In checking out of my Ahmedabad hotel today, the front desk worker, hearing I was traveling to Varanasi, wordlessly opened a cupboard behind the desk. He moved aside stacks of hotel papers and retrieved one of the signature white hats worn by Arvind Kejriwal supporters and handed it to me.
“We hope you support Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party when you are there,” he said.
Then, without provocation, he took out his phone and showed me pictures of him and the rest of the staff I had come to know over the past week all wearing the white caps. One was proudly waving a broom, the (Aam Aadmi Party) AAP symbol that represents the party’s belief that India “needs a clean sweep of its corrupted mainstream political parties.”
As it turns out, while I had been off visiting Anand, Gujarat, to attend a Modi rally, the staff at the Ambiance Hotel had organized a rally of their own – in the housekeeping staff room. Not all political rallies happen on a stage in front of thousands of cheering (or silent) adorers. For the AAP, the focus is on citizen action at a grassroots level.
“We assembled all the housekeeping staff, round about 25, and told them why they should vote for the Aam Aadmi Party,” said Manmeet Singh, 25, the hotel’s front office manager.
“Most voting here in Gujarat happens on religious lines or caste lines, but we want a cosmopolitan election. We explained to them that Aam Aadmi Party is for the common person and unites all Indians.”
The AAP has changed politics as usual in India, he said. They disclose their earnings and expenditures on their website alongside a full list of donors, they have fielded candidates across India that are political neophytes, and they have relied heavily on door to door campaigning by dedicated volunteers.
Modi, Singh said “has done a good job as Chief Minister, but he does not have respect for the other leaders in the BJP. He does not respect Rajnat Singh, he does not respect Lal Krishnan Advani. If he does not respect them, how could he respect the country?” Inflation is also an issue, he said. “If he cannot control the price hike over here, how can he control the price hike in the Center?”
Nothing is certain until the ballots are counted. But it was only 10 years ago the BJP’s “India Shining” campaign was widely predicted to sweep the general election, only to be routed. These backdoor rallies are the secret outgrowth of a rising disgust with the status quo of Congress corruption and the heavy-handed Modi fever of the BJP. No one can look inside every hotel, restaurant, or other business and know how many of these micro tremors are happening, or whether they will be enough to dislodge a political landslide. But there is precedent.
“We told the staff that, if they want a clean government and candidates that don’t use ‘black money,’ that they should vote AAP. The AAP candidates are not millionaires, they are common people.”
When he asked him if he thought his rally was successful he smiled and nodded. Then, the three housekeeping staff standing around us all volunteered their poll choice: AAP.