PATNA: At a time when the trades of chaiwallas and chowkidars have become part of the political discourse, a humble street hawker in Patna is diligently working to raise awareness about voting and asking the electorate to vote on the basis of a candidate's merit to build a strong democracy.
Through his 'Cycle Jagrukta Yatra', Lal Mani Das travels across the Bihar capital and also tells people to not give in to temptation of money or other material gains offered by others to sway their votes.
Das, 50, is a 'bhunjawallah' -- street snack seller -- and puts up his cart near the Bazaar Samiti, city's huge vegetable and fruits market, but now only hawks the famous snack in the evening, spending early part of the day on his campaign.
Wearing a shirt and a trouser, a pair of slippers, and sporting a cap bearing the Election Commission logo and a slogan, he paddles around in Patna on his bicycle, and distributes pamphlets to people, carrying an appeal to vote wisely.
In front of his bicycle, he has put up a banner that enumerates the qualities a candidate should have, which every voter should keep in mind.
Das, himself wears a big, two-sided banner carrying a message -- 'Respect rights of a citizen. Cast your vote' -- over his shirt to spread the message.
"Voting is very essential part of ensuring a strong democracy. My first target is to reach out to as many people so that more and more numbers come out and vote on the polling day. Also, I am appealing to them to vote for candidates who have character and those who respect the rule of law," Das said.
On the banner mounted in front of his bicycle, a slogan on the top reads in Hindi -- 'Will respect rights of a citizen, will vote'.
"In this banner, I have mentioned 10 points for voters to keep in mind, whether first-timers or old-aged ones.
So, the first one says, we will elect those people who spend less money during the election. And, those who respect the rule of law.
"Also, among those seeking re-election, we should vote for a candidate, who does not create a ruckus in Parliament, has an attendance of at least 75 per cent, participates in House debates and who is committed," he said.
Voters should prefer NOTA (none of the above) option if they have to choose among those candidates who often break laws, Das said.
A father of four -- one daughter and three sons, Das who originally hails from neighbouring Begusarai district, says, he moved to Patna 15 years ago, in search of livelihood, and lives with his wife and children in a small house near Bazaar Samiti.
Asked, how much he earns from selling 'bhunja', he said, "I make around Rs 500 to Rs 600 on an average. But, as I am giving more time to my campaign, I am making some losses, but I have no regret."
Das admits that his wife, a homemaker, was against this idea of awareness drive, and still wants him to quit and go back to regular selling job.
"She is upset, and my children also are also half-supportive of this campaign, but, I feel that as a citizen, we must each do something towards strengthening our democracy. This is my humble contribution to that larger vision of building a great nation," he said.
Das, in a profound message printed on the pamphlet he hands out, quotes writers, poets and revolutionaries to inspire people to vote with discretion.
"It is not as to who will solve the problem in the system, it is about who will take the first step towards it," he said, quoting the lines in Hindi from the pamphlet.
"If we have to save democracy, we will have to elect candidates with character, otherwise sacrifices made by the freedom fighters will go waste," he said.
The 2019 Lok Sabha polls will be held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19. In Bihar too, which has 40 Lok Sabha seats, the elections would be held in seven phases.
As part of the first phase, four constituencies in the state -- Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad and Jamui will go to polls on April 11. Patna district has two Lok Sabha seats -- Patna Sahib and Pataliputra.
Das said, he has planned to spread the campaign from Patna to few other districts too, such as Begusarai and Gaya.