Ground Report: Water Shortage, Sealing Drive, Jobs: Low-Income Neighbourhoods Facing Real Issues May Cost BJP Its Bastion, South Delhi
“If leaders like him (BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri) come here, I will greet them with a garland of shoes.”
“Ramesh Bidhuri se bahut shikayat hai. BJP agar ab ke baar Bidhuri ko ticket degi to nahin jeetegi (We have a lot of problems with Ramesh Bidhuri. If the BJP gives him a ticket this time, they won’t win),” proclaimed Kishan Lal, who owns a small utensil shop in Kusumpur Pahadi, a low-income area in the South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency. He added, “Modi ke naam par mil jayen kuch vote to wo alag baat hai (The only votes they will get are because of Modi).”
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party faces anti-incumbency in its stronghold of South Delhi. Since 1989, it had lost only once, when in 2009 when Congress candidate Ramesh Kumar defeated BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri. In 2014, riding the Modi wave, Bidhuri won the seat.
South Delhi, an affluent parliamentary constituency, is also home to several low-income localities including Kusumpur Pahadi, Navjeevan Camp, Nehru Camp, Bhoomi Camp, Sanjay Colony and Sangam Vihar. There are a few villages too, such as Tehkand and Ghitorni.
Thousands of migrant workers have lived in these congested colonies for years now, with little or no basic amenities. These are slums settled along open drains, rife with chaotic traffic, crime and everything that would make life miserable. The residents of these slums are thus unmoved by the saffron party’s nationalist rhetoric. They remain focussed on real issues.
The MP, as per the popular opinion, never shows up at these low-income neighbourhoods. While enjoying his evening tea at a local chai-tapri, Raj Kumar, a resident of Kusumpur, told NewsCentral24x7 that he had never seen Bidhuri in his neighbourhood, adding, “Vote ke samay bas aate hai” — He only comes during polls. He took a jibe at the PM saying, “Modi ji ki toh yatrayen hi khtam nahin ho rahi hai to desh ko kya sudharenge? (Modi ji’s travels never end. How will he bring about development?)”
Taking a sip of tea, Raj’s friend Sanjay, a sanitation worker, chimed in, “Naukriyan hi zabt kar li hai Modi ji ne toh (Modi has taken away all our jobs).”
Drinking water woes
Contrary to the popular perception espoused by the television media, several local issues have a significant role to play in this election. Law and order, unemployment, an acute shortage of drinking water, lack of sanitation facilities and the sealing drive are some of the major issues they will be keeping in mind when they will cast their votes.
“Pani ka to poocho hi mat (Don’t even ask about the water problem),” said 58-year-old Anjali Bagdi of Nehru Camp in the Kalkaji-Govindpuri area. She came to Delhi 18 years ago with her husband Murshidabad, West Bengal. She said that little had changed in their living conditions since then. Pointing out to an open drain, flowing parallel to their house, she angrily said, “Aisa neta log aayega, toh juta ka maala pehnaungi. Tab jaa ke shanti milegi” — If leaders like him (Bidhuri) come here, I will greet them with a garland of shoes. Only then will I feel better.
The national capital already faces a crippling water shortage, and the future looks bleak. According to a report by the Niti Aayog, Delhi may soon have to face the apocalyptic scenario of Zero Day, a term that originated in Cape Town in South Africa, which denotes the situation when the government has to shut off the water supply. Delhi and 20 other cities in India are likely to run out of groundwater in less than two years.
Forty-two-year-old Manju* has been living in the jhuggis adjoining Navjeevan Camp all her life. Her 13-year-old son has not been well for the last six months. She told NewsCentral24x7, “Private-Sarkari (hospital) ke chakkar kaat-kaat ke karze me doob gayi… koi sunne wala nahin hai (Private and government medical expenses have put me under a lot of debt),” For her, every election is a reminder of broken promises. She said that their home did not even have a toilet.
Manju further said, “Pani bahut door se lana padta hai, kabhi sar mein chot lag jaati hai lane me, kabhi gir hi jaate hain (We have to get water from really far way. Sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we fall down).” She said, adding, “pregnant mahilayen kaise karengi, aap hi boliye (How are pregnant women supposed to do this)?”
However, Chander Prakash, a councillor from the Congress party enjoys the goodwill of the residents. Manju, along with her neighbour, said that he has done a lot of work to improve their living conditions. He was responsible for getting the jhuggi a public park.
Job loss due to the sealing drive
“Berojgar hoon (I am unemployed),” said 43-year-old Baleshwar Chaudhry, a resident of Tehkand village.He said that the sealing drive, undertaken by civic bodies per the instructions of a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee, took away lots of jobs. The BJP MPs of the city, per the residents, have not done anything to help the matter.
Over the last one year, thousands of commercial unit across the city in prominent markets and the industrial area were sealed by the civic agencies for land-use violations, which resulted in massive unemployment and left multiple families without a source of livelihood.
Chaudhary further said, “Jo bhi thoda bahut kaam hua hai wo pehle ki yojnaaon ke the(Any work that has happened is thanks to earlier schemes).” He also said, pointing towards the filthy streets, “Municipal councillor Suman Bidhuri bhi BJP ki hain. Kuch saaf safai nahin karwati hain yahan par” — The municipal councillor Suman Bidhuri is also from the BJP. She hasn’t cleaned anything up.
While the BJP has reposed faith in Ramesh Bidhuri, who is relying heavily on the “Modi factor”, the Congress has fielded boxer-turned-politician Vijendra Singh, who is trying to encash his own fame along with the work done in the national capital during the Sheila Dikshit-rule. AAP has put up it’s young charted accountant-turned-politician Raghav Chadha, who is fighting on the agenda of full statehood for Delhi.
Sanjay of Kumuspur believes that the Congress party had done exceptional work in Delhi, under the chief ministership of Sheila Dikshit. In 2014, he had voted for the BJP. He now says that the Narendra Modi-led government did not fulfil any promises made during the general elections. He said, “Ab ki galti nahin hogi, Congress ko laana hai” — Won’t make the same mistake again. Congress has to come back.
The South Delhi Parliamentary constituency comprises 10 assembly segments — all won by the AAP in the 2015 assembly polls.
The performance of local MLAs is also going to play a role in how people vote. Yashpal Singh Bidhuri of Tehkand village in Tughalkabad, speaking to NewsCentral24x7, said that Aam Aadmi Party’s Sahiram Pahalwan has taken care of the village’s water, toilets and roads. Yashpal said, “Paanch saal me Ramesh Bidhuri ne hamare kshetra ka kuch kaam nahin kara (Ramesh Bidhuri has done nothing for us in the last five years).”
20,67,463 voters from South Delhi will be exercising their democratic right on May 12. Only time will tell how important these local issues are.