Politics here hinges on what lies six feet under. Issues of water and roads take a back seat to a 36-bigha compound dotted with graves. It is this ‘kabaristan’ that is slowly shaping the poll discourse in Southeast Delhi’s Okhla. For many, the “beautification” of the Batla House graveyard means development. Come February 7, the treatment of the dead could well decide the fate of the living.
Two-time MLA from Okhla, Congress’s Asif Mohammad Khan, is learnt to have spent Rs 2.8 crore on the “beautification” of the graveyard, a Wakf Board property. The project was commissioned in June 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by June this year. However, even as his rivals criticise him, Khan believes the beautification project will help him immensely.
“I won at a time when there was an anti-incumbency wave. People recognise me and my work. In Okhla, Muslims and Hindus are in equal majority. While development is crucial, this is one of the issues that had needed attention for a long time. Here, there is no place to bury the dead and people have to go far to bury their dead,” Khan told Newsline.
Okhla is home to nearly 2,80,000 voters, of whom 60 per cent are Muslims.
Khan, who won on an RJD ticket in 2008, said there were fears that people would encroach on the graveyard. “People were trespassing all the time and it is easy for anyone to misuse this vast expanse of land for illegal activities. So it had to be protected,” Khan said.
Rahim Khan, a mobile shop owner in Batla House, agrees. “There were rumours that a mall would be constructed here. With increased development, people thought of using this land to promote their own interests. We have no place to bury our dead. We have to travel to Pragati Maidan, sometimes even further to reach a burial ground.”
Ajmal Qasmi, another resident, disagreed. “There are not enough schools here. Living conditions need improvement. There is no proper sewage system in place. Construction is not regulated. How can so much money be spent on just a graveyard?” he said.
Khan says a lot of factors deter development here. “The area is unauthorised and it is not easy to provide all facilities without approvals from the Centre. The DJB will not supply water here because the area is not authorised. The area is thickly populated and there is no place to install infrastructure such as power transformers. We have worked to improve the sewage system here. But that does not mean other issues should be ignored,” he said.
However, while Khan believes that beautification of the graveyard will hold him in good stead, his contenders believe a lot of work that should have been done is pending. “People here need facilities which have been missing for years. Some believe Khan was busy furthering the BJP agenda even while he was in the Congress. People don’t trust him any longer,” AAP candidate Amanatullah Khan said.