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The People's Guardian

April 22, 2009
Arun Bhatia's tiny campaign office, located in unused shop space in a mall, on downtown Pune's Bund Garden Road, is quite different from the headquarters of the city/constituency's other political candidates.

The sign above the door of the office of Pune's most prominent Independent Lok Sabha candidate, announces in bright red: People's Guardian Party, Lok Rakshak. And says: Let Honest Indians Rule This Nation in enormous letters.

Inside, it's clearly a home-grown operation run by a group of energetic volunteers. An elderly gentleman in jeans mans the phones. Other young hands run around xeroxing documents and coordinating meetings.

Bold posters on all the walls ask that you to vote in The Honest Revolution in Pune. Or requests Donations to Destroy Evil. Or who Dares to Support Bhatia?

There is a cheerful, hopeful buzz about the place.

Perhaps change will begin in places like this.

Bhatia, sits at one of the ten odd desks, under a sign that says People's Guardian, in a crisp white shirt, wrangling with someone from the media on the phone. A former municipal commissioner of Pune and the city's poster boy for its crusade against corruption, he hit the headlines during his tenure for his battles with a dishonest system.

In 2004 after he retired from the Indian Administrative Service, he made a bid to enter politics and collected 60,000 votes as an independent candidate (roughly 1.5 per cent of the city's 40 lakh/4 million population).

This maverick citizen is back again in the race, and much stronger, he says. And very upbeat. In spite of the many -- both predictable and unforeseen -- hurdles Bhatia has encountered in this contest he has not lost his humour, as he sardonically takes potshots at his opponents, political parties and the state of the country's governance.

He told Vaihayasi P Daniel that the battle, till now, has been just about 40 per cent fun; exasperation, irritation, anger being some of the other ingredients. Pamphleteering has been the mainstay of his bid for a Lok Sabha seat this time and his route to his potential voters.

When did you start your campaign? What has been your strategy?

Five months back while other people were sleeping! (Smiles.)

40 lakhs leaflets. That's been the backbone of our campaigning. Yes, you can say door to door because we send it via the newspapers so they reach everybody's breakfast table.

We keep changing the pamphlets. There are five or six types of leaflets on different subject. We send out the first batch of 20,000 and get the feedback through telephone calls, e-mails letters.

We specifically ask people to go and collect feedback. They go at random and speak to people who received these leaflets in that area. Then we modify the pamphlets -- if something needs more elaboration or if something is not clear. It has been a participatory exercise in which constant feedback has been improving the product.

Who do you perceive to be your potential electorate or target group?

Every honest Indian is part of our target group! More specifically, it is that part of the electorate that does not vote. The size is 51 per cent.

In the last election out of the total number of electors -- which was 15 lakhs -- 8 lakhs did not vote. That is a very high proportion for a city that claims to be the Oxford of the East, a university town, a place where retired people have settled, an intellectual and cultural capital.

Photograph: Sanjay Sawant

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