Ahead of Delhi Assembly polls, Hauz Qazi incident exposes AAP's poor grasp over minority votes; communal tension may damage party's chances

  • The highest drop in the vote share, a good 50.73 percent, was in the Ballimaran constituency that's held by Hussain who also serves as the environment minister in the Delhi government

  • The incident in Delhi's Chawri area could be a political turning point. The Ballimaran constituency isn't dominated by Muslims. There's a substantial population of Hindus

  • While there is resentment against the Congress as well, AAP isn't doing much to attract veteran Muslim leaders and is persisting with its current crop that can't match them in experience and popularity

Hauz Qazi, a congested commercial cluster in Old Delhi's Chawri Bazar. In its depths is a metro station, which is surrounded by slim roads where rickshaws and tempos vie for passage. Lanes come together in a labyrinth of hardware stores where from safety helmets, roller skates, air-pressure pumps to knobs and handles and wedding cards are stocked by the droves. A key trade hub where the footfall of buyers from around the city and the country is high. Old Delhi's streets, home to Ghalib and Zauq's literary rivalry, is the habitat of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.

A parking tiff between two individuals snowballed into a communal flare-up when stones hit the windows of a Durga temple in Old Delhi's Lal Kuan Bazaar on the last night of June. More than 600 personnel, including CRPF jawans and Delhi Police officers, have been deployed in the area. The Delhi Police arrested nine people, including 4 juveniles, in connection with the row. The scuffle broke out after 20-year-old Mohammed parked his scooter in front of a building on the intervening night of 30 June-1 July. Sanjeev Gupta, a resident of the building, objected and asked Mohammed to park his scooter somewhere else.

Cabinet Minister and Delhi BJP leader Harsh Vardhan visited the area the next day and assured the locals that those who have vandalised the temple won't be spared. Union Home Minister Amit Shah summoned and reprimanded the Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik. The incident that could have died as a street fight made national headlines about communal tension and the state machinery's agile attempts to suppress it.

 Ahead of Delhi Assembly polls, Hauz Qazi incident exposes AAPs poor grasp over minority votes; communal tension may damage partys chances

CRPF personnel patrolling Delhi's Chawri area after the communal flare up. Pallavi Rebbapragada

Meanwhile, the political blame game was playing out in the background. Imran Hussain, AAP MLA from Ballimaran made statements about restoring peace and claimed that the situation was under control. BJP didn't miss the opportunity to accuse the local MLA, who happens to be a Muslim, for inciting the local community. Unverified videos of his visit to the site of the incident were circulated by BJP leaders about which Hussain issued a statement on Thursday that stated Delhi BJP leaders, like Manjinder Sirsa, were falsely accusing him of instigating communal sentiments and that a case be registered against him under section 505 (1), 153 IPC and relevant sections of the IT act.

"An ancient temple, which is more than a 100-years-old, has been vandalised," said Tajinder Bagga, a young leader from the BJP Delhi Unit. One of the first from the party to have visited the spot, Bagga said this is no less than a 'terrorist attack' because 'hundreds of people have come out to attack a temple'. Some people were also seen chanting the Hanuman Chalisa in front of the temple.

"These people are not locals. They are from the Bajrang Dal," said Sooraj Kumar, who works at a hardware store quite close to where the violence took place. In fact, Sunita Singh, a Bajrang Dal leader was seen pacifying Hindu families, assuring them that their organisation is here to safeguard their interests.

Afzal, who has been a resident of Hauz Qazi for half a century, said that this is the first time the neighbourhood is witnessing some degree of communal tension. "Even during the Babri demolition, this area was peaceful. People live and work together here. If communal tension develops, it'll harm the local traders the most." Afzal accused 'outsiders' of inciting the locals for political gain.

Whether the clash was communal or not has not been established. In criminal law, intent is a subjective state of mind that must accompany the acts of certain crimes to constitute a violation. Given the spontaneity of the incident, no version of the story establishes that this was a planned attack by a group. A crime of passion, in which the perpetrator commits the act against someone because of sudden strong impulse such as sudden rage rather than as a premeditated crime, can't be condoned either. Because the incident is one that is hard to define, it has acquired political colour and each party is making its own kind of statement about the nature of events.

The incident in Delhi's Chawri area could be a political turning point. The Ballimaran constituency isn't dominated by Muslims. There's a substantial population of Hindus. In 2015, BJP's Shyam Lal Morwal got 23,241 votes from here while Hussain won 57,118. In the seven Assembly constituencies held by Ministers of the Aam Aadmi Party, the party lost an average of 40.24 percent vote share in the Lok Sabha election compared to the 2015 Assembly elections. The highest drop in the vote share, a good 50.73 percent, was in the Ballimaran constituency that's held by Hussain who also serves as the environment minister in the Delhi government. This was also one of the five seats in Delhi where the Congress performed better than the BJP.

File image of the Delhi Police keeping a vigil in Delhi's Chawri area after the Hauz Qazi incident. PTI

File image of the Delhi Police keeping a vigil in Delhi's Chawri area after the Hauz Qazi incident. ANI

In Seelampur and Matia Mahal, where the concentration of Muslim votes is 70 percent and nearly 100 percent respectively, AAP's candidates have defeated more well-known Congress faces. In Seelampur, AAP's Haji Ishraq defeated veteran Congress leader Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed who was elected to the Delhi Legislative Assembly for the first time in 1993 from Seelampur constituency in Delhi under Janata Dal, defeating Jai Kishan Dass Gupta of the BJP by 1,438 votes.

In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections 2019, residents of Seelampur and Jafrabad had told Firstpost that old loyalties with the Congress haven't faded away and older Muslim leaders of the Congress still enjoy a better connect with the locals. Since the Congress Delhi cadre came down crashing, loyalties shifted towards AAP. In Matia Mahal, Shoaib Iqbal, five times MLA from Matia Mahal, lost to the Aam Aadmi Party's Asim Ahmed Khan by a margin of 26,000 votes. In 2003, Iqbal was elected as a Janata Dal-Secular nominee. And in 2008, when he won again, he belonged to the Lok Janshakti Party. A veteran politician has a reputation of questioning the orthodoxy of the Maulanas and working for local municipal issues. Both Mateen and Iqbal have their own core supporters.

Before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was seen campaigning aggressively in Muslim-dominated areas after which the BJP's Delhi Unit demanded that special observers be appointed to watch over mosques to prevent any attempt to influence voters on religious lines. In retaliation, the Aam Aadmi Party said that it will welcome all steps by the poll watchdog to prevent any communal discord with one condition that observers should be attached with RSS shakhas. Speaking to Firstpost, AAP's Amanatullah Khan offered a rebuttal and said that the pushing of Delhi elections to the seventh phase during Ramzan was a move to dissuade Muslim vote.

The tussle between the two parties will only get intense in the months leading up to the Assembly elections in National Capital Delhi. AAP is on a sticky wicket with the minority vote. It is competing with both the BJP and the Congress. While the Muslim vote might switch back to the Congress with the slightest of mistake in managing optics, the Hindu vote might firmly remain with the BJP.

Another problem that the residents of Jafrabad and Seelampur relayed to Firstpost was that the AAP had ditched Sahib Singh Verma and Sheila Dikshit style of functioning, where outreach and egalitarianism took precedence and was slipping away towards the HKL Bhagat and JD Tytler style of hierarchy. Those who wished to reach out to senior leadership on issues like education and healthcare which are the party's core focus areas said local leadership wasn't able or eager enough to help them.

Two residents of Jafrabad, Rashid Hussain and Shamsad Ansari told Firstpost that AAP's Lok Sabha candidate Dilip Pandey had not only been campaigning but working for the uplift of people by sending girls to schools, undertaking cleaning drives, overseeing mohalla clinics, laying sewer lines, and improving the state of arterial roads. "Ever since Sheila Dikshit ji has entered the campaign, the voters here have realised that the game is big and Congress will be a better tactical vote," said Adnan, a first-time voter from Seelampur.

In April, Iqbal, Mateen Ahmed and Hasan Ahmed from the Delhi Congress had urged the former party president Rahul Gandhi to allocate at least one seat to a Muslim in the capital but that didn't happen. Instead, from North East Delhi, where there are more than 7 lakh Muslim voters, former Delhi chief minister Dikshit contested. While there is resentment against the Congress as well, AAP isn't doing much to attract veteran Muslim leaders and is persisting with its current crop that can't match them in experience and popularity. Any split or chaos in a consolidation of the Muslim vote only benefits the BJP.

Some weeks ago, an incident regarding an attack on a Sikh tempo driver had surfaced from Mukherjee Nagar in North Delhi. The political narrative in the capital can easily drift away from development or statehood to Hindu versus Muslim versus Sikh, much to the disappointment of Kejriwal's AAP.

In old Delhi, religious unity is celebrated as a virtue, it's accepted as ordinary reality. Along with the Digambar Jain Temple, the oldest Jain temple in Delhi, the Gauri Shankar Temple, Sis Ganj Gurdwara, Sunehri Masjid and the Central Baptist Church, Old Delhi is home to the Fatehpuri Masjid. The latter was used as a military barrack by the British and then sold off to a Hindu trader who donated it to the Muslims. While it's highly unlikely that an incident like this one will desecrate the area's secular character, it can perhaps impact the voting pattern.

Updated Date: Jul 05, 2019 16:26:07 IST