Purvanchali community holds key to AAP's success in Delhi polls, but BJP's latest surge will worry Kejriwal and Co
Even though AAP is popular among the Purvanchali voters, the latest surge of the BJP has had the top leadership worried
Aside from Delhi, the communal hatred perpetuated during the CAA-NRC discourse has been vicious in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as well
The Purvanchali vote, with roots in those states, will not remain immune from it
However, the ones resisting the BJP's ploy still seem to outnumber those falling for it
ost of the Purvanchali voters belong to the working class that has benefitted greatly from Kejriwal's welfare politics
Right after the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, CSDS conducted a survey in Delhi. Of the 56 percent that had voted for the BJP, the survey found, 24 percent preferred AAP for the state elections of 2020. A significant chunk of that would be the Purvanchali vote, which can determine the outcome of around 25 seats in the 70-constituency Assembly.
Until last week, AAP seemed like it would sail past the halfway mark of 35. The party is still comfortably ahead, but the BJP is closing the gap, partly due to communal politics, and partly because of the infusion of cadres on the ground. It has had an impact on the critical Purvanchali voters — residents of Delhi but with roots in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand — that consists of around 25 to 30 percent of Delhi's 1.43 crore voters.
Rajeev Kumar, with his roots in Bihar, said he would have voted for AAP had it not been for Shaheen Bagh. "Arvind Kejriwal has done remarkable work," said the Uber driver belonging to the Laxmi Nagar constituency. "Nobody can deny that. But what is happening at Shaheen Bagh is not right. And only the BJP is opposing that."
For over a month-and-a-half, Muslim women at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh have staged a peaceful sit-in, protesting Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's policies of the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, which, critics say are religiously discriminatory and could spell doom for Indian Muslims. Ahead of the Assembly election, though, the BJP has made the protests its sole campaign pitch. Leaders like Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Yogi Adityanath have incited violence against the protesters, calling them traitors who should be shot dead.
Days after that call, a 17-year old fired shots at protesting students in Jamia Millia Islamia, where one student was injured. Praveen Kumar, an autorickshaw driver from Uttar Pradesh, who will be voting in Delhi's Mustafabad, said the youngster did the right thing. "He was the lone Hindu who went among them and fired shots. Whether CAA or NRC is good or bad, it will affect Hindus and Muslims both," he said, "Why are only Muslims protesting? Hindus need to unite. If AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan can meet Shaheen Bagh protestors, why can't BJP leaders chant the slogans they want to chant?"
Kejriwal has tried to stay away from the debate as much as possible. He knows he cannot win without the ideologically-agnostic Modi voters voting for him. By not being out there during CAA and NRC agitations, he hoped not to make the Modi voter uncomfortable. He has focussed on governance, education, electricity and health. The BJP, on the other hand, by flaring up communal passions, is expecting those who voted for the BJP at the Centre to stay with the party at the state as well.
The communal hatred perpetuated during the CAA-NRC discourse has been vicious in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as well. The Purvanchali vote, with roots in those states, will not remain immune from it.
However, the ones resisting the BJP's ploy still seem to outnumber those falling for it. Most of the Purvanchali voters belong to the working class that has benefitted greatly from Kejriwal's welfare politics.
Coming from Uttar Pradesh, Ashok Mishra, an Uber driver who owns his car, said he might support Modi as prime minister, but the state election should be fought on local issues. "I earn around Rs 20,000 or so a month by driving an Uber," he said, adding that he managed to get the car because of a Central government scheme. "My monthly instalment is Rs 12,000. I have to run a household in the remaining amount. After Kejriwal subsidised electricity and water, I started saving Rs 2,000 per month, which was a huge relief. Delhi mein toh Kejriwal hi chahiye."
"Modi for prime minister and Kejriwal for chief minister" is the narrative largely emerging from the National Capital so far. It comes through more prominently among the Purvanchali voters. Understanding its importance, perhaps, the BJP had appointed Manoj Tiwari as its head in Delhi. But he has had no impact.
Historically, this vote base used to be with the Congress under Shiela Dixit. The Congress had a prominent Purvanchali leader in Mahabal Mishra as well. His son, Vinay, is contesting on an AAP ticket from Dwarka.
In the last two elections, the Purvanchali voters completely shifted towards AAP. When the party won 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi in 2015, 13 of those MLAs were from Purvanchal. That representation has also helped AAP cement its stamp within the community, helping them resist the religious polarisation.
To keep that constituency intact, in September 2019, Kejriwal made further overtures by making special arrangements for Chhat Puja, and increasing the ghats for it. Delhi government schools have also introduced Maithili as an optional language.
Vijay Kumar, associated with the New Ashok Nagar Chhat Puja Seva Samiti in the constituency of Trilokpuri, is an AAP supporter because the party and their current candidate, Rohit Mehraulia, have been warm towards them. "Our organisation focuses on the betterment of ghats where the Chhat Puja happens, we also look after the Kawariyas when they come to Delhi for a week," he said. "We are happy with AAP. They look like they care about us."
In the same constituency, Alka Gupta, a homemaker, and her husband, Badrinath Gupta, an e-rickshaw driver, said they like Modi, but hope Kejriwal would be re-elected. "He has subsidised travel, electricity and made a nice Mohalla clinic," said Alka, "He even developed schools. What would any working class citizen want? Adityanath should focus on getting more jobs in Uttar Pradesh, so that the people over there do not come and live in Delhi."
Even though AAP is popular among the Purvanchali voters, the latest surge of the BJP has had the top leadership worried. The BJP will be hoping the momentum continues until election day — 8 February, while AAP is expecting that momentum to be insufficient to carry the BJP over the line. Regardless of that, the number of BJP voters coming to AAP is definitely not 24 percent anymore.
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