It’s the unquestionable smell of spices churning in the slow-cooked biryani that first greets your nose in the narrow and rough alleys of Quresh Nagar in old Delhi on a lazy Sunday morning. That and the hurried activity at the many meat shops and the constant bumper-to-bumper traffic of battery e-rickshaws and cars define the charm of Quresh Nagar ward which is set to witness an interesting battle in the MCD elections later this month.
As per the notification issued by the state election commission in 2012, out of the 272 wards, 136 MCD wards have been reserved for women. Quresh Nagar is one such women-reserved ward but more than party politics and rivalry, it is the historical baggage and command of the Ismail family that has loomed over every MCD election in this area for decades. It is this magnetic pull that eventually forced the BJP to disown its initial policy of not giving tickets to kin of sitting councillors.
Here, in this area, it’s the name of former councillor Imran Ismail that’s talked about more than current candidate and his sister Rubina Begum or sitting councillor and his mother Hoor Bano. In posters, campaign material and even on the nameplate inside the local BJP office, this is evident. It is this family dynasty and the claims of its professed tutelage that keeps the BJP hopes up in this ward.
So can a non-Ismail family member win from this ward?
Imran Ismail shrugs. “Our father won the elections and was in power from 1983 to 1990. The party could not win another election till 2007. Despite the party’s multiple experiments in between, they could not secure this seat,” said 49-year-old Imran. “The party put their faith in us in 2007 again and we won. My mother too came to power in 2012,” he added effectively indicating that it’s their turf.
When asked about the party’s deviation, Imran Ismail said, “Dekhiye, kuch apvaad hoti hain seats. Unhi apvaadon mein se yeh hai. (There are some exceptions everywhere. This is one such exception.)”
Locals too believe the Ismail family will manage another win from this ward. “We will vote for them (Ismails) because of their work. The Kejriwal-government has to be blamed for not letting the MCD work. If they don’t release funds, how will the workers get salaries? Everybody needs money,” said Md Rashid, a local shopkeeper. “Modi-wave will help in securing win for all three MCD departments,” he added.
And yet there are those who question Rubina’s candidature on grounds of her being a proxy candidate for her brother Imran who is more assertive and vocal about issues. The tone and tenor of their separate interviews to indianexpress.com reflected the same.
From the Aam Aadmi Party to the recent Uttar Pradesh election’s influence on the MCD polls, Imran’s answers were elaborate and in sync with the rhetoric of the BJP.
“Inhone (AAP) kahaa tha Delhi ko modernise karenge, Shanghai banayenge. Mujhe toh nahi lagta Shanghai haan modern kabristan and modern shamshanghat zaroor banadenge. Jab aadmi hi nai rahenge toh kya shanghai banayenge. (AAP had said they’d modernise Delhi and make it like Shanghai. I think instead of Shanghai they might just turn it into graveyard. They won’t be able to turn the city into Shanghai unless people stay here),” he said while sitting in the party office in Quresh Nagar. When questioned if they consider AAP as a strong competitor in the elections, Imran said, “Before Punjab and Goa assembly elections, we thought we had competition. Now, it’s all very clear. They will be wiped out.”
While Imran spoke confidently of the party’s achievements pan-India and listed the work done by them in the ward, Rubina, on the other hand, had to be prodded often by her husband who sat alongside her. When asked about the issues concerning the people of the ward, she said there were no problems. “Agar koi pareshaani aayegi toh main kaam karungi (If any problems come up, I will work for the people),” was her standard response. She was also asked to share the problems faced by the women of the area. The answer was prompted by her husband.
“Shiksha” he said and Rubina added after a pause, “Shiksha ki bohot zyada pareshaani hai. Kuch aur cheezein bhi hai. Jaise shaadi-byaah ki bhi hai (There are lot of issues with regard to education Other problems like marriage and all are also there).” With the lotus symbol pinned to his kurta, Rubina’s husband sat during the entire interview, prompting words to her whenever she failed to answer the questions.
Rubina, a 12th pass, claimed she has worked for her people through Md Ismail Welfare Society, a family trust. Her responsibilities included working for distribution of books and clothes among the needy and their marriage. When questioned on BJP’s stand on Uniform Civil Code and triple talaq, she was silent for a moment. “Yeh aalimon ka maamla hai, main kuch nai keh sakti (Religious leaders can talk on this matter. I can’t comment anything on this.)” she added after her husband’s cue.
Rubina’s candidature points towards a common occurrence in Indian system — women in politics being accompanied by shadow male leaders, who are most often related to them. The practice has become so internalised that many are unable to see the underlying problem. Ahmed Din, a 60-year-old businessman residing in the area, confirmed the same. “Imran hi kaam dekhega Rubina ke jeetne ke baad. Yeh ladies hain, housewife hain, kya kaam karengi (Imran will look after the work once Rubina wins. She’s a woman, a housewife. What work can she do?)” he told indianexpress.com
The assumption probably stems from Rubina’s lack of political knowledge. During her interview, Rubina was quick to critique Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. “Sirf baatein hi baatein karte, sirf vaade hi vaade karte hain (He just makes tall claims),” she said after her husband said the same. However, when asked to react on AAP’s claims of reducing electricity and water bills, she took a six-second pause to smile, look towards her husband and then said, “Kya boloon main iss baare mein? (What should I say on this?)” On the reasons that led to the defeat of the BJP in the 2015 Assembly elections, Rubina was again clueless. A long pause and an awkward smile later, she said, “Nahi pata iss baare mein mujhe (I don’t know about this)”
Rubina’s claims of ‘koi samasya nahi hai’ also rang hollow with some locals.
36-year-old Nazrana Begum said that she wanted to vote for someone who would work for the ward. “There is a nala near my house which is broken since months. Nobody came to fix it despite repeated requests. Demonetisation affected my husband’s business drastically. So I will not vote for BJP,” she said. When asked about her alternate choice, she wondered out loud saying, “Sab hi toh aise hain. Koi kaam nahi karta. I am so fed-up that I am considering voting for no one this time,” she said before stomping away.
Whether the Ismail family’s connect with voters in Quresh Nagar would work will only be answered on April 25, the counting day. But it is clear that Rubina has a long path ahead to imbibe political acumen. In the interview, during an answer she said she believed in ‘hamara saath, ‘hamara vikas’ before her husband corrected her to say the actual BJP slogan – ‘sabka saath, ‘sabka vikas’.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines