As the AAP juggernaut bulldozed the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections with an unprecedented mandate, BJP was able to salvage only three out of 70 seats — Rohini, Vishwas Nagar, and Mustafabad. The party has repeated its sitting MLAs from all the three constituencies hoping that these seats will become the base for more this time around. But will it be that easy to hold on to all three seats, a look at the ground reality this time around reveals that even though BJP enjoys considerable support in Rohini and Vishwas Nagar, the Muslim-majority seat of Mustafabad may slip from its grasp owing to the Citizenship Act and lack of development.
Considered a BJP stronghold, Rohini voted BJP veteran Vijender Gupta to the assembly from his home turf in 2015, though with a modest margin of 5,367 votes. Gupta, the leader of the Opposition in the outgoing assembly, enjoys considerable goodwill in Rohini because of his approachability and his association with the constituency as a three-time councilor.
At the DC Chowk market, a popular landmark in Rohini, one of the most urbanised constituencies of Delhi, Manoj Khandelwal, the traders’ association head, said Vijender Gupta changed the face of the area and installed street lights, built toilets besides improving parks and sanitation. “BJP is winning here. Vijender Gupta is a very old and veteran BJP leader. Earlier, jhuggis were a problem here. Vijender ji has relocated the jhuggis and given them a proper place to stay. He has done good work for traders and installed gates at the market,” Khandelwal said.
On AAP’s free schemes, Khandelwal, 44, who has been living in Delhi for the past 20 years, said the Kejriwal government had made 200 units of electricity free but was looting the commercial establishments. “For 173 units of power consumption, our bill is Rs 6,900. It was lesser during Shiela Dixit’s time. Moreover, we have so far applied for water connection in our market 30 times but to no avail,” he said.
Hansraj Ahluwalia (72) feels Gupta’s active involvement in the constituency would hold the electoral scales in his favour. “Trader community is impressed with Vijender ji’s work. He can be approached any time with our problems and often visits societies,” Hansraj said.
Harping on the fact that a triple-engine government in Delhi would lead to faster development, MLA Vijender Gupta said in the past five years, the AAP govt only hindered work in the area and abused Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Kendra aur rajya mein ek sarkar, delhi ka vikas tez raftaar. It;s my promise that I will improve the water quality here and lessen pollution in Delhi,” Gupta told indianexpress.com while holding a door-to-door campaign as a campaign song “haat gaayi 370 hai, ab gaddaron ki khair nehi” played out in the background.
Meanwhile, AAP candidate Rajesh Nama Bansiwala exuded confidence that the party would win all the 70 seats this time. “For the past five years, the MLA has not been seen here and no development work has been done. Vijender Gupta has not even pruned the trees here. For the past 25 years, the BJP MLA has looted the people of Rohini,” Bansiwala told indianexpress.com.
Right in the opposite end of Rohini in north-east Delhi lies Mustafabad, which is close to the Uttar Pradesh border, and has a Muslim majority. In the 2015 elections, BJP’s Jagdish Pradhan had won from the seat by 6,000 votes despite both Congress and AAP fielding Muslim candidates.
However, the Citizenship Act and fears around NRC, as well as BJP’s campaign centered around Shaheen Bagh, may prove to be its undoing in Mustafabad. Here too a Shaheen Bagh-type protest has sprung up near Brijpuri Pulia and the resentment against the MLA is palpable.
“Na Congress ko, na BJP ko, iss baar Mustafabad ke votes sirf Kejriwal ko jayegi. Last time, the MLA was lucky as the Muslim votes got divided between the Congress and AAP. This time he has no chance of winning,” 33-year-old Rehmat Ali said.
Congested lanes and potholed roads dot the constituency. Many lanes do not even have streetlights. Mohammad Gulsher, a shopkeeper, said no road repair work had been undertaken in the past five years by the MLA.
Asked about AAP leaders and CM Kejriwal staying away from anti-CAA protests, Gulsher said, “We are not perturbed by AAP leaders visiting us. Kejriwal has done good work in Delhi by providing free electricity and water subsidy. Even education in schools have improved. Woh (AAP) kuch nehi bol rahe matlab wo humari taraf hai.”
A close aide of Jagdish Pradhan also acknowledged that it would be a tough task for the MLA to retain the seat. “The protests may play a role. We are sure of cornering the 45 per cent Hindu votes in the area, but there is resentment among the majority Muslim population,” the aide said.
The MLA, however, said CAA and NRC won’t affect the votes in his constituency. “People know that CAA is not for taking away anybody’s citizenship. Modiji has taken this decision for the welfare of the persecuted. After February 11, no protester will be seen here,” Jagdish Pradhan told indianexpress.com.
“Kejriwal has not even opened a school here and ignored this constituency. The AAP govt has only hindered development work in this area pending for years like flyovers, health facilities, and bus connectivity,” he added.
About 10 km away, in Vishwas Nagar constituency, there is no talk of CAA or NRC and the sitting BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma is popular in the locality, which has a sizeable upper and middle-class population. “The MLA has provided good assistance to traders and helped solve several issues like removing open electric poles. While AAP’s free schemes may be beneficial for lower and middle-income groups, the burden falls on the taxpayers,” said Dinesh Khanna, general secretary of Seta Enclave traders association.
However, according to Naveen Malik, only normal routine work has been done and the issue of sanitation, which has been plaguing East Delhi for long, remains unsolved. “Politicians only pay lip service, sanitation is neglected. Waste and garbage lie strewn on the roadside,” he said.
Addressing a rally, Kejriwal said BJP had lost “Vishwas Nagar ka vishwas” as the development of the constituency had suffered as the MLA did not let AAP government work in the area. “You brought OP Sharma to power, but he did not allow us to put a single CCTV camera…not build a single mohalla clinic,” Kejriwal said.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, OP Sharma, who won from the seat in 2013 also, said even before AAP came to power, there were dispensaries in Delhi’s neighbourhoods.
“Kejriwal has just removed those dispensaries and set up mohalla clinics on pavements meant for people. I want to ask him and his ministers that when they fall sick why do they go to Bengaluru for treatment and not at these mohalla clinics. They are just hoodwinking people,” OP Sharma said.
Confident of being voted back to power, Sharma said a separate East Delhi campus of Guru Govind Singh University worth Rs 285 crore would be inaugurated next year and promised to make Karkardooma the next Connaught Place. “For the past five years, I have knocked on the Delhi govt’s door to improve water quality in the area. I have also asked them to repair sewer lines about 30-40 years old but to no avail. Congress has disappeared from the Assembly, the people will punish AAP also,” Sharma told indianexpress.com.
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