Vinay Arora (44), who runs a footwear shop at the Malviya Nagar market, is a self-confessed BJP supporter. The only exception being in 2015, when he voted for Aam Aadmi Party’s Somnath Bharti in the Assembly elections.
This year, he’s wary. “There is concern among people that AAP is sponsoring the Shaheen Bagh protest,” he says. But even Arora can’t deny Bharti’s popularity and approachability, which becomes evident the more one speaks to residents of the constituency.
“Bharti has done work in the area. More importantly, any time you call him, he will be there,” he says.
It is this reputation of Bharti’s — of being a people’s person who gets work done — that is likely to be the biggest challenge for both BJP’s Shailender Singh Monty and Congress’ Neetu Verma Soin, contesting from the Malviya Nagar assembly constituency in the upcoming elections on February 8.
Even in terms of posters, banners and auto ads, Bharti has an upper hand with maximum visibility. Monty too has a sizeable number of posters, but Soin’s face is almost absent.
Jugal Kishore (36), a driver, who lives in nearby Begumpur, an area of mainly blue collar workers, says there has been a marked improvement in their living conditions in the last five years. “Earlier, water supply was very erratic, but now we get water from midnight to 7 am every day, and there is also hardly any cut in electricity. Bharti also got a public toilet built for us, and is always just a call away,” he says.
Locals, however, say drainage and sanitation are issues that need to be addressed in Begumpur and Adchini. “They have done a lot of good work, but there is still much scope left in these areas,” says Lakshmi Devi (75), a resident of Adchini village.
In Khirki near Malviya Nagar, more than anywhere else, Bharti’s reputation is apparent. While one part of Khirki comes in the Greater Kailash constituency, another falls in Malviya Nagar. Rajesh Saini (53), a trader, who stays in Khirki village, says, “In our area, Bharti has gone out of the way to help people. On the other side of the road, AAP has done hardly any work — most of it in the last one year,” he says.
Saini, however, has complaints. Traffic jams and sanitation are key issues, he says. “Also for us, the reduced electricity bill has not helped. The fixed rate has led to a higher bill,” he says.
But not all those in this economic class concur. A P Singh (67), a retired government officer from Sarvodaya Enclave, says, “The government’s work in education, electricity and water doesn’t affect us directly, but I see it benefitting people around me, those who work for us. Moreover, Bharti is very approachable; for every festival we celebrate, he’s here.”
Manju Rao (48), a resident of Hauz Khas, says it’s routine to find Bharti chatting with people in parks during morning walks. “We just had to tell him, and he created a roundabout to ease traffic in our area. He has also put up signboards, which make things helpful,” she says.
A two-time MLA, Bharti is confident of his win. “People have seen a hardworking person who’s available for them through thick and thin. We will do more work when we are elected again,” he says. Future plans include providing last-mile connectivity, connecting Malviya Nagar to its Metro station more closely, and installing 100-ft high Indian flags in all DDA parks.
Monty, however, says there isn’t as much work done as projected: “There are areas where sewage is still a problem. My first agenda will be to fix the drainage system, and then basic infrastructure like better roads and well-lit areas. People here are not interested in the freebies.”
Before Bharti’s win, Malviya Nagar had been a Congress stronghold for 15 years, with Kiran Walia and Yoganand Shastri being elected from there. “I don’t see any popularity of his (Bharti). Roads are dug up everywhere and not filled. So much infrastructural work is to be done. My priority will be to carry on Congress’s developmental work,” says Soin, adding that she was focussing more on door-to-door campaigning than visibility.
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