“No party can play the communal card here, we all live in harmony,” 30-year-old Rashid says with a conviction that masks the fact that he is illiterate and jobless. But then he’s not alone in Punhana, a Meo-Muslim dominated constituency in backward Nuh district of Haryana, which struggles with even the basics of development though just 60 km from the knowledge industries of Gurgaon.
Rashid says that while many blame the Muslim culture for the backwardness, it is the different governments over the years who are to be blamed. This is why someone like Sukhvir does not expect much from this election. “I don’t believe in any political party. When there is an option called development, I will vote for that,” says Sukhvir, who has passed Class V.
Faakat Hussain, a radio jockey at Alfaz-E-Mewat, established by Sehgal Foundation, an NGO that works on water projects, says “water pipelines is still a far-fetched dream there”. “Even today, villagers in Punhana depend on groundwater via borewells, which is termed unfit for consumption.”
“The groundwater is so saline that it is also affecting agricultural land and crops,” adds Abdul, a farmer in Punhana’s Teekri village. Abdul is among thousands of other people who suffer from dental fluorosis, one of the most common effects of drinking contaminated groundwater.
This election, Punhana is at the centre of attention with BJP fielding Nauksham Chowdhary, a 27-year-old foreign-educated woman with roots in the area. Inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s work, Chowdhary returned from London a month ago to join politics. Chowdhary says she wants to spur development in the area.
BJP’s gamble is also a reminder that it has never won in Mewat- Firozpur Jirkha, Nuh or Punhana constituencies. “The locals have understood that the kind of progress that they have seen all over the state under the leadership of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is commendable. People of Mewat have realised that it is important to be part of the BJP government for their own growth and improvement in the region,” Chowdhary says.
She is up against veteran Mohammad Iliyas (64) of the Congress who won the seat in 2009 for the INLD. He joined his present party just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. For Illiyas, BJP’s new face isn’t a concern. “It is a good thing that she has studied abroad and is capable. She is the daughter of Mewat and we are very proud that she’s contesting, but lessons of politics comes only with experience,” he says, suggesting that Chowdhary might return abroad soon after the elections are over.
Sitting MLA Rahish Khan (52) is once contesting as an Independent. The INLD has fielded Subhan Khan (65) while its splinter outfit Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) has fielded Iqbal (64).
Alam, who has been a party worker for both BJP and Congress in Punhana, says the fight is tough as all five have their vote banks across Punhana. Now a social worker, Alam elaborates: “All five candidates are in demand in Punhana. Different villages vote for different candidates.”
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