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Atishi-Gambhir row: Outrage over controversial pamphlet displaces concerns about development in East Delhi

There are more than 800 Resident Welfare Associations in East Delhi, where pamphlets with obscene text, which character shame AAP’s East Delhi candidate Atishi Marlena, have surfaced. In a press conference on Thursday, Atishi broke down as she read out the deplorable contents of the letter. She accused Gautam Gambhir, former cricketer and BJP candidate from East Delhi, of running this smear campaign against her.

In retaliation, Gambhir has challenged that if the charges are proven, he will resign and has even gone on to tweet that he will hang himself in public if there is any truth to his involvement in this. At its fag end, the campaign for the East Delhi Lok Sabha seat took an ugly turn.

The pamphlet ends with the line: ‘We assure you that even if AAP and Congress join hands, not even a single candidate of theirs will win in Delhi’.  The third candidate from the area, Arvinder Singh Lovely from the Congress, hasn’t commented on the ongoing slug fest, which has resulted in a defamation case on AAP leaders by Gambhir and a DCW complaint issued by Atishi.

Firstpost hit ground zero to gauge how the local voters are reacting to its sparring Lok Sabha candidates.

 Atishi-Gambhir row: Outrage over controversial pamphlet displaces concerns about development in East Delhi

File photos of Atishi and Gautam Gambhir.

The two people who came forward and said they have received the pamphlet by post are Alamgir, president of an RWA in Rani Garden, and Rakesh Verma, president of RWA in Surajmal Vihar. Alamgir said that he received the pamphlet by book post on 2 May. He said he was shocked to see that such a letter was addressed to his RWA. “They probably got our details from RWA directories online. The language is unpleasant. I thought many times over before showing it to someone but thought it’s better to report what’s going on,” he said, adding that he forwarded the letter to Munish Kaushik on Whatsapp. Munish is an AAP worker the in East Delhi constituency.

“When he sent me the letter (a week before the press conference), I was reluctant to share it with Atishi because the language was derogatory,” he told Firstpost. In the Surajmal Vihar market, Rakesh Verma runs a shop. He said that he received the letter four days ago and called himself apolitical. “I don’t know who has sent this or why they have sent it. I am not associated with any political party and don’t want to join the blame game,” he said. He added that he shared the letter with a certain Thakurji, a veteran who is an AAP supporter in the area.

Jitender Singh Shunty, former BJP MLA from Shahdara, runs Shaheed Bhagat Singh Seva Dal and his network of nearly 600 volunteers that organises free cremations and blood donation camps. Firstpost reached his office in Seemapuri. “If such pamphlets with derogatory language against women were distributed in my area and I knew who had done it, I would have stood up against the offenders. But neither have we come across any such piece of paper, nor can we establish that the offender is Gambhir,” he said, adding that Kejriwal has a habit of drawing attention to himself and that’s why only AAP is repeatedly attacked.

Monica Bhattacharya, president of RWA in Mayur Vihar, said that she has heard from others that the pamphlet was distributed in a BJP rally in the Kundli market area. In Mayur Vihar phase 3, Vijay Rawat is the president of the Joint Form RWA that comprises 20 bodies and a couple of thousand members. “We have checked with each and every RWA in our area whether they received such a letter via book post or in newspapers,” he said.

Munish Kaushik from AAP had alleged that pamphlets were slipped into newspapers and distributed to people’s homes in Patparganj. In Mayur Vihar Phase 2, an adjoining area, KK Chaudhary has been running a newspaper shop since three decades. “I’ve heard news of some pamphlets being having been distributed in Gandhinagar (10 km away), but there's nothing in our area,” he shared with Firstpost.

It is interesting to note that those who want to spread agenda through newspapers can easily remain faceless. Mahender, a newspaper distributor in East Delhi’s Krishna Nagar, said that anybody can come and hand out 500 or more pamphlets and at a charge of 20 paisa per pamphlet, the job can be done. Just like pulling out addresses off an RWA directory, this too is a fairly simple process.

Even in more populated areas, the pamphlet seemed missing on ground. Rajesh Agrawal is the president of the Shahdara RWA. Shahdara is a huge Vidhan Sabha constituency in East Delhi with more than two lakh voters. He said that in his network of RWAs in Shahdara, Vihar Vihar, Jwala Nagar, nobody came forward to admit that they had received the pamphlet. Rajat Gupta, RWA president from Anand Vihar, also said there has been no discussion on any such pamphlet. Firstpost also reached out to RWA representatives in Krishna Nagar and Sarita Vihar. While Manoj Sharma of Krishna Nagar was reluctant to speak, Anu Mishra from Sarita Vihar said she hasn’t heard of this.

AAP sources shared that the returning officer has ordered an investigation but up until Friday, they said that the police hadn’t registered an FIR. But the slug fest in the media was triggered when the pamphlet reached AAP’s authorities.

Om Prakash Sharma, sitting BJP MLA from Vishwas Nagar, told Firstpost, "This is not a women’s issue." He claimed that the attack was a self-sponsored one. BJP has had a stronghold over East Delhi. Anil Bajpai, MLA from Gandhinagar, was formerly with AAP but defected to BJP.

Congress candidate Arvinder Singh Lovely had also joined the BJP before the Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections in 2017 but later returned to the grand old party. The total number of voters in the constituency is approximately 16 lakh. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh won the constituency in the first elections held to the seat in 1967. In 2014, BJP’s Mahesh Girri won from here with 57,2202 votes. The most popular leader from the region has been BJP’s Lal Bihari Tiwari. Sheila Dikshit lost to him in 1998 and it was only after his death that Congress gained ground in East Delhi.

Atishi’s campaign, centred on her work in the sector of public education and the demand for statehood, has drawn both sympathy and suspicion from a vote bank more polarised than ever. Her attempts to establish herself as a public servant attempting to rewrite the social contract have been damaged because those who are critical of Kejriwal's brand of political campaigning are now viewing her as just another AAP politician who deploys the victim card. "She has blamed Gambhir without any proof. We expected her to be different, but this is the same old AAP tactic of self-damage to put the blame on others," said Lalit Sharma, RWA head at Jhilmil Colony, East Delhi.

Since both BJP and Congress candidates are young and educated, the campaign could have featured debates on development and public policy. It is instead about everything other than that.

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Updated Date: May 11, 2019 17:19:20 IST