Delhi's new voting pattern: Rich for “nationalism”, poor for bijli-paani-education
It looks like Delhi has a new set of voters and voting patterns where their choices are based on their economic status. Unlike the traditional Communist vote bank, they are committed to free schemes and not ideology. And those from wealthier families, who don't need the benefits of such schemes, are attracted towards the nationalistic electoral plank.
Harewali village is located on the West Delhi-Haryana border. The village is a part of Delhi's Bawana assembly constituency. Villagers here claim that in the 2015 assembly polls, the majority of voters had opted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as their electoral choice. However, in this year's battle, the mood seems to have changed as there is a clear cut division in voting preference and issues.
"In the 2015 election, AAP had brainwashed us," said Pradip Kumar, a Harewali native. "Even though I am an electrician and work in the village itself, I don't want anything for free," he added.
When told that even the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have promised freebies in their manifestos, 69-year-old Om Prakash Lamba blamed the AAP for such politics.
"Even the BJP is falling in the trap of the AAP. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has used freebies as a bait for the elections. The BJP and other parties have no other option but to toe the line," said Lamba, a retired Delhi Transport Corporation employee.
Another Harewali resident and a civic body employee, Praveen Vashisth, argues that Kejriwal and his party should have rolled out subsidies instead of doling out free schemes. "Free schemes would benefit only 20-30 per cent of the population. Why not offer these basic services on subsidy, so people like us could get its benefit as well?" asked Vashisth.
What is common amongst these voters? All of them belong to well-off families and have a rural background, along with a strong social capital.
Even though the voting pattern in villages like Harewali is divided, the voters complain about Kejriwal's free schemes. According to Lamba, since their consumption of water and electricity is high, they don't get the benefit of free schemes.
Interestingly, the issues of nationalism and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) seem appealing to these voters. The youth and the elderly in Harewali applauded the BJP-led central government for abrogating Article 370. They also accuse the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) of "harbouring anti-nationals".
Earlier, villages in Bawana used to sway the voting pattern of the entire constituency. This trend was consistent amongst the constituencies of West Delhi and other parts with influential villages. However, over the years the situation has changed.
Neeraj Kumar Kaushik, an information rights' activist from Harewali, said that now slums and jhuggis are deciding factors in their localities too.
A few kilometres away, in the JJ colony settlement right next to the canal, Kaushik's claims prove right.
"We are hearing about the Shaheen Bagh debate. But for us what matters are our issues. The Arvind Kejriwal government built the road for us... then there was no availability of drinking water here, he brought water to our colony," said a woman named Momeena, who resides in the area.
When you enter the jhuggis located at the end of JJ colony, there seems to be no confusion amongst the voters.
One Mohammad Samsad, without mincing words, said: "Kejriwal ko jeetana hai (we want Kejriwal to get re-elected)." When asked why he was rooting for him, Samsad was quick to respond, saying: "Healthcare and water supply for the poor... we are also getting 200 units of free electricity." These JJ colonies and jhuggis settlements alone have more than 10,000 in the vote bank.
The AAP government in its last lap announced a series of free schemes for Delhi voters -- 200 units of free electricity, waiving off water dues, and free transportation for women.
According to the AAP's estimate, by the time Delhi would go to vote, 70 per cent of consumers in the capital would get no electricity bills as the consumption goes down during the winter.
The party had made its most popular and strongest vote appeal to the masses by offering 200 units of free electricity to voters. And it seems that the vote bank from the lower strata of society is getting swayed by this plank of the AAP.
Importantly, it's not just bijli-paani that seems to be working in favour of the AAP.
"I go to receive my children from school every day and we notice the change which has come in the last five years. Earlier, no one used to pay much attention to our children. Now teachers are focused, the infrastructure has improved," said a woman named Muskan. Her two children study in a government school in the capital.
For her, the CAA and other hyper-nationalistic issues being pitched by the BJP is not impacting her.
Moving on, in Hari Nagar, the contrast between voters from different income strata remains the same.
In Hari Kunj colony, Mohammad Irfan speaks about free schemes doled out by the AAP, and the school infrastructure which has improved in the past few years. Irfan works as a tailor in Hari Kunj colony of the Hari Nagar constituency. These localities have upper class bungalows, and the voters in this area are comparatively well off. Barley a few metres away from the area, Neeraj Arora was listening to our conversation. He told Asiaville: "Muslims don't vote for the BJP anyway. These freebies are not affecting our voting choice as my electricity bill anyway exceeds Rs 7,000-8,000 a month. For us, this election is more about national issues and those who can keep the nation strong."
A shopkeeper who didn't want to be named, said: "We agree with the BJP's narrative that this election is between those who love the nation and those who are standing with Shaheen Bagh. Our vote will be for the nation."
In the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls, the BJP has been pitching that this election is a contest between those standing with the anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh and those who are against it.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief JP Nadda, a band of BJP Ministers, Chief Ministers and MPs have made similar remarks as if they were seeking a referendum on the hyper-nationalistic campaign and the CAA. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had indirectly supported this narrative being peddled by Shah and the BJP during an election rally in Shahdara. The saffron party leaders Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Singh Verma were penalised by the Delhi Election Commission for their inflammatory hate speeches while seeking votes for the BJP. But the party looks prepared to take that risk, probably because it has boosted its campaign in Delhi which looked lacklustre until two weeks ago.
While those belonging to the lower strata of the society are getting swayed by free schemes, the BJP's hyper-nationalistic pitch seems to be appealing to those belonging to comparatively well off families. Arun Arora, the Hari Kunj resident welfare association's president, also agreed with the BJP's campaign. He argued: "The election is on the national issues for us. However, someone like him (pointing at a retired government officer) might think about the free electricity scheme, but we don't get benefits from such schemes." Without naming any party, the group here said: "Rather than sticking to local issues, we are looking at what is best for the nation."
The Congress party is trying to pace up and emerge as a resurgent force in Delhi. However, despite their attempts, the 2020 assembly election on the ground looks like a two-way battle between the AAP and the BJP. The Congress might make or break the game on several seats and spoil the game for candidates from AAP and BJP. In the debate of nationalism and freebies, the grand-old party seems lost or dull this season.
It looks like Delhi has given birth to a new set of voters and voting patterns where choices are also based on the economic status of the voters. However, it looks different from the traditional politics and voting patterns which used to work for or against the Communist parties.
Those getting the benefits of free schemes and belonging to the lower-income groups seem to be forming one chunk, and in contrast, the rich or the well off identify more with the hyper-nationalistic politics.