Bijli-paani versus the nation: For the past week, residents of Outer Delhi — areas that fall on the border between Delhi and Haryana — have been told to choose between the two.
In the four rallies that Home Minister Amit Shah has addressed in Bawana, Badli, Rithala and Najafgarh, protests at Shaheen Bagh and the nation’s security featured prominently in his speeches. It was at the rally in Rithala that MoS Anurag Thakur raised part of the slogan ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko’ , which the audience completed by shouting ‘Goli maaro saalon ko’. He was later removed from the BJP’s list of star campaigners and banned from campaigning for 72 hours. BJP leaders campaigning in the city, such as UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister Smriti Irani, have brought up Shaheen Bagh.
The ban notwithstanding, the party’s push to make Shaheen Bagh protests an election issue has changed conversations in these areas.
“Kaam toh hua hai, par baat desh ki hai. Hame free bijli nahi milegi, theek hai par hame ye Shaheen Bagh nahi pasand. (Yes, work has been done in the area but now it is about the nation. It’s fine if we don’t get free power, we don’t like what is happening at Shaheen Bagh),” said Dalbir Singh (62), a retired DTC employee who lives in Sanoth Village in Narela constituency. Several residents of Sanoth, which falls in the Narela constituency, said they had voted for AAP in 2015 but will vote for BJP this time.
“There is no park, dispensary or pond in our village. Along with this, there are power cuts every day. Yes, power is free for several villagers now but we don’t want that,” said Jai Chand (86), a retired DTC inspector.
“We were BJP voters traditionally but voted differently last time. But not this time. What is happening in Shaheen Bagh is wrong. A vote for BJP is a vote for the nation,” he added.
When AAP launched its campaign in January, it said Delhi would vote based on work done by the Delhi government over the past five years. Despite a high-octane campaign by BJP, AAP’s power subsidy, where 200 units of power are free, is the first thing that voters in unauthorised colonies and JJ clusters talk about in these areas.
AAP has repeatedly tried to stay away from commenting on the ongoing anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh, sensing that they are out of their depth on the issue.
In Metro Vihar I, which also falls in Narela, women pulled out plastic chairs to the middle of a freshly-cemented street to get some sun. Several residents were shifted here from Minto Road by the government.
“The drains overflow all the time. But we have a decent road and regular water supply. Also, our power bills are zero. Jhadu (broom — AAP’s poll symbol) is coming back,” said Billo Devi (45), a resident. But there is an apprehension that these subsidies will continue only till March.
“Everyone has been saying we will stop getting free power and water in April,” said Rekha Devi (44).
Previously, residents of the area voted for Congress, said Ramesh Kumar (60), who owns a house in the area but lives in Old Delhi. “Congress still has silent support here,” he said.
In nearby Pooth Khurd, which falls in Bawana constituency, residents said the fight between AAP and BJP candidates — Jai Bhagwan Upkar and Ravindra Kumar Indraj — is neck and neck. “The sitting MLA from AAP did good and a lot of people have benefited from the free water and power schemes. However, several BJP leaders have been visiting these areas, which is not very common. Anything can happen,” said Nanhe Srivastava, a barber in Pooth Khurd.
Twenty-five kilometres away in Najafgarh constituency’s Kakrola, a clear divide between traders and shop owners and those that employ them is apparent.
“There is no doubt that AAP will win here. Go and see how they have improved government schools,” said Shyam Sundar (50), a resident of Patel Garden Extension in Kakrola.
Across the road, Praveen Singh, who owns a daily needs store, said things have changed a lot in the past 10 days. “Had someone asked 10 days ago about who people support here, the clear answer was AAP. The candidate (AAP minister Kailash Gahlot) was not a factor. He doesn’t even live here. It was about Kejriwal. But Amit Shah held a rally here. Several other BJP leaders have come here too and now people are talking about Shaheen Bagh… Hindus are hurt,” Singh said.
According to BJP leader Rahul Trivedi, drawing room meetings are an important part of the campaign in parts of Outer Delhi and leaders from other states — mostly Haryana and Purvanchal — meet people and tell them about the party’s plans. “The leaders also tell them how Delhi’s peace has been disturbed by the Opposition (AAP and Congress) by supporting Shaheen Bagh protests and violence in Jamia through its MLA,” he said.
Another BJP leader added, “We tell them that people are not just sitting in Shaheen Bagh but in several other areas of Delhi, encroaching the road movement…”
Another leader said that the party is also discussing the “weak transport infrastructure model of AAP”, especially in procuring the buses, which affects outer areas the most.
(Inputs from Abhinav Rajput)
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