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Ground report: 2020 riots cast long shadow on MCD elections in Northeast Delhi

Though Muslims constitute around 13% of Delhi's population, in Northeast Delhi this figure stands at 29.34%, according to 2011 census data.

At AAP’s campaign booth in Mustafabad. Express

His son killed in the February 2020 Northeast Delhi riots, Nasim Alam left his Karawal Nagar home to move to Ghaziabad’s DLF Rail Vihar in November 2020. On December 4, he intends to pay his old neighbourhood a visit to vote in the elections for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) — the first polls in the capital since the violence.

“My son was the sole breadwinner. One of my children does odd jobs to support the family now. I cannot work owing to poor eyesight. I have to marry off six girls, and I approached many political parties for help, but was turned away,” Alam said.

Though Muslims constitute around 13% of Delhi’s population, in Northeast Delhi this figure stands at 29.34%, according to 2011 census data.

At Mustafabad, an MCD ward reserved for women, all parties have fielded Muslim candidates. Apart from AAP, BJP and Congress, the AIMIM and the CPI(M) are also in the fray.

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At AAP’s campaign booth, the mustard-coloured walls flaunt photos of Aafreen Naaz and Haji Taj Mohammad. Haji, a former Congress councillor, is this time endorsing the candidature of his daughter-in-law from the AAP. Aafreen is pitted against BJP’s Nirmala Sharma and Congress’s Naziya Khatoon from Brijpuri.

Mohammad Irfan, an AAP worker, reiterated his party’s poll promises, “Koode ke pahaad ko nikalenge (We will get rid of the garbage mountains). Tahir Hussain is in jail, so civic issues continued through his term, but we will make sure AAP performs well this time,” he said. Parts of Mustafabad have been merged with Brijpuri this year following the delimitation. Members of AAP claimed the tactic behind clubbing Brijpuri, an area with a sizeable Hindu population, with a predominantly Muslim area could improve BJP’s chances.

Nehru Vihar, the erstwhile ward covering New Mustafabad and Brijpuri, had AAP’s Tahir Hussain as the councillor. Hussain was arrested for allegedly playing a role in the riots, and has been in jail since February 2020.

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Mohd Afroj (34) moved to Loni after his brother-in-law was killed in the riots. His sister and her four children have been living with him ever since. Though they received Rs 10 lakh from the AAP government as compensation, the party’s support wavered later, he said. “I lodged a police complaint, but to no avail. I enquire about the status every now and then, but the police have one answer, ‘Probe is ongoing’. We used to stay near Karawal Nagar. Now I don’t go there unless absolutely necessary,” he said.

Differently abled, Afroj has no steady means of income. Help gushed in after the riots from parties that have little presence in the area. “(CPIM’s) Brinda Karat and Subhasini Ali convened meetings four-five times and have helped to fund the education of my sister’s children. Even AIMIM pitched in,” he said.

Qayamuddin Malik, a BJP member and husband of Mustafabad candidate Shabnam Malik, said their ward lacked dispensaries and schools, and no programme under the MCD has been in effect here under the Congress councillor. “We distributed sanitisers and masks when the Congress came up short during the pandemic. We know 38,000-40,000 of the total voters (55,000). We have actually reached out to most voters. The entire pasmanda community is behind the BJP. Hindus and Muslims want to work together, and we live in harmony,” he said.

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On the riots, Malik said: “Those who want to kill are everywhere. We will make sure this incident never repeats.”

Mohammad Ataif (22), a resident of Mustafabad, said that though Pasmanda Muslims are a majority in the wards, it is “AAP that is capable of making a change”. “Congress is no longer in the picture and since AAP is emerging as a national party, their winning MCD can amount to some change,” Ataif said.

Delhi Congress vice-president Ali Mehdi, meanwhile, asserted that the party is popular in riot-hit areas and will make a comeback in all minority seats in the elections. “Delhi riots happened after speeches by BJP leaders. No FIR has been filed against them. It was the Congress that stepped in. I contested and lost from the constituency in the 2019 Assembly polls, but we went around and exhorted them to maintain communal harmony. Rahul Gandhi and over 20 MPs visited the area. Even the Delhi CM did not even visit once, AAP failed the people and it will be reflected in these elections. Not a single brick has been added to the roads that Congress paved during Sheila Dikshit’s regime,” Mehdi said.

Dismissing BJP’s focus on Pasmanda Muslims, he said, “Muslims are oppressed everywhere across the country. This campaign is to split Muslim votes and create factions. AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi has also jumped in now. Where was he when riots took place or when Markaz (Nizamuddin) was shut or when they accused minorities of spreading Covid? It was always the Congress fighting for the minorities.”

AAP’s Dr Nasreen, contesting from Mustafabad, said she would focus on education if voted to power, “Mustafabad is the most backward ward on several counts. We don’t have good schools, parks, or community halls. If I win, I would want to make sure our children have a good library to prioritise education. The sewers were rarely cleaned during the term of the Congress over the last 10 years. All diseases in Delhi can be traced to the garbage problem… That is the root cause of all issues and we aim to resolve that.”

For many, civic issues trump all else.

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Opposite Hussain’s old house, now deserted, BJP supporter and autorickshaw driver Raj Sharma said AAP could not clean ‘koode ke pahaad’ in seven years but promises to clear it in a year. “Arvind Kejriwal says he gives everything for free. I don’t have the subsidy anymore – I had to pay Rs 580 this month for electricity,” he said.

Mohammad Yameen (60), who owns a blanket shop in New Mustafabad, said: “We have a water pipeline here, but no water. No party has raised this issue. We rely on water tankers and borewells. The corporation vehicle comes to collect waste twice; garbage is strewn everywhere. After Tahir Hussain went to jail, no one has taken on the reins, everything is in shambles.”

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First-time voter Tarun (19) has not made up his mind about who to vote for. As he rides his autorickshaw through brick-paved roads with countless potholes at Karawal Nagar, he said he would not mind having anyone in power. “Roads have been in this condition for as long as I can remember. No matter who wins, my life hangs on this job,” he said.

First published on: 29-11-2022 at 05:30 IST
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