In Delhi's unauthorised colonies, bijli-paani trump over Amit Shah's war cry against Shaheen Bagh
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) high voltage campaign against Shaheen Bagh fails to influence voters in Delhi's unauthorised colonies. For them, the electoral debate is dominated by core issues such as Bijli-paani, basic infrastructure, and regularisation of the colonies.
Delhi's traffic snarls die down as you enter Burari village in North Delhi. Even though the native residents have tried to maintain a semblance of village culture, the fast-growing and expanding Delhi has transformed this colony, like several other villages in Delhi. It has pucca roads, markets, and shops. You even stumble upon one or two luxury cars. North Delhi's Burari assembly constituency has been named after this village. However, this urbanisation of villages in the Burari constituency has also categorised them under unauthorised colonies.
The demand for the regularisation of unauthorised colonies has dominated almost every assembly election in Delhi until 2020. This election is no different. However, when you enter such colonies, the electoral debate is dominated by the issue of bijli-paani and freebees being doled out by the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party government.
At the Burari village chaupal, a group of men with different political affiliations hold regular evening conversations, including discussions on the upcoming Delhi assembly polls.
During one such discussion, Ramesh Tyagi, in his late 40s, told Asiaville that the majority of voters living in these colonies belong to the lower strata of society, and play a deciding factor in the electoral game.
"Kejriwal has swayed the elections with the bijli-paani issue. People from the lower strata of the society form the major vote bank in unauthorised colonies and for them these issues matter," he said.
Interestingly, the men sitting here were a classic example of political dichotomy. Many of them were Congress party supporters. Some of these supporters don't like Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and yet are fond of the local AAP MLA due to "his work and track record". But all of them are fans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Even though I am a Congress party worker, I support Modiji. He is leading the country with reforms and developmental politics," said retired government teacher Hari Raj Tyagi.
However, he added that the local MLA's track record has been good.
Moving on, 70-year-old farmer Parmanand Tyagi is an extremely "disappointed Congress worker". For him also, the deciding factor is the development work carried out by the local MLA.
Importantly, when asked whether the Bharatiya Janata Party's high voltage campaign against Shaheen Bagh -- the center of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests -- was an electoral issue in these parts of Delhi, a man named Ramesh Tyagi quickly replied: "We don't have anything to do with Hindu-Muslim debate or for that matter Pakistan".
Delhi's unauthorised colonies have three sets of voters -- the native landlords, the Puravanchali and migrant voters who have built their own houses in these colonies, and the working class. The Purvanchali and migrant voters who have built houses in such colonies have been waiting for the regularisation process to be carried out.
It would give them title ownership of the land and their houses, making it easier for them to get bank loans, and most importantly, their colonies will see the face of developmental work by the government.
Even basic infrastructure like roads, water supply, and community halls have remained erratic in the unauthorised colonies of Delhi.
In the past five years, the Kejriwal government first subsidised 200 units of electricity, provided 20,000 litres free water, and many of the AAP MLAs focused on changing the face of unauthorised colonies in their constituencies by pushing for the construction of roads and other basic amenities. In the battle for 2020, these factors are trumping the BJP's hyper-nationalistic campaign and attack on Shaheen Bagh.
Former BJP chief Amit Shah, in his rallies, has been constantly pitching for the CAA and Shaheen Bagh protests as the party's key electoral issue in this season.
Even though he has succeeded in transforming the BJP's campaign from lacklustre to a high-voltage attack on the Opposition parties, it is yet to sway the voters in unauthorised colonies. Though a section of voters in these colonies agree with Shah on the Shaheen Bagh issue, local issues continue to dominate the electoral narrative.
A few kilometres from here in the colonies of Nathupura, residents -- most of whom have migrated from other states -- say that the BJP's war cry against Shaheen Bagh is not going to influence their voting pattern. For them, the basic issue of infrastructure and bijli-paani matters more. "Five years back, we were facing a whole bunch of issues – electricity supply was erratic, there was no proper water supply, sewage was a problem. There were no roads," said Yogendra Pal, who has been living in the area for the past 22 years.
"Now the situation has changed. We are availing the electricity and water schemes, our colonies have witnessed the construction of roads and sewage lines. The face of schools has been changed," he added.
Many of them have a stance against the Shaheen Bagh protests, but it is not strong enough to become the key issue influencing their voting choice.
Another resident, Tika Ram, who relocated to the colony eight years back, said: "Bijli-paani and roads are the most important issue for us in this election."
He also maintained that in the past five years their colony has seen a series of developmental work. Importantly, to them, the regularisation of the unauthorised colonies remains a matter of concern.
Both the BJP and AAP have been trying to take credit for processing the regularisation of unauthorised colonies. The BJP has been claiming that PM Modi has given "samaan (dignity)" to those owning houses in nearly 1,400 unauthorised colonies of Delhi by initiating the process of handing out ownership documents to such residents through the Delhi Development Authority.
However, such claims have failed to build confidence in the voters.
"We don't trust the government's promise on regularisation of the unauthorised colonies. The parties have played politics on this issue," said Ram.
Neelam Devi, who runs a shop in Nathurpura, explained the difficulties faced by house owners in such colonies. She said: "Even though we have our own house, we can't take loans against them as we don't have proper title holding."
"I don't trust the parties claiming that the process of regularisation has begun," she added, with a smile on her face.
Even though she has strong disagreements with the Shaheen Bagh protests, the electoral issue for her is "bijli-paani".
BJP leader Kapil Mishra earlier pitched that this Delhi assembly election is a "contest between India and Pakistan".
The former AAP MLA is now contesting on the BJP ticket, but not from the Karawal Nagar assembly seat from where he was elected in 2015. The residents in his erstwhile constituency accuse him of not carrying out any development work.
A large chunk of colonies in Karawal Nagar assembly fall under the unauthorised category. Irrespective of what Mishra thinks, the voters here say the basic issues such as electricity and water matter to them more.
Rajiv Kumar Pal, a gas vendor and resident of Karawal Nagar assembly, said: "We don't have drinking water supply in our areas. The state of sewage lines and roads are worse here. For us, these are deciding factors for the election."
The assembly seat shares its border with Uttar Pradesh and is dominated by Purvanchali voters and those who migrated from different parts of Uttar Pradesh.
When you visit these areas of Delhi -- infamously known as jamuna paar (on the other side of Yamuna) -- you encounter a completely different city, neglected by political establishments and still waiting to see the face of basic infrastructure.
Suresh Prasad, a fruit seller who hails from Bihar, says that for him the electoral issue is the state of roads. "Every party has ignored the basic requirement of our localities," said Prasad, a voter from Mishra's erstwhile constituency.
Mustafadbad is the adjoining assembly seat and is represented by the BJP's Jagdish Pradhan. It also has a number of unauthorised colonies. Irrespective of Amit Shah's high voltage campaign against anti-CAA protests in Delhi, "the current" of his campaign fails to reach these colonies. The residents talk more about the local issues and lack of basic infrastructure.
"In the last five years, we have been requesting the local MLA (Pradhan) for construction of the broken roads. But he paid no attention," said Satish Parihar, who runs a shop in the area.
"Will customers come to us when sewage water and sludge from the broken roads enter our shops? Lack of basic infrastructure is impacting our businesses," he added, pointing at the sludgy road right in front of his shop.
When asked about the BJP's hyper-nationalistic campaign, he didn't budge and kept talking about the local issues.
Poonam -- a Master of Arts student residing in the Mustafabad assembly -- pointed out that while the schools under the Kejriwal government have seen positive changes, the water supply is erratic in their areas.
Without taking the local BJP candidate's name, she targeted him for the state of roads and lack of infrastructure.
Shopkeeper Parihar dubbed the BJP's claims of regularisation of unauthorised colonies an electoral "jumla".
While Shah and the BJP might be trying to turn the electoral tables in Delhi upside down, the party's "current" is not reaching the voters of unauthorised colonies.
The voters of these colonies seem to be more focused on their local issues and take the politics on regularisation of unauthorised colonies as a "political stunt".