By Quaid Najmi
Dhule (Maharashtra), April 2:
AAP’s Lok Sabha candidate here, Ansari N. Ahmed, Wednesday completed 42 km of his 50-km walkathon to file his nomination papers Thursday, an aide said.
The band of around 150 Aam Aadmi Party volunteers was armed with brooms, the party’s election symbol, as they trekked from Malegaon to Dhule in Maharashtra.
“This walkathon has been a humbling experience and brought me close to the masses,” a weary but cheerful Ahmed told IANS while walking through the dry region in 40 degrees plus temperature.
“People have responded very enthusiastically, beyond my expectations,” Ahmed added.
Along the route, the AAP candidate and his supporters received the hospitality of the simple village folk: the real ‘aam aadmi’.
“Wherever we went, villagers trooped out to welcome us with garlands, flowers and chilled water or sherbet, invited us to their homes. They told me that this is the first time they saw a candidate in flesh and blood,” said the 57-year-old academic, Ahmed.
“In all previous elections, they only saw the photographs or posters of the candidates.”
Ahmed’s media consultant and close aide Aleem Faizee said since Tuesday evening when the AAP candidate began the 50-km Malegaon-Dhule walkathon, they have interacted with nearly 40,000 people.
“Most people virtually dragged him to their homes for tea, coffee, soft drinks or just a brief chat,” said Faizee.
All the 150 AAP marchers had their own blankets and bed sheet, plastic plates and disposable glasses, stocks of food, tea, sugar, large utensils and a portable gas stove cylinder to take care of their needs, besides a couple of small tankers for potable water.
All these were packed in a couple of vehicles which followed them.
“We represent the ‘aam aadmi’. So, on Tuesday night, the tired group savoured a simple meal of ‘daal chawal’ which we cooked ourselves and then spend the night in the fields under the starry skies,” Faizee said.
On Wednesday morning, the marchers woke up at sunrise, quickly refreshed themselves and enjoyed a breakfast of piping hot tea with toast bread and butter, acquired from a village shop.
By 8 a.m., the walkathon resumed. After covering 15 km, the marchers took lunch along a highway.
There was a repeat of Tuesday night’s menu of freshly cooked and easy-to-digest ‘daal’ and rice Wednesday night too.
“The remaining march of around eight kilometres will continue tomorrow. We shall reach Dhule Thursday to file the nomination papers,” Faizee told IANS.
Dhule is among the few parliamentary constituencies in India which span two adjoining districts: Nashik and Dhule in northwest Maharashtra. The main Election Commission office is located at Dhule.
The road venture has given Ansari a chance to directly reach out to the ordinary people who hardly get to meet or speak with their elected representatives and often remain unaware of who they vote for.
The villagers told Ansari candidates usually speed past in long convoys of vehicles, meeting only the village panchayat leaders.
By Thursday afternoon, Ansari would have covered more than 50,000 voters, distributing handbills and AAP caps.
Dhule constituency – currently held by BJP’s P.N. Sonawane – is set to witness a three-cornered battle also involving Congress’ candidate Amrish Patel and Bharatiya Janata Party’s Subhash Bhamre.
The trio is set to woo the 1.60 million electorate comprising 700,000 Marathas, 450,000 Muslims and others from different backward classes.