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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The night before Voting Day

Restrained by the code of conduct,campaigning falls silent,but only until nightfall. Political parties often do the rounds of jhuggi-jhopdis,alcohol and cash in hand. Aniruddha Ghosal,Siddhartha Gupta and Dipankar Ghose find out what went on in three slum clusters.

Published: December 5, 2013 2:35:40 am

Shashi Garden Slum Cluster (East Delhi)

“Asli game toh ab shuru hoga (The real game begins now),” says a Congress party worker,his face lighting up. It is 1.30 am,but he looks like he is just getting started. The lanes in the slums of Shashi Garden are filled with whispers,as three different groups — BJP,Congress and AAP — do the rounds of the slum,each keeping a check on the activities of the other two.

A young man on the road outside the slum,visibly drunk,can be heard screaming angrily: “These men haven’t given us enough alcohol today. How dare they ask for votes?”

The few policemen,from Uttar Pradesh,smile and move on. Surprisingly,there are no local policemen around. “How on earth are they expected to know who the local bad guy is? I can see him roaming about freely in front of them,” a resident says. Another resident reveals that money and alcohol were being distributed in the colony over the past 15 days.

Even at 2 am,women can be seen outside their homes,sitting comfortably and chatting. “We are hopeful some more cash will come in tonight,” says one of them as others nod in agreement. Here,the night has only begun.

Race Course Rd Jhuggi Jhopdis (New Delhi)

There is a joke,a bit colourful one,that does the rounds of the slum cluster near the Prime Minister’s residence — 7,Race Course Road.

“For four years and 11 months,we are the invisible people. Then for one month,we are talked about. And for one day,politicians serve us…. both alcohol and money,” goes the cynical take on democracy in these parts.

This year though,something has changed. The nights of November-December have been sober.

It’s 12.30 am and three groups of men roam the tiny lanes.

“We are keeping an eye on the other two parties. This slum cluster is very important for us. If we see

that liquor is being distributed,we will call the authorities immediately,” Jai Veer Singh,an AAP volunteer,says.

Nand Sing,a rickshaw puller who lives in one of the slums,expected this,but the behaviour of the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party teams,is what surprises him.

“They would normally compete on how much they would distribute. This year,they are only keeping an eye on each other. People have drunk some,but it has not been distributed openly,” he said.

Priyanka Camp,Sarita Vihar (Southeast Delhi)

“Election hai,daaru toh hoga hi,” says V K Singh,who lives in the Priyanka Camp JJ clusters near Sarita Vihar. Singh is originally from Gorakhpur and the acrid smell of ‘desi daaru’ clings to him as he cheerfully declares,“Iska matlab ye nahi ki pilane wale ko vote daalenge”.

Singh,like many others in Priyanka Camp and the adjacent Aali Village,is a worker in Okhla Industrial Estate. Usually,elections mean little to him. As far as he is concerned,voting doesn’t imply that things will change — the sewers will continue to overflow,the roads will still crumble and the unending cycle of poverty will not end.

But this time things are different. “Before elections,politicians turn up with their promises and then their lackeys,with the booze. We drink,we vote. But this time I know who I want to vote for,” he says.

Here the distribution of alcohol has been synchronised by party workers and residents. Vehicles — in this case,two SUVs — come into the colony and park at a clearing. A makeshift table is set up and country liquor — smuggled from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh — is distributed.

By 2 am,the liquor has arrived and been consumed. Talk of politics rarely interrupts the merriment.

“It’s only a day before the elections that we are remembered

and even sought out. We will drink now. Tomorrow we vote and after that we will go back to being invisible,” Shyam Mondol,a resident of Aali Village,says.

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