Faces of Harshita (13) and Arpita (15), who live in a JJ cluster on Mathura Road’s Indira Camp in the national capital, light up at the mention of school. The teenaged sisters, who lost their father a few years ago, study at a government school in New Friends Colony (NFC) that they reach after a 30-minute walk. On little prodding, they list out the changes that their school has seen over the past few years.
“We get free books and notebooks till class 8th,” says Harshita.
Arpita adds: “Earlier we didn’t have benches, now we have all that. Toilets are clean, and teachers come on time. We are now studying all subjects, including Maths and English.”
Delhi is scheduled to go to polls on February 8 and the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is running its campaign mainly on the planks of better schools and health services it has provided in its tenure.
Indianexpress.com visited the Kalkaji Assembly seat where the party has fielded Atishi — the brain behind Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s popular education model. Government schools – with smart blackboards, playgrounds, computer labs among other facilities – are one of the key highlights of AAP’s report card, and both the BJP and the Congress hardly have any counter to offer on this front.
There is improvement in the availability of drinking water and free electricity as well. “Yes we are getting 24-hour piped water and electricity with almost zero bills,” said Jaidev Singh, 50, one among over 900 voters at the Indira Camp. He had one grouse, though. “The state of cleanliness has deteriorated in the past few years.”
Almost all walls in JJ clusters area are plastered with posters of ‘Kejriwal mera hero, mera bijli bill zero’, and the mood in these areas look in favour of the AAP. Jaiprakash (48) and Satyawati (41), a couple who run cloth pressing shop in Sukhdev Vihar, said, “We live in the nearby Priya Camp. This government has worked for the poor. It has given us free electricity, water and better government schools. We are for Kejriwal again ”
Atishi believes nothing but development can bring votes. “There is one voice among the people of Delhi, that Kejriwal should return as the CM. Electricity and water got cheaper, schools and hospitals got better and women got free bus rides. Which is why people of Delhi are so excited,” she said.
The Kalkaji constituency, with 1,64,319 registered voters, it has a sizeable number of JJ (Jhuggi Jhopdi) residents, Punjabi refugees and Purvanchalis. The assembly seat comes under South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency and has seen a dramatic change in its demographics after delimitation when more low-income areas were added to it. There are 25 slum clusters in the constituency that constitute a major chunk of the votebank for AAP, which was formerly a Congress votebank.
Even as the AAP has a loyal voter base among the lower-income groups, the BJP’s promise of ‘Jahan Jhuggi, Wahin Makaan’ could force many to rethink their support for Kejriwal. “Yes, it’s clearly been our demand to authorise our jhuggis and if the Modi government promises to do so, then no other party will get our votes. We are hopeful now, especially, after the Modi government regularised Delhi’s 1900 unauthorised colonies,” said Subhash Chandra Pathak, 48, pointing at a BJP campaign mini-truck, which has Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poster with ‘desh badal raha hai, abi dilli badlo’ slogan.
With a clear alienation from the Muslim voters after Shaheen Bagh protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act, the BJP may face a tough time from the Kalkaji seat as Muslims are a sizeable number in Sukhdev Vihar, Jullena Village, Govind Puri and Kalkaji areas.
BJP has fielded Dharamvir Singh, who is the party’s state unit chief of Purvanchal Morcha and booth management morcha head, who said his party will offer “positive governance”. “People have seen 15 years of Congress corruption and five years of AAP’s lies, now it’s time to choose positive governance of the BJP. People have understood that BJP is a party of rashtraneeti (nationalism), while other parties are of voteneeti (vote politics).”
Dharamvir could not outline a clear-cut party programme. “If people of the constituency feel that some of the schemes of Kejriwal government are good, we will continue them,” he said.
Bhushan Bagga, who has a utensil shop in Jullena village, said, “BJP is playing on a sticky wicket. The public sentiment is against them. No sense of security is left on the streets. Phones, jewellery and purses are snatched in broad daylight. Small businessmen or shopkeepers are not happy at all after a sequence of anti-business policies.”
He added the ongoing protests in the areas surrounding Jamia make him feel as if he is in Kashmir. “Aisa 40 saal me nahi dekha tha. Aisa laga ki Delhi me nahin Kashmir mein khade hain. (Never saw what is happening in the last 40 years, it feels we are in Kashmir.) The ruling party has made things tough for Muslims.”
The area is infamous for massive traffic congestions, filthy streets, and lack of proper parking spaces. “The area has no major issue except congested lanes and parking issues and no political party has any solution to these woes. Atishi will get votes on Kejriwal’s work. BJP has the least chance and Congress is nowhere in the contest,” said Arun Kapil,33, a Govind Puri resident.
Atishi acknowledged these problems are on her party’s agenda: ”We will work on resolving the parking problem, More drinking water and sewer lines are to be installed. The traffic congestion will be a real challenge,” she said while briskly walking on the streets of Kalkaji with hundreds of AAP volunteers.
Is the Congress genuinely in the contest? Congress candidate Shivani Chopra, 40, said, “I am from Kalkaji and people are with me. The other woman candidate (Atishi) is an outsider and I don’t take her as a challenge. My father has been an MLA for 15 years and he has done a lot for the area.”
Shivani’s father Subhash Chopra won the seat thrice between 1998 and 2008 and is currently the Delhi Congress president. The barrister-at-law from Inns of Court School of Law, London, Shivani said they will carry forward the development work that former chief minister Sheila Dikshit had done in her tenure.