Vinod Kumar, a resident of the Aali village in Okhla constituency, observes with a tinge of philosophy: “ Dilli abhi dur hai ” [Delhi is far away].”
The Assembly polls might be less than a week away, but in Mr. Kumar’s constituency, to which belongs Delhi’s most discussed spots — Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia — a week might seem like a long time, where the election fortunes could swing and sway every day. On the apparent, AAP seems the local flavour, with BJP’s polarisation politics drawing a lot of stick, but a late twist can’t be ruled out.
Dominated by the Muslim community in localities such as Zakir Nagar, Batla House, Guffar Manzil, Jasola, Shaheen Bagh and others, the Okhla constituency has returned a candidate from the same community in every Assembly election since it’s inception in 1993. So do they hope this time, as Amanatullah Khan, Minister in the Delhi government, is bracing to defend his turf.
The Congress has put up ex-MLA from the area, Parvez Hashmi, forgoing Arif Mohomad Khan, who managed to win the seat in the 2013 Assembly election. An agitated Arif had even filed his nomination but later withdrew his candidature. The BJP has furnished a ticket to local leader Bhram Singh, who Amanatullah had beaten by over 60,000 votes in the previous polls.
Groundswell of support
AAP has groundswell of support from all quarters. “My vote is going to the Aam Aadmi Party, there’s no question,” said Israr Ahmed Kahn (48), a shopkeeper in the narrow lanes of Zakir Nagar. “Look at the work they’ve done for schools, health, water, electricity. They’ve done work. All this talk focus on the protest has no bearing on the elections,” he observed.
Farhan Khan, an IT employee, said he would support the party which “asked for votes on the basis of their work.” He listed out the strides AAP made in sectors such as electricity, education and health.
Danish Mirza, who works in a multinational company said he didn’t get an electricity bill for three months, apart from which “They don’t talk about Hindu and Muslim, they don’t talk about Pakistan,” he said. But he added: “Voting for the Congress would be a waste of time too.”
“If Arif Mohammad [Congress leader denied ticket] was standing then there might have been something to think about but now it’s clear,” he said.
For others such as Sajid Khan, voting for AAP was not a matter of rewarding good work but an ideological stance. “I still get a very high electricity bill. Most of their claims are untrue,” he said. “But looking at the situation today, I don’t care for AAP but we need to defeat the BJP,” he said.
The BJP’s campaign has found several detractors from here and elsewhere. “All the issues being created are misdirection so that no real questions are asked,” said Sajad Ahmed Khan, a businessman.
Commenting on an increasingly polarised environment being created, he argued: “None of our basics is being taken care of, like unemployment, education, cleanliness. How does it matter then if we are killed in riots? We are dying slowly anyway.”
Distraught by the BJP and sections of the media, Yusuf Khan, a shopkeeper in Jasola, says: “What is this kind of dialogue being used? These people are attacking our demonstrations because they’re failing to do anything right. They’ve brought this country down to the knees.” For him, the upcoming elections are not about local issues but issues that are “troubling the country at large”.
“This is the first time I’m seeing this type of an election,” said Vinod Kumar from Aali village. “No real issues are being talked about, the media is sold out, it’s all about scaring people and polarising communities,” he added.
While Mr. Kumar says he doesn’t need “freebies” offered by the AAP government, he will vote for them. “But the way the campaign is going, you don’t know which way this will go,” he said.
Yashpal Singh, a Congress supporter from the same village concurs: “The BJP has nothing to show, so they run this narrative of Hindu-Muslim. Why aren’t they removing them [the protesters at Shaheen Bagh] if it’s such a problem?” he said, arguing that it was an attempt to keep tensions simmering.
In Sarita Vihar, which has a large number of dairies and is dominated by Gujjar and Jaat communities, every person The Hindu spoke to said they supported the BJP. However, among the BJP supporters too, many said that the protests were being “allowed” to go on in order to reap electoral benefits.
“As long as the issue is kept hot, it will benefit the BJP,” said Yashpal Singh, an electrician. He also said that he was “secular” even though he voted for the BJP. “But if they [protesters] weren’t willing to move back even a little then why should we? I feel like as a Hindu I should vote for my party,” he said.
“When the elections began, it was certain that AAP would win, but now, looking at the things coming out of these protests, talks of cutting up Assam, my thoughts have also changed,” he added.
Others such as Manish Kumar (34) argued against various free schemes offered by AAP, and reckoned that some of it would negatively impact the economy. “Where is the money for this going to come from?” he argued. “The focus should be on jobs,” he asserted.
Declaring her support for the BJP, Anju Agarwal said that the party was doing a good job at the centre. “AAP has done nothing in the last five years. And six months before elections they started declaring all sorts of schemes,” she said, dismissing claims of improvement in school education and mohalla clinics, made by the party. Others such as Ram Kumar (43) a labourer from Madanpur Khadar, and Bhola (25), a street vendor, said they would vote for the BJP, because of Prime Minister Modi. “I don’t even know the MLA of the area but my vote will go to Modi,” said Kumar.
Upto 3,35,077 are listed in the electoral rolls for the Okhla constituency. With shootings having taken place twice in three days at different protest sites in the constituency and fears of violent outbreak looming, the polls could turn out to be an unpredictable affair. As Vinod Kumar said philosophically, Delhi is still far away, even though the polls are less than a week away.