Last year, I was watching Zindagi Live show on television; it was about an RTI activist, who wants to change this country and make it better. She says to make place better for living, you don’t need education, you just need willingness. She was non matric from Delhi slums. I was impressed by her guts and vision towards life. Then to fulfill her dream of ‘better world,’ she joined ‘Andolan’ and then formed a political party of ‘Common Man’. This twenty eight-year-old woman was one of the founding members of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Santosh Koli was one of the first employees of the Parivartan- the NGO that Kejriwal co- founded in late 2002, marking the entry of Kejriwal, then an Indian Revenue Services officer, into social work. The organisation started functioning from a rented accommodation in North East Delhi’s Sundar Nagri area, where Koli used to reside. She used to visit grievance redress camps outside the office of the Delhi Vidyut Board. Gradually, she revealed her political ambitions and joined newly formed Aam Aadmi Party. She worked with the organisation in its early years. Within short span she gained popularity in her locality.
Short, dark, girl with lots of courage, people used to listen with apt attention when she used to speak in her husky voice. Koli was known for her go-getting nature. She would address people’s grievances on the public distribution system and other government welfare schemes. In 2005, local goons attacked her twice with blades and surgical knives. She got stitches on her neck but was back to work. Her team was brutally attacked. She used to tell that the attackers will get tired of attacking me but I will still continue working. Destructor has short time nerve if you deal with them strongly. There was a lot of tension.
When Parivartan expanded its work ambit to local self-governance, Koli lobbied with local political leaders of nearby assembly constituencies on behalf of the NGO. Since 2006, she started dividing her time between Parivartan and Public Cause Research Foundation- the NGO Kejriwal co-founded to work for the cause of the Right to Information Act. As Kejriwal shifted focus to Jan Lokpal movement and then took the political plunge, Koli remained one of his most trusted lieutenants. Due to the time she spent working in her locality, Koli became good at mobilising crowds – something she did for all of AAP’s street protests. During his latest fast in April last year to protest the hike in power bills, Kejriwal stage put at Koli’s house in Sundar Nagri. Koli used to stay with her father who works as a labourer in a garment factory and mother, who is employed with an NGO. That gave her popularity among locals, AAP declared her as the party candidate from North East Delhi’s Seemapuri constituency, a reserved seat. Seemapuri is a socially and economically deprived constituency whose electorate comprises a large population of Muslims, many of whom have their origins in West Bengal. The constituency is reserved for Scheduled Castes and up to 2013 had traditionally elected Indian National Congress representatives, although it had received little practical attention from successive governments.
As soon as she announced her political journey, the struggle started in her life. She was getting threats on phone and then there was a planned attack on Koli. Santosh had been selected by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to contest the Seemapuri Assembly seat in the December 2013 Delhi legislative assembly elections but died following a hit and run accident in June 2013. After she was killed, her brother Dharmender Singh Koli elected as the Aam Aadmi Party’s MLA from the Seemapuri constituency. Koli had assisted his social activist sister, Santosh Koli, in her work for Parivartan. In August, Dharmender was chosen to replace her as the AAP candidate in Seemapuri. Koli’s campaign was funded by the party, largely owing to his political inexperience and financial background. He defeated the incumbent Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly, Veer Singh Dhingan, by 11,976 votes. Many newspapers reported this as a “shock victory”. While his family and party ascribed his success to the popularity of his late sister, many youths among the electorate were reported to have voted for the AAP as a new alternative secular party.
There were many, brave hearts who supported Aam Aadmi Party with great expectations. They won most of the seats in Delhi and created history. However, as a party, AAP created objectives but failed in practical, resulting in the fall of the government. Initially, it sacrificed its political virginity by entering into an alliance with the Congress. Later, with repeated attempts to strive for sustaining sentiments, it pitched itself on the wrong foot. AAP government lasted for 49 days over the issue of Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill. In Lok Sabha elections, AAP contested on more than 400 seats but could win only four seats. One thing is very interesting about the AAP and its fast inclination. Earlier, we have not seen any political party’s inclination in such a manner in India. However, there were many ifs and buts with AAP and today they are in the list of flopped political parties. They might come back. In the 2013 Delhi Assembly election, all opinion polls and surveys gave AAP less than 10 seats. However, it surprised everyone with 28 seats. Now again, they are focusing on forming government in Delhi, let’s see, how they manage to grab that lost glory.