'I will take up my sister's battle against graft'

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described Aam Aadmi Party founder member Santosh Koli, who died in a hit-and-run accident in June, as a “martyr” during his oath-taking ceremony on Saturday.

Her brother Dharmendra now says that he will not let her “sacrifice” go in vain and will continue her fight against corruption.

Dharmendra was chosen to replace Santosh to contest the seat of Seemapuri in the state Assembly elections, and defeated incumbent Congress MP Veer Singh Dhingan.
Before joining politics, Dharmendra had been assisting Santosh since 2005 in her work for Parivartan, an organisation that had been established by Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia. On August 28, AAP announced that they had selected Dharmendra as their replacement candidate for the constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes.

Up to 2013, the constituency had traditionally elected Congress representatives, but Dharmendra defeated three-time Congress MLA and Seemapuri strongman Dhingan by a margin of 11,976 votes.

It was termed as a “shock victory” in political circles, but the 27-year-old described his success to the popularity of his sister.

“We were confident that my sister would have easily won the elections. She had been organising mohalla sabhas (locality meeting) for the past several years and working on the ground for the common man. It’s not my victory, but that of my sister and locals,” Dharmendra told Deccan Herald.  

Dharmendra lives with family at a resettlement colony in Sundar Nagari, and passed his class 10 exams in 2005. He decided to discontinue studies to become a social activist.
“I was active with my sister since 2005 and was part of the struggle for RTI and Jan Lokpal Bill,” he added. After the victory, he was told by his parents to continue following the path that Santosh had chosen.

When asked what he plans to do as MLA, Dharmendra said he supports Kejriwal’s vision and says that he would interact with people in his constituency and try to understand their issues. He highlighted how MLAs and ministers in the past were reluctant to meet the common man.

“In the past, we only saw politicians during election time. I have tried so many times to meet MLAs and ministers, but failed to do so. I want to change this pattern of governance,” he added.

The ‘politically inexperienced’ was also one of the poorest candidates fielded by the AAP. “I only have cash deposit of Rs 20,000 in an IDBI account and 15 grams of gold jewellery. I have no other assets or savings,” he said. At present, Dharmendra faces a case of molestation, based on a complaint filed by Dhingan’s wife.

According to the complaint, Dharmendra and his supporters molested and misbehaved with Dhingan’s wife and other women during a victory procession.

Dharmendra, however, has denied the charges. “I was busy throughout the day in the procession. Our procession passed through Seemapuri, Gopulpuri and other parts of the constituency. I was in an open jeep and did not get time to get out of it,” he said.

“How can I do such things? It is an attempt to malign my image,” he said. Dharmendra has now said that he will file a retaliatory defamation case against the Congress leader and
his wife.

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