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Lok Sabha polls: Turncoats and celebrity candidates dominate political narrative in North West Delhi seat

The northwest fringes of Delhi, with a population density of 8,245 inhabitants per square kilometre, suffer from poor connectivity and are awaiting the fourth phase of the Delhi Metro. Piped water, sewer lines and arterial roads are three things this part of Delhi lacks, making the area unpopular with even those from low income backgrounds looking to build homes in the national capital. Those rehabilitated from JJ clusters abolished during the Commonwealth Games have also been haphazardly accommodated in slum clusters.

In this political season, the constituency is in the news for two reasons – former BJP MP Udit Raj having switched over to the Congress on being denying a ticket and Punjabi singer Hans Raj Hans being fielded from the area by the BJP. “The way people enjoy the music in this Parliamentary seat, I will not only win the hearts of the people but also try to make this Lok Sabha seat the best.” Hans has been making statements like these in the slums of Sultanpuri and Mangolpuri. Last year, Mangolpuri registered nearly 900 FIRs; an average police station in south Delhi registers approximately 150 FIRs in a year.

Law and order in far flung areas demands good coordination between state and central forces. And the constant tug-of-war between AAP and the Centre doesn’t benefit the locals. AAP convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has tweeted claiming that Hans is ineligible to fight from a reserved seat because he had allegedly converted to Islam in 2014. In retaliation, Hans has called Kejriwal a liar.

 Lok Sabha polls: Turncoats and celebrity candidates dominate political narrative in North West Delhi seat

Representational image. PTI

“If Kejriwal has actually delivered on the policy front, why is he raising debates based on religious identity? Shouldn’t he be able to win on the strength of the work he has done in the last four years?” Vijendra Gupta, senior BJP leader from North West Delhi, told Firstpost.

Meanwhile, a displeased Raj shared with Firstpost that the BJP has a problem with vocal Dalits and that there’s a glass ceiling within the party for people who aren’t from castes higher up in the hierarchy. Hans’ campaign is pitifully bereft of the complexity of municipal issues that plague the area. Raj, also the current MP from North West Delhi, is pre-occupied with exposing the caste dynamic in national party politics. In Delhi, while the upper caste accounts for 40 percent of the population, OBCs account for 24 percent.

“He (Udit Raj) was MP from our area. Even today, the railway crossing in Kirari leads to traffic congestion. Railways are the purview of the MP,” said Rituraj Jha, AAP MLA from Kirari, North West Delhi, accusing Raj of ignoring local issues to keep highlighting Dalit issues on social media. In the Assembly elections of 2015, Jha won with a margin of 50,000 votes in Kirari, an area dominated by unauthorised colonies. In 2014, just a year before the state election, Raj had won by a margin of over one lakh votes. AAP’s Rakhi Birla had come in second.

Given that Raj has switched over to the Congress and isn’t contesting this time, there’s a good chance that his supporters will drift towards AAP in the area. Dalits account for 17 percent and Muslims 13 percent of the state population. In 2015, AAP’s social engineering mobilised lower caste, lower class, as well as minorities. The constituency has a Scheduled Caste population of 6,97,237 and Raj had a significant pull in the area, because he was recognised as a strong Dalit voice in national politics.

Had Raj joined the Congress earlier and not waited for being denied a ticket, the chances of his voters making the switch with him would have been greater. Given his popularity, the Congress might have even considered giving him the ticket instead of Rajesh Lilothia. The All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisation (All India Parisangh) was formed in 1997 under the leadership of Raj. Hans is an outsider and was affiliated to Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress before joining BJP. Lilothia, Congress' candidate from the area, isn’t a local either and is from the more central part of Delhi — Karol Bagh.

Firstpost hit ground zero and found that most colonies in Jha’s Kirari now have drinking water and colonies like Inder Enclave, Agar Nagar, Aman Vihar, Ramesh Enclave and Karan Vihar are now accessible by road. There are three mohalla clinics that are functional in the area – one in Pratap Vihar and two in rented homes in Inder Enclave. “In 2013, we didn’t win a single seat from here, after which we adopted a bottom-up approach to development,” explained the AAP-MLA.

Congress, despite 15 years in power in the capital, kept JJ clusters disenfranchised, denying them access to MLA LAD and DDA development funds. The AAP changed that through the JJ Cluster Act passed in 2015. The strategy has earned the party local supporters in North East Delhi. Lilothia was recently seen undertaking 'padyatras' in the constituency on Sunday to interact with the voters and accused BJP and AAP of ‘betraying the people by not delivering on their promises’. Had AAP’s senior leadership adopted a development-centric campaign, it would have torn apart the Congress’ negative campaign.

AAP's Lok Sabha candidate Gugan Ranga defected from BJP and lent his strategic inputs to AAP in the Bawana bypoll last year. The party’s candidate Ram Chander won the seat by getting 59,886 votes ahead of BJP's Ved Prakash who got 35,834 votes. Congress' Surender Kumar garnered 31,919 votes. It is the 2018 victory that earned Ranga his Lok Sabha ticket. Ranga is a local and has brought in BJP’s strategy into AAP’s game.

However, Gugan was a former MLA from Bawana, only one of the 10 Assembly constituencies from the area. Rajiv Goel, trader from Rohini, says local issues have disappeared from the political narrative of North West Delhi. He added that if BJP wins, the credit will go to Modi's development model and his charisma. “Another reason is that AAP and Congress will eat into each other’s vote share. And BJP can benefit from this,” he said, adding that the sealings have affected traders but the blame game between the Centre and state has confused the trader class and hasn’t really directed the wrath of the voters towards either AAP or BJP-led Centre.

There’s some degree of anger towards the Congress because of the Commonwealth Games displacement and the lack of attention the party has paid towards increasing connectivity. AAP has stepped in and tied up the loose ends. “Dilli ne uthakar bahar phek diya tha humein (Delhi had thrown us out of its borders),” said Rajwati Rana, resident of a privately-constructed resettlement slum colony in Bawana.

She was one of the 1.5 lakh people who, up until the Commonwealth demolition drive, lived in a tight cluster of slums along the marshy fringes of the Yamuna. She was dumped into a shantytown in Bawana, a twenty-minute drive from the northwest borders of Delhi. Back then, kuccha homes would catch fire often and lack of public schools in the area and poor connectivity to Delhi made several children drop out of school. Bawana is comprised of those displaced from pockets in Delhi like Bhatti mines, Sanjay Colony, Haathiwala, Shahdara and Yamuna Pushta. In February, DDA announced that 10,000 flats in Narela and Bawana were put up for sale, as part of its 2019 housing scheme.

Aside from the main roads, inner roads in areas like Ghoga, Tikri Kalan, Baprola still need attention. Another common demand is the lack of DTC buses on the Narela-Bawana route because most colonies are a 15-minute drive away from the rest of Delhi. Phase 4 of the Delhi Metro, the green line from Bahadurgarh to Delhi Gate and Dwarka, will greatly improve connectivity and perhaps ready the area for a real estate boom.

Setting in motion the promises made in Budget 2018, Delhi Jal Board approved a host of water and sewerage projects in outer Delhi and unauthorised colonies, and this included laying internal and peripheral sewer lines linking many areas to the Rohini and Rithala treatment plants. Development of North West Delhi has been a key priority of the Delhi government but whether that will help distract the voters from the fact that this is a national election remains to be seen.

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Updated Date: May 04, 2019 17:46:58 IST