Seventy years have passed since India gained Independence, yet the other side of Yamuna is still the lesser side of Yamuna. Local Dilliwalas refer to the area as the 'Jamna Paar' signifying the social and economic otherness of it with respect to the rest of the national capital.
Electorally speaking, the Lok Sabha constituency of North East Delhi is the epicentre of the Lok Sabha poll fight in Delhi. Congress has fielded former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit while BJP Delhi chief and Bhojpuri singer Manoj Tiwari is contesting against her. From the Aam Aadmi Party, the candidate is relatively ordinary: the 38-year-old software engineer-turned politician Dilip Pandey. All three candidates are upper caste Purvanchalis in the constituency which has the highest concentration (close to 45 percent) of Purvanchalis.
Firstpost trailed Pandey's electoral campaign to gauge the level of preparedness. Standing around a noisy crowd of volunteers (most of them wearing Gandhi topis stamped with Aam Aadmi’s party’s statehood appeal), he said he is a ‘nobody’ in comparison with 81-year-old Dikshit who has served as Delhi's chief minister thrice.
Dikshit’s decision to contest has breathed new life into the dying cadre of the Delhi Congress unit, which senior leaders like Ajay Maken and PC Chacko were failing to conserve, let alone develop. In fact, the two were ready to succumb to AAP’s alliance, which would have marked the end of the road for the grand old party in Delhi politics. The first denial on record for the alliance was Dikshit’s. But her candidature wasn’t expected till it was announced (two weeks ago) and the Congress didn’t nurture new leaders in the capital. Now, on the strength of the development work done during her three terms, a tall figure like Dikshit is hoping to garner votes.
Meanwhile, both Tiwari and Pandey have been running active campaigns in the constituency. While Tiwari is a sitting MP from North East Delhi and a national-level campaigner for the saffron party, Pandey’s strategy has been to mobilise foot soldiers at the ward-level.
Ever since the birth of AAP, the Congress has come in third in each and every election in the national capital. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Tiwari got nearly 45 percent of the votes followed by AAP's 34 percent and Congress' 16 percent.
"The fight from North East Delhi is between the BJP and AAP," Pandey told Firstpost as he walked back from a road show towards a ramshackle office in Yamuna Vihar.
Parked outside the office was an entourage of e-rickshaws covered with hoardings for AAP. At the office, over 50 AAP workers were rubbing elbows; a local chaiwala contributes several packets of chai for volunteers every day while a local tent house is supplying mattresses and chairs.
“I live here, amidst the people, and want to win this election solely on the strength of my ideas for policy and reform,” said Pandey, who quit his job in Hong Kong to join the Anna Hazare-led protest.
When asked about his preparations given that he is facing heavyweights like Tiwari and Dikshit, Pandey replied that the people of North East Delhi have elected tall figures from the area — be it Congress' JP Agrawal who was three-time MP and member of the Rajya Sabha or BJP’s celebrity MP Manoj Tiwari, but none have been able to bring North East Delhi at par with the rest of the national capital.
"Only somebody who lives in North East Delhi will understand what it feels like to get stuck in traffic congestion of Sonia Vihar, Wazirabad Bridge, Seelampur Square," stated Pandey.
AAP has completed the construction of the Signature Bridge, which connects the Outer Ring Road on the western bank with the Wazirabad Road on the eastern side of the Yamuna. Its construction began in 2010 but was delayed by five years. The AAP is bringing this up repeatedly in its North East Delhi campaign.
The East-West corridor connects developing areas like Yamuna Vihar and Nand Nagri to the capital and smoothens the movement of inter-state traffic from Ghaziabad, Shahibabad and Loni on the east of the capital to Azadpur, Burari, Mukherjee Nagar, Mall Road on the West.
“Every day, I throw an open challenge to Manoj Tiwari on social media, to come and debate policy issues with me. Why doesn’t he accept it?” asks Pandey.
The AAP candidate from North East Delhi says that Tiwari is merely camouflaging himself in Modi’s shadow and hoping to win, when what the area needs is an MP who can work in sync with MLAs and execute development projects.
Under the 'Sampark for Samarthan' campaign, senior BJP leaders, including Tiwari and booth-level office-bearers, went door to door and talked about the Modi government's achievements during the Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections in 2017. After that, keeping the Purvanchali vote in mind, Pandey has been running the campaign on the Uttar Bhartiya Swabhiman Yatra to instil pride among the community.
Speaking to Firstpost, Pandey alleged that booth, Assembly and district level volunteers of the BJP are disgruntled with Tiwari’s star power and the arrogance that ensues from it, and have not only shared data with Pandey but also helped him conduct meetings with stakeholders in the area.
But, it is undeniable that Tiwari’s Bhojpuri stardom establishes a direct connect with the diaspora. To counter this, AAP centered its campaign on undertaking, and advertising, developmental works in unauthorised colonies where most of the Purvanchali migrant population lives.
Before the 2008 polls, then Delhi chief minister Dikshit handed out provisional regularisation certificates to 1,218 colonies and subsequently, listed 895 colonies as 'eligible for regularisation'. The Congress and BJP have had a long history of sparring over the issue that keeps the vote bank alive, merely on the hope that the homes where the migrant workers are living will become their own one day. Two months ago, ahead of the elections, the BJP-led Centre approved a proposal to constitute a committee to recommend a process for giving ownership or transfer rights to the residents of unauthorised colonies in the national capital. The AAP’s strategy for the migrant population can be seen in the frequent media broadcasts of Arvind Kejriwal inaugurating roads, laying sewer, storm-water drains, and water pipelines in unauthorised colonies.
Connectivity and drainage aren’t the only problems plaguing the region, though. There's also rampant drug addiction, which, none of the three parties in the fray are talking about while campaigning in North East Delhi.
In 2017, AAP formed a first-of-its-kind inter-sectoral committee to address the problem that has wrecked several slum clusters in North East Delhi’s Seelampur, Seema Puri and Burari. This is a law and order issue and MPs needs to work in coordination with MLAs and the police. Pandey's campaign could have raised this issue within the context of statehood, given that the party has worked behind the scenes to develop solutions.
While the AAP candidate feels his clear focus on decentralised governance is his strength, he is faced with two challenges. The first being that this is a national election and voters will either vote for Modi's vikas or the best tactical vote against Modi and the Congress is still the biggest rival to BJP on the national front. Second, the AAP’s campaign is centered on the demand for statehood that requires over-arching constitutional interventions, the viability and possibility of which is still hugely uncertain.
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Updated Date: May 06, 2019 20:49:21 IST