Arvind Jha, 43, was in his teens when he migrated to Delhi from Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Thirty years after starting out as a daily wage earner, he now owns a teashop at Sukhi Nagar in the northwestern constituency of Kirari, one of 25 to 30 where settlers from the Purvanchal belt of Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand form potentially decisive segments of the electorate.
“Pata hi nahin chala hum kab Dilli wale ban gaye,” Jha smiles as he serves glasses of adrak namak chai.
Jha, who initially lived in a slum off the national highway at Vishwas Nagar in East Delhi, moved to Kirari after the Commonwealth Games. Once limited to the east and the northeast, Delhi’s 40 lakh-odd Purvanchalis now are spread out in those regions as well as the north and the northwest. As such, they are a constituency to woo.
“When politicians come here during Chhat Puja, they drop their Haryanvi accent, and speak to us with a Maithili tone,” laughs Kamala Devi, who works as a domestic help.
They were traditionally behind the Congress, switched to the AAP in 2013, and then went with the Narendra Modi wave in 2014, giving the BJP leads in most of these segments. For the rest of that year, the BJP made efforts to tap them. It held a Purvanchal Sammelan where Nitin Gadkari criticised Congress state governments for “blaming migrants for crime rates, and ignoring your role in Delhi’s growth”. He called for a public holiday on Chhat Puja in Delhi, and when LG Najeeb Jung did declare one, the BJP claimed credit. Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay visited ghats, while the Centre went about moves to regularise unauthorised colonies and issue food security cards.
The BJP candidate list, however, undid much of the goodwill earned. “AAP gives 11 tickets to Purvanchalis, 3 by BJP,” Arvind Kejriwal tweeted gleefully. The Congress, whom the AAP chief didn’t mention, had only two. “Purvachalis feel they been given respect and equal participation for the first time by any party,” the tweet went.
The AAP boasts five winners from the nine Purvanchalis it fielded in 2013, and it kept consolidating in the Lok Sabha elections. Kirari, the assembly seat that gave the BJP its biggest victory of 2013, had the AAP leading in 2014, against the wave that gave Northwest Delhi to the BJP.
A joke in Kirari is that chaiwallah Arvind shares more than his first name with the AAP chief. “I have voted for BJP always, but Rituraj is working for the area, despite being new here,” Arvind Jha says. Rituraj, the AAP candidate, was formerly known just by that name but now highlights his surname — Jha.
The BJP too has gone back to wooing the community. At a rally during the weekend at Dwarka in West Delhi, PM Narendra Modi said, “I represent Purvanchal; I am MP from Varanasi. I want to develop eastern India to bring it at par with Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana.”
Most of Dwarka’s Purvanchalis live at Mahavir Enclave, a densely populated colony without a water pipeline, though very close to residential societies. “The PM used the Purvanchal theme for electoral gains and is now trying to sell that identity here,” says Congress candidate Mahabal Mishra. “But people have realised giving them a holiday on Chhat Puja is not enough.”
In East Delhi, where 13 seats have a Purvanchali population around 30 per cent, the BJP has not fielded any Purvanchali candidate; the AAP has seven in the east and northeast combined. Kejriwal held his Delhi Dialogue in East Delhi’s Mandawli last week.
Rahul Sharma, 22, of Mandawli, a correspondence student with Delhi University, is the son of a guard and a domestic help who had migrated from Bihar 35 years ago. “You may laugh at the politics of regionalism, but we face it: at school and college, my three sisters and I are ridiculed for being Bihari,” he says. “The AAP is giving us people we can identify with, and promising jobs, better vegetable prices, water and electricity.” Sharma voted for BJP in 2013 and 2015. “Now,” he says, “Modi is history. It is time for Kejri.”
“If Purvanchalis hadn’t given their blood and sweat to development in Delhi, would the rest of the capital have liked it?” Kumar Vishwas said at a roadshow in East Delhi this week. “What did the Congress give you in return? What has the BJP given you?”
The Congress has been reminding people of work done. When Sheila Dikshit’s son Sandeep was MP, East Delhi got the elevated Barapullah corridor, a Metro extension, Ambedkar University, and an upgrade to government hospitals including the 500-bed Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. The AAP government disbanded the Trans-Yamuna Area Development Board, as repeatedly pointed out by the Congress.
“Development of Jheel Lake in Mayur Vihar, the monorail, baraat ghars and community centres were stopped by this AAP candidate,” Anil Kumar, Patparganj’s Congress candidate, says of Manish Sisodia. The former AAP minister flaunts his work: on Tuesday, pamphlets were distributed.
The BJP is closing its campaign with leaders including MPs from Bihar and Jharkhand, a decision Delhi leaders attribute to Amit Shah.
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