I am a Aam Aadmi Party supporter. And tomorrow morning I will try to book my Tatkal tickets to Varanasi, on my way to support Arvind Kejriwal. As I sit in my balcony on the 9th my flat in Ahmedabad, my mind goes back to that day in 2002. I was in my teens then. That morning as sounds of murmurs woke me up I joined my family and relatives in the same balcony witnessing a mob demolishing a small stall with a public phone right opposite my flat operated by an innocent blind man. Right then i felt something which changed me and separated me from my family, friends and almost everyone I knew at that point in my life forever. Witnessing then the same mob putting a shop in my building on fire sealed something in me which made me feel like an alien in my land of living forever.
I write this, because I know what it feels like to be that alien in Ahmedabad, in Gujarat. That guy who despises the right wing fanatics, the politics of hatred and who cannot just understand how everyone around him from family to friends and everyone else support leaders and politicians who were responsible for the protection of its citizens but instead what happened was a genocide. I kept reading details about the genocide, harrowing tales of what human beings are capable of and felt tortured inside, more so, when everyone around me then was indifferent to it all. Being in your teens and not supporting BJP and Modi and living in the heart of Ahmedabad was not easy in those years. I would be afraid to put forth my views, would be embarrassed to express my sadness and anger at the deaths and following isolation of minorities in pockets of Ahmedabad amongst the friends and family who would revel and boast in these realities with a strange sense of joy which my naïve mind never understood. All sorts of justification blaming the administration, vote bank politics etc were given to me to justify the genocide and what followed.
It was not just these political realities which made me feel alone. Where I grew up, being nice and honest was a sign of weakness. Not being an expert in manipulation and corruption was considered a sign of stupidity. Times when these qualities or lack of them would come out of me in spite of my best attempts to hide them would lead to only ridicule. My parents would be warned in typical Guajarati way ‘ Tamaro chhokro bou sidho che, ullu banavta avadvu joiye’ ( Your kid is too honest, he should learn to manipulate people) . We were almost brainwashed into compulsorily admiring the Ambanis and Adanis then. Now that I look back everyone around me including the media had given them the image of powerful gods who are not to be questioned, nor to be looked in the eyes. They were the kings, along with the politicians supporting them, we were the loyal silent servants who are sucked dry. Asking questions of them, doubting them, was a crime and made you a communist. Whether it was farmer suicides, land allotment, etc etc everything was kept silent. As everyone in my school and college cheered Modi in the state elections, the voice of this silent Gujju amongst the many other millions went more and more silent. I felt tortured inside, I felt humanity was dead and the worst part was the loneliness. When you are afraid of these thoughts, those days when you feel so alone because of your thinking and morals that you hate yourself for them. When you desperately want to change yourself and curse yourself for failing at that.
On moving to Mumbai few years back, I felt a sense of relief, hoping it will be different, but it was not really different. When Antilla came about and everyone around me from Ahmedabad cheered it, I was again disillusioned. I could not understand how in a country with so much poverty and disparity of income, can such unimaginable abundance of wealth exist, and more so be cheered by the middle class. I felt sick when youth around me including me were told to look up to these ‘Successful’ citizens, they were a role model. The stories we read every now and then about the nexus of politicians, media, industrialists were hushed away and talking about it was stupidity. And about then the talks shifted to Modi becoming the next PM, the sounds were getting louder. As I travelled more and more, grew older, that voice which was choked inside slowly started getting louder. And angrier. And then it came. The Janlokpal movement. Those pent up emotions started to come out. Still slowly, with pessimism imbibed in us after a decade of banging in our heads ‘Nothing will change, nothing can change.’ The movement slowly died. The voices cheering Modi started going higher and higher. And then he arrived.
I do not remember my exact first memory about Arvind Kejriwal. But I think it was after the Janlokpal movement when I saw his Youtube videos from IIT and other places. I was stunned. I was numb. Being a middle class Guajarati who had lived in Gujarat most of the life, to ask questions, to talk the way he was talking was criminal. How could someone have so much audacity? How could someone say the truth? How could someone ask the Demigods questions? It felt too good to be true and I tried very hard to support the movement, first Lokpal and then AAP and never ever follow into the trap of supporting the person as that is the first step of disillusionment in the long run. But I failed. I am not only a AAP supporter but Arvind kejriwal fan. Screw logic and rationality. Enough of fear.
Now when I came to Gujarat just before leaving for Varanasi, I can feel a confidence in me, a sense of hope but above all I am not ashamed of myself anymore. I will no longer have a silent lost look every time someone in Gujarat will condescendingly ask me ‘If not Modi then who?’ after I criticize. I now have an option. I now have hope. Of a leader and party which stands for honesty and secularism. Of transparency and courage. Of not bowing down to rich corporate. Blood does boil at what Media is doing, what pessimists are doing, but there is hope. I feel sad when on the few interactions with old school friends I see an inexplicable but expected denial to look at facts, to not discuss, to still support the extremists and corrupt, but with time, they will find in themselves, if nothing else, the courage to accept and talk about truths.
Above all, what Arvind kejriwal has given to people like me is to courage to stand up and no longer be embarrassed about our honesty. Not be afraid of being termed stupid on admitting that I will not be corrupt. To have the strength to smilingly suffer instead of indulging in corruption. If he succeeds the generation after me will be taught that real smartness if to be honest, real success is kindness and inclusiveness, if Lokpal succeeds, if Swaraj succeeds the coming generation will again reclaim their right to ask questions, to demand justice, to have courage. I do not want to even begin to thank Arvind Kejriwal or try to put into words what I feel about him, how could you be thankful to a person who gives you the strength to accept your true self without shame? Or make you feel courageous enough to ask questions of anyone especially him. As a small thanks, I will be a part of his small army trying to fight impossible odds in Varanasi and take anything thrown at us by the opposition filled with goons. But as he has always taught, nothing is impossible, real courage is to fight when odds are laughably against you. When I shook his hands on his visit to Mumbai few weeks ago, when I heard him speak, saw the love people had for him and above all saw him have the courage to be in the middle of his people laughing away at all the security concerns I realized what it felt like to have a leader who will stay with you till the end, and for whom you can take a bullet without thinking twice.
My purpose to write this is to tell those confused youngsters all over, and especially those in Gujarat who have also been robbed of their views, voice and morality that it is ok to be who you are. It is ok to be different, it is ok not to be communal or cheerlead for fascists and corrupt when everyone else around you is cheering. Change is coming, it is time to come out and accept yourselves and not be silent anymore.
*** Guest post by Chintan Bhatt ***