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AAP volunteers hope party will spread all over India

New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) Anuj Bansal’s work at the AAP office here involves answering telephonic queries regarding donations to the party and overseeing collection of cheques from donors across Delhi. Since Tuesday he has also been answering numerous calls from all over the country on when the Aam Aadmi Party will open a unit in their state.

"This has become an added responsibility now," says a visibly pleased Bansal over tea at the five-month-old AAP headquarters at East Patel Nagar where thousands celebrated as the party pulled off a sensational win in the Delhi assembly election two days ago.

"Everyone wants to know when they can see an AAP office in their city or state," the enthusiastic 23-year-old told IANS. "I give everyone a standard reply: ‘We will come if you invite us’."

After a pause, Bansal, who is from Delhi, added: "It is remarkable how the AAP magic has spread to all parts of the country."

The 27-month-old AAP, the country’s youngest political outfit, has no immediate plans of spreading its wings outside Delhi. Its leaders remember the disaster that followed the decision to contest over 400 Lok Sabha seats last year.

But this does not mean the AAP will remain Delhi-centric. At some point, the party, confident that it can occupy the Left-of-centre space increasingly vacated by the Congress, will venture to new states, maybe beginning with Punjab.

AAP volunteers from all parts of India who worked for months for the sensational election victory in Delhi have already established toeholds in their own towns and cities.

"If we remain wedded to our idealism, we will be pioneers of change," added Adarsh Kumar, a 21-year-old from Bangalore who has camped in the capital since November last year and was, until the Delhi election, in charge of the Volunteer Management Team.

It is AAP volunteers like Bansal and Kumar – around 20,000 of them worked day and night in Delhi’s 70 constituencies – who will again be the foot soldiers if and when the party decides to look beyond Delhi.

Kumar says Delhiites initially posed tough questions when the volunteers went door to door seeking votes, mainly over the reason AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Delhi’s chief minister abruptly in February 2014.

"Many were hostile at first and it was very painful to even hear criticism about Kejriwal," he recalled. "But we persisted. Over the weeks the criticism became muted. In the end, people began to respect us.

"Many would say that the so-called activists of other political parties were mainly paid employees. And when they saw us slogging day and night in so many localities for free, they came to admire us – and Kejriwal."

AAP volunteers poured into Delhi from all over India but mainly from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Many stayed for weeks, many for days. Everyone paid for their transport. The AAP helped out with accommodation and food.

Manish Gangurde, 23, from Chembur in Mumbai was one of them. He is still in Delhi, eagerly looking forward to Feb 14 when Kejriwal will again take oath as chief minister at the sprawling Ramlila Maidan.

A few volunteers have, however, returned home because they had taken paid leave from their work places to campaign for the AAP in Delhi.

"Most volunteers were from middle class families. A few were well off. There were also those who were economically not well placed," Gangurde said. "But we all bonded. We were proud of our AAP."

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