Congress finally decided on veteran Mahabal Mishra, a prominent Purvanchali face, over Olympian wrestler Sushil Kumar as its candidate for the Lok Sabha elections in the West Delhi constituency. Mishra, a three-time MLA from Dwarka in New Delhi, was elected as an MP from West Delhi in 2009 when the first general elections were held in the constituency a year after its creation post-delimitation.
With less than 10 days before the national capital votes, Mishra kickstarted his campaign with bites of litti chokha, a delicacy popular in Bihar, Jharkhand, and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, offered by his supporters. When Mishra was given a rousing welcome with the song, “Jiya ho Bihar ke Lala” (Long live, son of Bihar), he said: “I am proud to be a Purvanchali but I am here to serve everyone.”
In an interview to indianexpress.com, Mishra talks about why his candidature was delayed, campaign strategies, his promises vis-a-vis sealing and education as well as the failed AAP-Congress alliance.
Why was there a last-minute confusion between you and Sushil Kumar’s candidature from West Delhi?
The high command (Congress president Rahul Gandhi) takes the final call and there are many reasons for consideration before deciding on a candidate. But I know supporters stand for me, they can fight for me (referring to the protest held by his supporters a day before Congress was to declare the candidate list). People of West Delhi have known me for decades and I have been in their midst even when I was not an MP. I have dedicated myself to the people of my constituency.
Your candidature was delayed, will this hamper your vote?
Not at all. I live in the West Delhi constituency, while candidates of other parties are outsiders. They first need to introduce themselves to voters while I have spent all these years among them. They recognise the work that I have done in my constituency. I am confident that the people of West Delhi will support me again.
What is your campaigning strategy?
Unlike BJP and AAP, I don’t believe in massive roadshows or holding rallies for a large number of people. I leave home at 7am and return by 1 in the night. I schedule 20-30 face-to-face meetings in a day and address small gatherings so that I can assure them my support.
I will go to each and every corner of West Delhi that is spread across 10 assembly seats.
What are your promises?
Like the North campus and South Campus, I will make sure there is a West campus too. The socio-culture of West Delhi is considered backward and poor, I will develop that through education. During my tenure between 2009 and 2014, I got NIFT college project in Najafgarh approved. It was later not pursued when BJP came to power and there is still no college in Najafgarh. This will be my main focus this time.
Sealing is another important issue in Delhi. Many traders in Tilak Nagar and Mayapuri have suffered due to sealing. Unlike BJP, I will not hamper the livelihood of small traders to bring in big malls. To seal a shop means, to put a family into debt. I will unseal all the shops and help small traders revive their trade and businesses.
If Congress comes to power, the poor will rise and I am enthusiastic to work for Congress’ NYAY scheme. I will ensure that each and every poor in my constituency is benefited.
Do you think the Modi wave will work this time like in 2014?
West Delhi’s BJP candidate is seeking votes in the name of Modi because he has no work to show after five long years of non-productivity in the constituency. With issues like demonetisation and GST, the Modi wave has surely faded away. I don’t fear any wave, my vote bank is based on the work I did.
Do you think Sheila Dixit’s candidature is an advantage for Congress in other constituencies as well?
Yes, it is. She brought development to the city and people will vote for her which means people will vote for Congress.
What if the Congress- AAP alliance had worked out?
I am personally opposed to an alliance. Congress is a large party and it does not need support. Had there been an alliance, the only benefit I see is a two-way vote. – either Bharatiya Janata Party or Congress. Even now, when it’s a three-way fight, I do not count AAP.
BJP and AAP have fielded Jat representatives. How do you see this contest?
I don’t support regionalism or caste. It s against my party’s policy to favour a particular caste, religion or community. I have cordial relations with each section of society, which has helped me in winning four elections from West Delhi. I am a ‘Sarvanchali’ (everybody’s leader) before being a Purvanchali.
What do you have to say about Aam Aaadmi Party’s statehood promise?
It’s a dream and a void promise. AAP should have focused more on local issues of the people in past five years. Statehood will not bring them votes.