A garbage collector in the past, Rajesh Kalia is today the Chandigarh Mayor, thanks to a huge chunk of Valmiki voters behind him. It was the Valmiki votes that got Kalia elected as a councillor before BJP fielded him as its official candidate despite his police record. There are around 1.27 lakh Valmiki votes in the city, which will be crucial for the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
Kalia, 46, who has studied till Class XII, used to pick rags at the dumping ground of Dadumajra with his father before he took baby steps into politics in 1984.
“In the last few days, questions have been raised regarding my criminal background… I would like to clarify that those were simple cases of brawl and one of gambling, for which I was fined Rs 50,” Kalia groused soon after his election.
Kalia joined Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1984 and later helped the BJP in the 1996 Municipal Corporation (MC) Chandigarh elections. He contested his first MC polls in 2011 from Dadumajra, but lost to the Congress candidate. In 2016, he was elected as the Councillor from Ward 7. It was Kalia who led the agitation of garbage collectors when the MC decided to take over waste collection from the independent collectors in the city.
A close aide of city BJP chief Sanjay Tandon and former mayor Arun Sood, Kalia’s victory is seen as a boost for Tandon.
“It was all because of the Lok Sabha elections, BJP wanted to woo the Valmiki vote bank,” said a senior BJP leader on the condition of anonymity.
However, MP Kirron Kher said that she didn’t go by any caste or creed as “we are all one.”
“It is an educated city,” Kher said.
Both Kher and Tandon, who are in the race for the Lok Sabha ticket from the city, had come together to support Kalia as the official candidate.
Besides a police record, Kalia had courted controversy when he had a tiff with then medical officer of health P S Bhatti. Kalia had alleged that he was pushed by the official in the latter’s office. Following ruckus in the General House by Kalia citing “insult”, the official was repatriated to his parent cadre.
However, with Kalia’s win, garbage collectors in the city are feeling empowered.
“Someone from our family has won. We have a lot of hopes from him that he will support us. He knows our problem and we are sure he will consider us before taking any decision,” chairman of Chandigarh door-to-door garbage collection society Om Prakash Saini said.
Meanwhile, the MC officials are going to face a tough time as Kalia will not support it in the garbage collection. This might have an impact on the city’s ranking in Swacch Survekshan. In the House meetings, Kalia has always remained at loggerheads with the MC, but now he will be chairing them.
* When the councillors were asked to deposit their mobile phones outside the hall, Congress’s Devinder Singh Babla asked Additional Commissioner Mishra to ask them even to deposit their pens, considering that these could have small cameras
* Residents from the Dalit community of Dadumajra gathered at Kalia’s office and greeted him with garlands amid drum beats