A BJP councillor contesting for yet another term in office, an AAP candidate hoping to present an alternative, a turncoat who left AAP for Congress, and local issues of parking and cleanliness taking centre stage — in many ways, the contest for South Delhi’s Malviya Nagar ward is a microcosm of the battle for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
Much like the BJP’s hold over the MCD from 2007 onwards, BJP councillors have held sway over Malviya Nagar for 15 years. This is also true of the neighbouring municipal wards of Safdarjung Enclave (renamed Green Park in the delimitation this year) and Hauz Khas. The three together comprise the Malviya Nagar assembly constituency which, contrary to its loyalty to the BJP in the MCD, had voted for AAP MLA Somnath Bharti in 2015 and 2020.
The ward is reserved for women this time. The BJP has fielded its outgoing BJP councillor Nandani Sharma (51), a homoeopath. Sharma was also the education standing committee chairperson in the erstwhile South MCD. From AAP is Leena Kumar (48), a Hansraj College graduate and a resident of Malviya Nagar for 27 years. The Congress has fielded a former AAP member, Tabassum Fatima Siddiqui (33), a resident of Hauz Rani and a social worker.
In 2017, Malviya Nagar was a smaller ward with a population of 46,302. With the additional areas this year following delimitation, it has a total population of 62,475, including 5,106 from the Scheduled Caste, according to the 2011 census.
On the ground
Malviya Nagar has a little bit of everything — a busy market, upmarket neighbourhoods like Sarvapriya Vihar, Sarvodaya Enclave, Geetanjali Enclave and Navjivan Vihar, and unauthorised colonies in Hauz Rani and Begumpur. In the run up to the polls on December 4, conversations in the locality also have a smattering of everything — whether it’s a Modi vs Kejriwal battle, what the local issues are, broader problems of rising expenses, if the AAP can wrest control of the MCD, and prominent leaders campaigning for the BJP.
Ramesh Batra (53), general secretary of the market association in Malviya Nagar, has a shop that’s not far from the BJP and AAP election offices in the Malviya Nagar market. For Batra, whose family was allotted a shop in the market after Partition, work on the ground trumps concerns about the party.
“In this election, what matters is that the councillor needs to understand local issues, no matter what the party. Parshad accha hona chahiye, funds lana chahiye, ilaake ko theek karne ki himmat chahiye. The current councillor, who is educated and sensible, has been all of this and was able to work,” he said.
While some issues in the market have been addressed in the past few years, like making it more pedestrian friendly by placing a tiled pathway beside the shops and making the three toilets in the market more usable, concerns like parking remain, leading to congestion on the road that runs through the market, he added.
At the AAP election office in the Malviya Nagar market on Thursday, there was talk about why the BJP is rolling out senior leaders like Union Minister Rajnath Singh and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami for rallies ahead of the polls, and what impact the additional areas in the Malviya Nagar ward can have.
In Begumpur, which has been added to the Malviya Nagar ward in the delimitation exercise this year, Kanchan (42), a housewife, recognises BJP councillor Nandani Sharma’s name as one that was being announced in the locality, but does not yet know who is contesting the election from the ward this time. “There’s Modi and there’s Kejriwal… for those of us who pay rent and live on daily wages, it’s about what we get. Everything is more expensive than it used to be and we still have families to feed. At the same time, there are things like a mohalla clinic nearby, which has been useful in case of illnesses,” said Kanchan, whose husband works as a driver. Her daughters study in a government school nearby.
Begumpur has its own issues, including waterlogging, mosquitoes, irregular cleaning of roads, and clogged drains, said Rameshri (62), another resident of the colony.
Balmiki Camp, a JJ Basti that lies next to the Begumpur park, has also been added to the ward this year. Rajpal (60), a resident of the camp who sells footwear by the streetside, said, “Gareebon ko jo milna hai, woh milta hain… ration, water, electricity. Medicines are free, children are studying for free.”
Another resident makes a mention of BJP’s ‘jahan jhuggi wahan makaan’ campaign, and Rajpal dismisses it as just another promise. His sons have been driving two auto rickshaws from which announcements are made for the BJP’s campaign.
Mohammad Amin, a resident of Balmiki Camp and an emphatic Kejriwal supporter, who has lived in the area since 1993, said, “Free bus rides are being given to women. My (old age) pension comes on time. The government has been working. In the MCD, they (the BJP) didn’t do anything in 15 years.”
Balmiki Camp has a population of 1,875 voters, of which the Scheduled Caste population is 996, going by State Election Commission data.
For Mohammad Afzal (51), another resident of the camp, who drives an autorickshaw, the election this time is also about having the same party in the government and the MCD. “If both are the same, then we don’t have to hear the excuse that the MCD is not under us (the AAP)… maybe it will become easier to demand more from them. We keep hearing that the MCD is under the BJP, the police is under the Centre,” he said.
“It is our majboori that we live here. The colony is not clean, the drains are dirty. Making garbage a key issue in this election was a good idea,” he added.
Among the areas that have been added to the Malviya Nagar ward this year is Sarvodaya Enclave, which was earlier part of Hauz Khas. Kuldeep Singh (58), vice-president of the Sarvodaya Enclave Residents’ Welfare Association, listed issues that were yet to be resolved, including stray dogs and dog bites, encroachment of pavements, and waste disposal since the dhalao is not managed well.
“The gated communities — Sarvapriya Vihar, Geetanjali, Sarvodaya Enclave — are well taken care of in terms of basic infrastructure like water supply, electricity and roads. Garbage is an issue all across with the main election issue being that of the mountains of garbage,” he said.
Singh added: “People have expectations from the unified MCD that problems will be addressed effectively. For the middle class, the AAP is a disappointment… The party made promises in terms of mohalla sabhas and funding, but we have not seen much, even with regard to infrastructure. All of us voted for AAP, we wanted change, but has the city’s infrastructure improved?”
In Hauz Rani, Munna Master (69), a resident who runs a grocery store, said, “Basic things are important here, the drains and streets should be clean. The AAP will take this election.” Hauz Rani was a separate ward in 2012, from where the Congress won.
The 3 candidates
Disappointment with the AAP over not being given a ticket meant that Tabassum is now contesting as a Congress candidate. A few AAP posters, now partly torn out, in Hauz Rani’s narrow lanes still have her picture on them.
Water shortage, waterlogging, overflowing sewers and small, congested homes and lanes are Hauz Rani’s long-pending grievances that have not been addressed, she said.
“I have worked at the ground level here with the AAP, as the mohalla coordinator and with booth management. The AAP’s vichaardhara is not what it used to be,” she added.
As a social worker, she helps out with EWS admissions to schools, she said. About seven years ago, she raised the area’s issues with the AAP and began working with the party.
While Tabassum intended to meet voters around the time of namaz on Friday afternoon in Hauz Rani, AAP’s Leena Kumar also said she met voters who had gathered for namaz.
“The issues are different in different areas. Hauz Rani and Begumpur have problems of roads, lights, drainage, garbage is a problem with no proper management. Malviya Nagar also has issues of parking. In posh areas, they don’t want encroachments on footpaths. People are not satisfied with the BJP. For 15 years, people had no option, but now there’s an option,” Kumar said.
Both Kumar and Tabassum said they were involved in relief activities in Malviya Nagar during the pandemic.
On whether she is worried about the AAP’s presence in Malviya Nagar, outgoing councillor Nandani Sharma brushed the concern aside. “In places like Kalu Sarai, the water is still dirty. The camp (Balmiki Camp) is in bad shape… they get DUSIB funds but they haven’t done anything,” she said.
She also points out that Hauz Rani has voted for the Congress in the past. “There, lights were an issue, so was sanitation,” she added. In five years, work has been done on parks and in the market, besides improving public toilets, Sharma said.