‘Living conditions have deteriorated since I stayed here’

Speaking to Newsline later, Harsh Vardhan insists that the crowd and the enthusiasm were not 'stage-managed'.

Pritha Chatterjee & Naveed Iqbal follow the BJP leader as he woos voters in the Walled City.

His campaign pamphlets salute him as “not just a doctor”, hail him to be the “Polio unmulan ke janak (Man who eradicated polio)” and “imandar (honest)”. Fighting elections for the first time in Chandni Chowk in his political career, Harsh Vardhan, BJP’s candidate for the constituency and the party’s chief ministerial candidate before the Assembly polls, continues to sell himself as the good doctor with a clean image, in a near-replica of his campaign for the Assembly elections.

Taking on sitting Congress MP Kapil Sibal in a constituency which has a sizeable Muslim population, the start of his campaign was not without surprise. Harsh Vardhan kicked off his campaign by revisiting his childhood home in Turqman Gate after 40 years, “taking the blessings” of its present occupants and repeatedly saying he grew up “in the lap of Muslims”.

Speaking to Newsline later, he insists that the crowd and the enthusiasm were not “stage-managed”. “I am not trying to do anything artificial.

I have always been friends with Muslims, my roommate in college was a Muslim, who is now a surgeon at the Aligarh Muslim University and remains my friend. Most of my childhood friends here were Muslims and even in my Assembly constituency Krishna Nagar, there is a sizeable Muslim population,” Harsh Vardhan says.

His campaign begins at 6-7 am, with walks in parks, followed by roadshows, padyatras and talks targeting different socio-economic groups till 10-11 pm. In his campaigns in Muslim-dominated areas like Chandni Chowk, Ballimaran and Sadar Bazar, he raises what he calls “real issues”.

Interestingly, in these areas, while he makes constant references to the party’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, Harsh Vardhan also speaks about former PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee’s contributions to Muslim welfare. “Everybody knows what Vajpayjee did for Muslims remains unparalleled. He was the most secular leader in the history of this country, you must all know that and I have been following in his footsteps all my life,” Harsh Vardhan says in Wazirpur.

In a JJ colony in the area, he says, “Look at the state of your madarsas, what has the Congress done for Muslims and their education in the last 10 years at the Centre and 15 years in Delhi? The same party having power in the state and Centre is an ideal situation. If they wanted, they could have changed the face of madarsas. Is it enough to just don this self-appointed crown of secularism and do absolutely nothing?” he questions.

At a mahila sabha, walking through the streets of Matia Mahal, Harsh Vardhan says, “I am a doctor, I know the worrying numbers of anaemia among Muslim women, so many of your children are underweight and malnourished… Maternal mortality rate is high and health conditions poor. What has the sitting MP from the area and Congress party done for you?” he says.

In Roshanara Bagh and Rampura Colony, he speaks about the history of the Roshanara Gardens, where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife was buried, and how, despite its history, the gardens had fallen to pieces. At Turqman Gate, he speaks about the lack of infrastructure and sanitation, and how the conditions have deteriorated “since I stayed here”, regaling audiences with tales of wider roads, parks and playing gilli-danda.

The fact that he is challenging Sibal in a constituency that has traditionally voted for the Congress does not faze him. “I grew up in these streets and I have been looking forward to an opportunity to serve my roots,” he says.

Harsh Vardhan also speaks about his plans for modernising the Walled City. “We need to apply modern mind to the development of Chandni Chowk. The Walled City has immense heritage but also significant problems,” he says.

He says the constituency needs a time-bound plan executed with the help of best possible experts and resources.

The constituency has a strong traders’ community, and old markets like Sadar and Chawri Bazaar, where Harsh Vardhan has launched aggressive campaigns. “Traders’ issues need to be addressed urgently as well. In fact, I am going to suggest to Modi to have a separate trade ministry at the Centre. The commerce ministry functions in a very old fashioned way,” he feels.

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