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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Exclusive: Meet Cheena Maharaj – Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘guru’ who gave AAP ‘broom’ symbol



New Delhi: The story goes back to the time when Arvind Kejriwal, having floated a new political outfit Aam Aadmi Party(AAP), was trying to make inroads into the politically powerful ‘valmiki’ community, hitherto a loyal vote bank of Congress .

He wanted to perform ‘puja’ at New Delhi’s Mandir Marg based ‘Valmiki temple’ but certain groups loyal to Congress party warned him not to enter the temple with AAP cap and with no more that 3-4 people. It was a testimony to the iron grip that the Congress had over the ‘valmiki’ community at that time. Such was their terror that they had not allowed even Mayawati to enter Valmiki temple at one time.
A helpless Kejriwal did not know what to do under these circumstances. It was here that Cheena Maharaj came to the rescue of AAP chief.
He reasoned with his fellow caste men belonging to  ‘valmiki’ community and Kejriwal  was finally allowed to perform puja in the 150-year-old temple built by Birlas. Cheena Maharaj, who also doubles up as a priest, himself conducted the puja ceremony for Kejriwal.

“I asked my brothers one question- what has the Congress given to the community in 67 years of independence?. Why can’t we explore other options if it’s coming from a person who sounds genuine?” Cheena Maharaj told  in an exclusive interview.
“To their credit, my fellow Valmiki men got the point I was trying to make  and today they have all rallied behind AAP and Kejriwal,” adds Cheena Maharaj.
Cheena Maharaj is affectionately called ‘guru ji’ in his community and after this incident even Arvind Kejriwal accepted him as his guru.
Kejriwal had publically referred to Cheena Maharaj as someone like his ‘guru’ during the launch of Delhi unit of AAP’s SC/ST wing at the FICCI auditorium in December 2014.
“Cheena Ji Maharaj is like our guru. With his ashirwaad, we can take this organisation forward,” Kejriwal had said.
And most importantly,  it was Cheena Maharaj who selected ‘broom’ as the election symbol of Aam Aadmi Party.
“Kejriwal came to me with three shortlisted symbols. I picked out ‘broom’ and told him that it will be a big rallying symbol for the Valmiki community. He readily agreed with me and ‘broom’ became the election symbol of AAP,” says Cheena Maharaj.

Cheena Maharaj says that those living in slums especially voters from Valmiki community have voted overwhelmingly for AAP this time.
“ Valmiki votes are decisive in at least 40 out of 70 constituencies of Delhi and we have thrown our weight fully behind AAP this time. Up to 95% of out votes have gone to AAP in these elections,” says Cheena Maharaj.
Cheena Maharaj claims that it was because of him that Rakhi Birlan was made a minister in Kejriwal cabinet during his 49-days rule.
“I had asked Kejriwal to ensure that a Valmiki girl is included in his cabinet and he made Rakhi a minister. It happened for the first time in 67 years of our independence that a a girl from  Valmiki community became a minister in Delhi govt,” says  Maharaj with a palpable pride in his eyes.
“Last time, we had two members from the community in Kejriwal cabinet – Rakhi Birlan and Girish Soni. This time, we want at least three ministers,” says an assertive Maharaj.
Cheena Maharaj’s clout in AAP can be gauged from the fact that he got 5 party tickets for his acolytes, -Rakhi Birlan, Ajay Dutt, Ved Prakash, Dheeman and Sandeep- in 2015 Assembly elections. He has also got Dr Ashok, one of his confidants, included in the National Executive of AAP.
Cheena Maharaj is thankful to Kejriwal for fielding Rakhi Birlan in 2014 Lok Sabha elections as it added another feather to the cap of  Valmiki community.
Rakhi Birlan became the first person from Valmiki community to have contested Lok Sabha elections in Delhi since independence.
But why did he turn against Congress, a party that his caste men remained loyal for so long?
“Even I was a Congress supporter before switching over to AAP. But I noticed that Congress did nothing for us except for using us as a vote bank. Nothing was done for my community in last 67 years of independence. So it was time to look for a change,” says Maharaj.
And what came as the breaking point was the terse response of Sheila Dikshit, the then Delhi CM, when Cheena Maharaj and his supporters approached her for issues relating to accommodation for his community men.
“Should I get you people adjusted in Rashtrapati Bhawan, she asked us rudely,” says a hurt Maharaj.
"we were totally disheartened by her response," adds Cheena Maharaj. It was an eye opener for him and his supporters and he took the revenge in 2013 Assembly election.
Sheila herself was trounced convincingly in her own backyard by a rookie Kejriwal.
And what about Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has given the slogan of “jahan jhuggi, wahi makan?”
“He is misleading people. He has no real sympathy for our community. Not even one of the nine celebrities selected by Mr. Modi to take forward the Swachh Bharat Mission was from the Valmiki community,” points out Maharaj.
“ And he rubbed salts into our wounds when he came at Valmiki temple to launch Swachh Bharat Mission. They brought children from outside to stand up at the two sides of the road to welcome and greet the PM but our children,many of whom are students, were kept away. Worse, they shut our doors from outside and we were confined inside our homes. Was it not an insult to us?” asks a visibly pained Cheena Maharaj.
So, what is the guarantee that Arvind Kejriwal will fulfill all the promises he has made to them?
“First of all, I’m very sure he’ll deliver on his promises. He had delivered during his 49-days rule as well. At least, there was no corruption in NDMC during his stint as the chairman of the municipal body,” says Maharaj.
What are his specific expectations this time from Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister?
“ Kejriwal has promised that the first thing he’ll do immediately after taking over the reins of power is to regularize safai karmacharis. Second, he’ll provide permanent accommodation to people from Valmiki community.

At least, there was no corruption in NDMC during his stint as the chairman of the municipal body,” says Maharaj.

What are his specific expectations this time from Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister?

“ Kejriwal has promised that the first thing he’ll do immediately after taking over the reins of power is to regularize safai karmacharis. Second, he’ll provide permanent accommodation to people from Valmiki community. He has also promised quality education for our children,” says Maharaj.

For how long will he wait for Kejriwal to fulfill these promises and what if Kejriwal as CM fails to deliver on his promises?

“We’ll give him 2 years and that’s a reasonable time. If he fails to deliver then we’ll be forced to overthrow him like Sheila Dikshit,” says a determined Cheena Maharaj.

“If we can do this to Sheila then why not to Kejriwal?” asks Maharaj.

Interestingly, Cheena Maharaj is not averse to entering the electoral fray provided his community asks him to do so.

“Right away, I’m not interested. But if the community insists, I’ll not disappoint them. I may accept any suitable position in NDMC where I have worked my entire life but that too depends on the wishes of the community ,”says Cheena Maharaj.

“ It’s our wish that Guru ji should be made vice-president of NDMC,” says Amar Singh Ujjainwal, a supporter of Maharaj.

Cheena Maharaj’s original name is Kishanpal Magwana. He was born in one of Delhi’s numerous slums on 11th January 1951. His father Charan Das Magwana was employed with Safdarjung Hospital. Cheena Maharaj completed his education till 12th standard and then joined New Delhi Municipal Corporation as a worker. He reached to the position of Foreman and retired from NDMC  in January 2011. Cheena Maharaj is also a priest and conducts puja for his community men like a Brahmin.

Presently, Cheena maharaj is also the chief patron of AAP’s SC/ST wing.

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