Holding her baby on her hip, Fatima moves slightly to the music blaring from speakers as she looks on to the stage from behind an unfinished brick wall in Shashi Garden in east Delhi. Congress candidate from Patparganj, Billu Bhati, has invited singer Pawan Tyagi to entertain the audience before he takes the stage. In the soaring heat, the music keeps the people in their seats.
As the singer wraps up, Fatima joins the crowd in front of the stage. Daily wagers and domestic workers have lined up to listen to the candidate, contesting an MCD election for the first time.
Another first-time candidate, Yasmin Kidwai, enters an air-conditioned drawing room in Sunder Nagar where six women and two men, including the RWA president, await her. Outside the house, the dhalao or receptacle meant to hold garbage is so clean it blends with background of this grade A colony in south Delhi.
In Shashi Garden, garbage is dumped right around the corner from the stage. As temperature soars to 41 degrees, a worker starts distributing packets of water that people tear open with their teeth. Rekha, a domestic worker, says drinking water is a big problem and they wake up early to stock up on clean water that is available once a day. She also complains about the hike in prices of items that she gets from the ration store. “Rice was Rs 40, now it is sold at Rs 50. Dal was Rs 80 and now it is Rs 100,” she says amid ‘Congress zindabad’ chants from the stage.
In Sunder Nagar, discussing issues over tea and gluten-free cake, one of the attendees tells Kidwai, “The biggest problem is mosquitoes. You need to do something about that.” She tells them that “as per WHO guidelines, fogging cannot be done before June”. Someone suggests that it is stagnant water from the zoo that is responsible for mosquitoes in the area. “The water there needs to be treated,” it is decided.
The next big issue that comes up is of stray dogs. There is no consensus on this. Some in the room are protective of dogs, while others are open to the idea of sterilisation. “This is an issue all over Delhi and needs to be handled sensitively with the cooperation of residents,” Kidwai tells the room.
In Shashi Garden, Bhati takes the mic and reminds residents of the Congress’s service to the nation. “I seek your vote in their name,” he repeats. Wiping sweat from her brow, Fatima looks in the direction of her house and says, “I just hope that nobody bulldozes my home.”