received by Alam Gir was stamped at the head post office in Krishna Nagar, an official at the post office confirmed to Newslaundry.
The head post office in Krishna Nagar, where the Atishi pamphlet was rubber stamped.
The official explained that there are two distinct types of posts: ordinary post and speed post. While speed post requires the address of both the sender and the recipient, ordinary post only needs the recipient’s address.
The Atishi pamphlet was an ordinary post. Officials told me that for such posts, the sender’s details were simply attached to the pamphlet with a stamp and then put in a letterbox. All such posts are collected and brought to the post office where they are rubber stamped, sorted by destination, and handed to 100-150 postmen who duly deliver them.
The pamphlet cannot be traced back to its sender, the officials said. There are two reasons for this. First, ordinary posts cannot be traced back to either their senders (whose address isn’t required) or even to a letterbox in a given area. Second, even if one were to guess the right letterbox, these are not under CCTV supervision, not even those outside the head post office.
Officials at the post office also emphasised that they never go through the contents of any ordinary or speed post.
The headline and the copy has been updated in keeping with new information reported since this piece went up.