As anti-CAA-NRC protests rage in Shaheen Bagh and other Muslim-dominated areas of the national capital, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal and his party leaders have made it a point neither to speak overtly on the issue nor visit these protest sites in the run-up to the Assembly elections scheduled for February 8. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for its part, is carrying out a brazen campaign aimed at polarising voters against these protests. The Congress, it is said, is trying to woo the Muslim vote in these areas that once were its strongholds.
In 2015, Muslims, who comprise about 13 per cent of around 1.5 crore Delhi voters, had played a significant role in making AAP win 67 seats. The BJP had won the remaining three seats while the Congress was wiped out.
Are things playing out any differently for the three parties this time in the backdrop of the widespread anti-CAA protests?
Indianexpress.com visited some protest areas to get a sense of the mind of the voters ahead of the elections.
“We are fighting for our Constitution. Why would Kejriwal or AAP leaders come here? People who have brought the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) should come here. Prime Minister Narendra Modi should come here and make us understand things if he thinks we are wrong. This is our fight with the Centre, not Kejriwal. It is not about politics,” said Misa Prasoon, a protester at Shaheen Bagh.
Like Misa, 59-year-old Ishrat Jahan said, “I have lived here all my life. How can we leave India? Though AAP leaders have not come to these protests, we will vote for them for their development works.”
Shaheen Bagh falls in Okhla constituency, which also constitutes Zakir Nagar, Batla House, Jasola, Kalindi colony, Abul Fazal Enclave, Okhla Vihar, Sarita Vihar, Madanpur Khadar, etc.
Here, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan is pitted against BJP’s Brahm Singh and Congress’ Parvez Hashmi. In 2009, Asif Mohammed Khan was elected MLA on an RJD ticket. Later, he moved to Congress and retained the seat in 2013, but lost to Amanatullah in 2015.
Abdul Wahab, another protester at Shaheen Bagh, betrayed disappointment over the absence of AAP’s strong support to the protests and hinted it could even mean a return to the Congress party for them. “We are looking at the Congress again. We will only support those who will stand by us in these tough times. Our MLA had invited Arvind Kejriwal to Jaffarabad protest but he refused. Let’s see how Muslims vote.”
The anti-CAA-NRC protest site at Seelampur, which also saw violent protests over the issue in December last year, had a five-km long human chain along the Jafrabad bus stand road with protesters holding different sizes of tricolours and placards. A woman carrying a placard with the slogan — “Meri pehchaan ka faisla kisi pehchaan patra se ho mujhe manzoor nahin” — led us to the protest site where the voice of the people was no different from those of Shaheen Bagh protesters.
“If Kejriwal is not saying anything, it can also mean he is with us. I will vote for him because he is working for all of us,” said Haseen Siddiqui in Seelampur.
Samreen, a student, said, “I voted for Congress last time, but will vote for AAP this time because the party has actually worked.”
Seelampur Congress candidate Mateen Ahmed is confident that his party has been able to influence Muslim voters and that it will win this time. He said the BJP is trying to polarise votes in the name of Shaheen Bagh and Seelampur but that won’t affect the election outcome. “As long as people are protesting peacefully, no government should ask them to vacate. Even the protesters are troubled, they have left their home and work to sit in the protests.
Congress had won Seelampur seat for three consecutive elections – 2003, 2008 and 2013 – before AAP leader Mohd Ishraque clinched it in 2015.
At Welcome Chowk, where Seelampur BJP candidate Kaushal Mishra was holding a padyatra, Shamshad Ali, a shopkeeper, said: “Our protest is not about politics. I am going to vote for Kejriwal.”
The BJP candidate blamed AAP and Congress for the anti-CAA protests. “AAP and Kejriwal are misleading people. They don’t think about national interest. The BJP is confident of winning Seelampur. Those who understand CAA properly will vote for us,” Mishra told indianexpress.com. “After winning, I will make these people chant Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki jai.”
Mishra also said there has been no development in Seelampur. “Kejriwal has put all the money, which was for people, in advertisements. Seelampur area is the most underdeveloped area of Delhi. People’s health is getting affected because of bad water.”
Seelampur AAP candidate Abdul Rehman, too, said Delhi elections is an altogether different matter and that protesters do not want any party leaders to stand by them.
Confident of winning by a huge margin, Rehman outlined his vision. “In the last five years, we have worked a lot. Things that are still left will be done in the coming years. We will build 200-bed and 600-bed hospitals. This constituency needs libraries, we will open two here. I don’t think anybody can challenge me. wherever we go we get to hear only two things—Kejriwal and Jhadu (party symbol). Nobody talks about the BJP or the Congress.”
The AAP seemingly has an edge in Mustafabad as well, which is one of the three seats won by the BJP in 2015. The incumbent BJP MLA, Jagdish Pradhan, is fighting against AAP’s Haji Yunus and Congress’s Ali Mehndi in the seat.
“The BJP MLA did not work at all in the last five years. There is no chance of him winning again this year,” said 33-year-old Rehmat Ali.
Mohammed Gulsher, another protester, said, “Kejriwal is doing good work. He is giving us free water and electricity. We can’t even think about the BJP and Congress.”
Some people were also caught between Congress and AAP. “These protests are not going to affect the polls at all. We are, however, not sure whom to vote —AAP or Congress. BJP is nowhere,” said Saleem. The Congress had won this seat in 2008 and 2013 before it lost to BJP’s Pradhan in 2015.
In Mustafabad, which has 55:45 Hindu-Muslim population, AAP is clearly giving a tough fight to the BJP. The BJP candidate is, however, confident of bagging more votes than last year in the last election. “We will win and get more votes than time. The condition of Delhi has deteriorated under AAP. When voted to power, the BJP will speed up development works that have been stalled for years.”
“CAA protests won’t affect the votes for BJP at all as people know the law is not meant for taking away anybody’s citizenship. Modiji has taken this decision for the welfare of the persecuted. Congress and Kejriwal have turned the entire Delhi into Shaheen bagh. Look at Mustafabad, Okhla, Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Shaheen bagh, Babarpur. There is preparation for violence all over the country. After February 11, no protester will be seen on these roads,” Pradhan told indianexpress.com.
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