Every morning, Kiran Pal takes Bus No. 769 or 761 near Sanjay Gandhi Hospital at Mangolpuri to Nehru Place, where he works at a mobile repair shop. It is a journey that shows him two vastly different styles of campaigning, one in Outer Delhi with its densely populated colonies and urbanised villages, the other in South Delhi with its hub of offices.
Residential areas of Paschim Vihar and Rohini carry on the tradition of posters, pasted on autos, buses, trains and the walls of Metro stations, and outdoor campaigns are intense as ever. Barely 5 to 10 km away, it is corner meetings that mark the campaign.
“Every morning when I drop my daughter to school, and in the evening when I return , I see nukkad sabhas or colony meetings,” Pal says. “In my colony of Kalan, the Avantika sector, where the vegetable mandi is, is where you see most of these meetings.”
The pattern has repeated itself in the three assembly elections Pal has seen in Delhi since 2008. These meetings are without the flashy posters or seating arrangements of the jana sabhas that TV cameras follow. Sometimes, there are five or six rows of chairs, at other times the candidate just stops in a crowded place, such as the vegetable mandi, and hold a meeting for anyone passing by. As Pal says, if you didn’t stop to listen, you wouldn’t know it was an election meeting.
Last week, Pal went to attend one such meeting in Mangolpuri, of AAP candidate Rakhi Birla, but ended up stopping at a BJP meeting by Surjeet Kumar instead. “If I hadn’t known the candidates, I wouldn’t have known the difference. They all say the same things,” Pal says.
Residents on either side say that Rohini, with its 35 sectors, its large trader population living in group housing societies, and its private hospitals, colleges and schools, is the “border area” between the two campaign styles.
The flashy posters begin from the swankier Rohini sectors. Even in parts of Rohini such as Sectors 1 and 2, which are part of Mangolpuri, one won’t find posters. “Instead,” says Sharmila, a DU student, “volunteers will jump into buses at Mundka or Nangloi and distribute small stickers with their posters, or caps. These days everybody has Anna topis — AAP, BJP, Congress. They always get off before Rohini.”
In the nukkad sabha near the vegetable market, the talk inevitably revolves around the rates of gobhi and palak, and the risks faced by women travelling at night from central or west Delhi. In Mangolpuri, Mundka and Kirari, nearly every meeting starts with a discussion on gambling, a pressing local problem, and its association with high crime and unemployment. AAP’s Kirari candidate, Rituraj Jha, fasted for five days in November against the gambling dens in the bylanes and blamed the BJP’s Anil Jha, the MLA since 2008. “The issue has not been addressed in any campaign,” Jha says. “When I fasted, the dens were closed for five days, but now they are flourishing again.”
In Sultanpur Majra, sitting Congress MLA Jai Kishen too has been talking about it. “Over the years, gambling has become a problem.
Look at the high rate of unemployment. What is the point of improving connectivity and building schools and colleges if this goes on?” he says.
Women’s safety had never been such a key issue before, people here say, even in the 2013 elections. “Women volunteers hop into buses and describe how it is such a problem for us to travel. A group of AAP volunteers launched into a flash dance at Karala,” says Tara, who works with an NGO at Karala in Mundka.
The AAP candidates for Mangolpuri, Kirari and Mundka have taken out bike rallies to “introduce themselves to candidates”, a strategy not seen in other constituencies. The AAP’s Kirari candidate, Rituraj Jha, also held a jeep rally. “It was just a way to introduce myself so people could identify me with AAP,” he says.
Rakhi Birla, who won in 2013 from Mangolpuri, says, “Young people identify with bike rallies. The crowd moves along with you, the energy is different.”
At Saiyyad village in Nangloi Jat, the campaign plays out in teashops in the mornings and evenings. Manoj Shokeen, BJP candidate, meets senior citizens, as do volunteers for AAP candidate Raghvendra Shaukeen. “Meeting village elders helps, for they pass on the message. And a meeting over a cup of tea helps, for people are relaxed, and it is more personal,” Shokeen says.
“They are stationed in tea shops, local boys who you would not think are party workers,” says Mahaveer Singh, 62. “Last week BJP volunteers made us drink a second cup of tea, after we had had tea with AAP people, and we told them the same thing, get the drain cleaned first and only then will we discuss votes. But who listens?”