New Delhi: Jafrabad doesn’t challenge the stereotype of a Muslim-dominated ghetto. The gullies leading inwards are cramped and poultry runs awry. Houses sit above sweatshops with Islamic flags jutting out from at least half a dozen of them. The signboards are in English, Hindi and Urdu. Along with a handful of Congress flags, one now sees stickers of Aam Aadmi Party here and there.
The road between Markazi Chowk is the most visited site by MLAs, MPs and also the most political charged one.
"People call this mini Pakistan but it is actually mini Japan. From parts of aeroplanes to safety pins, a plethora of objects are manufactured here,” explained Ovais Sultan Khan, a young human rights activist, formerly with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Jafrabad is one of the biggest wholesale markets in Delhi; it is particularly famous for its jacket and denim products. The area falls in the Seelampur Vidhan Sabha constituency, which is part of the North East Delhi parliamentary constituency. When combined with the Muslim population in Mustafabad (also in North East Delhi), there are nearly 8 lakh Muslims out of the total 22 lakh voters in the Lok Sabha seat. The other Muslim-dominated Vidhan Sabha constituencies in Delhi are Jamia Nagar and Matia Mahal. The two fall in the East Delhi and Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituencies, respectively.
Like all other Muslim neighbourhoods in Delhi, this too was traditionally Congress-leaning. HKL Bhagat was a tall figure in Indian politics and was responsible for the Congress comeback in the 1980 and 1983 elections in Delhi. He was a particularly popular leader among the people of Jafrabad. They fondly remember the contribution of Bhagat and also Sanjay Gandhi for urbanising the former rural area and for constructing roads and laying water pipes.
Describing Bhagat as rajneete ke badshah (king of politics), elderly Congress worker Zakir Hussain says that former chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s decision to contest from here is something the people didn’t expect and feel fortunate that a huge figure like her has chosen the area.
"Those who are drifted towards the Aam Aadmi Party are gradually returning to the Congress so that the national party can put up a fight and defeat the BJP," he shared.
Mohammad Fayeem Khan, who owns a cooler shop on the main Jafrabad road, said that he supports Aam Aadmi Party because of the work done by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, but feels that since Dikshit is no ordinary Congress leader, the older generations will side with her and this split in the vote bank may benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP has fielded its Delhi unit president Manoj Tiwari from North East Delhi. More than five different people in Jafrabad confirmed that Tiwari, a sitting BJP MP from North East Delhi has come here all but once during his tenure.
"The police station in Jafrabad operates out of a rented building. Law and order is a problem here and the MP from the saffron party turns a blind eye towards it," said Mohammad Shakir, who added that Kejriwal has made repeated visits to the area. He added that the Mohalla Clinic on Gali no 30/7 in Jafrabad is quite popular.
The sense among the locals is that Dilip Pandey’s campaign was strong on ground. He has been campaigning and building outreach among locals for two years now. He was earlier a prabhari from the area and has been closely involved in governance. But Dikshit’s last minute entry has created a rift.
"The vote share has a generational divide. The first time voters who come from non-BJP families are fond of the Aam Aadmi Party because Dikshit’s development work is not in their memory. The older generation of voters have old associations with her and still appreciate her development model," explains Ovais Sultan Khan.
Two residents of Jafrabad, Rashid Hussain and Shamsad Ansari said Pandey had not only been campaigning but working for the upliftment of the people by sending girls to schools, undertaking cleaning drives, overseeing Mohalla Clinics, laying sewer lines, and improving the state of arterial roads.
"Ever since Dikshit 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 the Seelampur Vidhan Sabha constituency. Priyanka Gandhi's roadshow on Wednesday (8 May) may have swung more AAP sympathisers towards the Congress.
The reason for the alliance not taking place is believed to be the objection of Congress leader and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Dikshit was more publicly opposed to the alliance, given the history of heated exchanges between her and the AAP leaders who overthrew her government to come to power. But Hooda is also a key financier of Congress politics.
Sources within the Congress suggest that AAP wanted the alliance in three states — Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. In Delhi, AAP wanted to give three seats to the Congress (including New Delhi and Chandni Chowk), in Punjab, AAP would give unconditional support to the Congress, and in Haryana, a seven-three seat share arrangement was being talked about for the Congress and AAP-JJP alliance, respectively. After 28 days of deliberation between party representatives, the alliance didn’t materialise.
By fielding its tallest leader in North East Delhi, the grand old party has shown that it's more interested in saving its own cadre and vote bank than ousting the BJP from the centre. Given the concentration of Muslim votes in the constituency, the decision to field Dikshit is likely to undermine the broader goal of the Congress.
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Updated Date: May 08, 2019 23:50:54 IST