Abhishek Anand and Abheshek Kumar
Mangolpuri area was settled by the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1976 and this area is predominantly a Scheduled Caste area. The Ward 54N Mangolpuri A that we chose for our field visit is an SC (Women) reserved ward falling under the North zone. It is an SC dominated ward with the Jatav, Valmiki and Khatik communities constituting the majority of the SC population. Rest of the population belongs to both the OBC and the General categories. Also, there are Gujrati, Bengali, Punjabi (mainly refugees) and South Indian people consisting of all the castes. There is also a sizeable population of Muslims in the area.
Majority of the people whom we interviewed said that sanitation is the most important issue in this ward. Another important issue is related to the safety of women. Several people including the Shiv Sena candidate Meena Singh Kandera told us that it is very difficult for the women to visit the parks in the late evening as the criminal elements create nuisance in parks. Even the girls and women are constantly being harassed by the drunkards and notorious elements in the streets after dusk. These criminal elements not only make lewd remarks but also stalk them. Another problem that is very unusual is related to encroachment of streets by the residents in some pockets. For example, if a street is of 20 feet width, 3-4 feet is illegally occupied by several people for their personal use. This not only creates inconvenience for many but is also a constant source of quarrel among the residents.
It is interesting here to note that there are 3 large beautiful parks in the block B and we were told by the sitting councilor and the Congress candidate Seema Jatav’s husband that this area is known as the “South Extension” of Mangolpuri. Coincidentally, Mrs. Jatav’s house and office is located in the same area. However, merely at a distance of 200 meters from the Councilor’s house, there is a garbage house that is totally ill-maintained. The point we want to make here is that if this is the state of affairs in a developed block then the situation in other blocks could be easily imagined.
Candidates, Caste Factor and Campaigning Strategies
Unlike the Ward 25N, Rohini B, more political parties and independent candidates are trying their luck from this ward. Besides the mainstream parties (read the parties that hold sway in Delhi politics) like the Congress, the BJP and AAP, other parties like the BSP, Shiv Sena, the newcomer Swaraj India and All India Forward Bloc (Symbol-Lion) are also contesting. In addition, there are independent candidates as well.
This ward and for that matter, the whole Mangolpuri is considered a stronghold of the Congress. However, since the last Vidhan Sabha election AAP has emerged as a potent force in the area. However, considering the SC dominated ward, the BSP too has some influence in this area. The BJP, on the other hand, is trying to encash on the goodwill of its sitting MP Dr. Udit Raj and of course PM Modi’s charisma. The new entrant Swaraj Abhiyan too is said to be making inroads. Therefore, this ward is expected to witness an interesting political battle in this MCD election.
How important would be the caste factor here? In view of this constituency being SC reserved, it can be said that caste will not play a role here and in fact, casteism is not an issue here. However, it is interesting to note here that there are divisions within the dominant SC communities like Jatav, Valmiki and Khatik. In fact, all these three SC communities hold sway in different blocks and pockets. Therefore, there is a fair possibility of division of SC votes along these caste lines. Interestingly, since all the candidates are from the SC category, the OBC and General Category voters along with the Muslim voters could play a significant role here.
As this is an SC (Women) reserved ward, women issues are expected to play a significant role. As the safety of women is an important issue, the women voters could play a decisive role here. But here also like the Ward 25N, Rohini B, all the women candidates are overshadowed by their husbands or male family members.
With regard to the campaign strategies of the contestants in the fray, it is suffice to say that more or less their campaigning style is the same. As in other wards all over Delhi, campaign through e-rickshaws is the main tool to woo the voters. Other than that, the door-to-door campaign, small meetings, road shows, etc. are the other main strategies. Parties like the Congress, the BJP and AAP have also put in service their star campaigners. For example, the former Congress MLA and Minister, Raj Kumar Chauhan is actively campaigning in the entire Mangolpuri area. Moreover, the Congress is heavily counting on the developmental works done by Mr. Chauhan during his tenure. Similarly, other parties have also deployed their popular leaders in wooing the voters. Even the Swaraj India is also trying to get the maximum benefit out of the good image of its founder Yogendra Yadav. For the BJP, Modi factor is a crucial element of its overall strategy. They are also highlighting the works of the Modi governments, especially the ones related to SC community. Likewise, the AAP campaign is fairly woven around Kejriwal’s image and his government’s several initiatives. In short, the contest in this ward offers an interesting mix of multiple factors such as sanitation, caste equation, women safety, claims of development and the counterclaims of non-development and corruption.
People’s View of Democracy
For the majority of people whom we interviewed and interacted with, democracy gives right. Also, it is a means to choose our representatives. Interestingly, unlike Ward 25N of Rohini B, people are more aware of the mandate of a Councilor in this ward. Perhaps, one of the main reasons could be that this area is less developed, therefore, people have to rely more on the councilor for the redressal of their local problems. Also, many people are dissatisfied with the works done by the Councilor besides being critical of her non-responsiveness in case they approach her.
A 21-year old dalit youth Akshay Kumar (B.Com. student) whom we interviewed said that I’m the first time voter and for me democracy means development. As regards the main issue in his ward, he said that several developmental works have been done. In fact, he talked about the construction of 24 banquet halls, several schools in the Mangolpuri area (covering this ward also). Moreover, being a student of the government school, he reflected upon the quality of education in the government schools by saying that it has improved and provision of day and Evening schools have also been made. On the question of casteism, he said, being a youth, he believes in development and nothing else (see the interview with Akshay Kumar).
Is being Female more a Constraint than Strength in Politics?
As we have observed the women candidates being overshadowed by their husbands and male family members in the Women (reserved) ward 25N, Rohini B, we were interested to know if this is the case in this ward as well. Based on our general observations (pamphlets and hoardings bearing the photos of male family member along with the candidate’s photo) and interactions with different political activists, it was evident that here too the women have no free hand. For example, the advertisement of the sitting Councilor and the Congress candidate Seema Jatav bears the photo of her grand father-in-law, Dr. Radheshyam (who had been the Pradhan of Mangolpuri when it came into being in 1976 and since then his family has ruled the ward for most of the time). Similarly, the campaigns of other candidates too are largely managed and controlled by their male family members.
Interestingly, the Shiv Sena candidate Meena Singh Kandera (a young graduate from University of Delhi) proved herself an exception to some extent. Initially, she was unwilling and hesitant to give us interview. But when we finally interviewed her she articulated her agenda without any help from the male members. Moreover, on the question of whether being a woman is a constraint for her, she categorically said that this is not true in her case. To substantiate her point, she said that “I’m a working woman but I decided to contest because I’m appalled by the problems, especially the women related issues in my area. Also, being an educated youth, I firmly believe that I’m no less capable than a man in understanding the issues and tackling them.” She winded up the conversation by saying that as a youth I believe in development and not casteism.
In brief, it can be said that people here are concerned about the development of their area. However, people are equally disappointed with the carelessness and indifferent attitude of the councilor. Interestingly, developmental works are visible but at the same time several discrepancies need utmost attention. Coming to caste as a factor, we found that though many people said they don’t believe in caste politics, the caste very much a factor in this election. However, several other factors too are important that hold significance as far as the voting pattern in this ward is concerned. Overall, this ward offers a good blend of caste equation, developmental aspiration, indifference of councilor and many more.
(With inputs from Md. Arif, Lakhan Singh, Preeti Shah and Deepti Mittal – all four are the students of B.A. (Pol. Sc.) at Dayal Singh College, University of Delhi)
Abhishek Anand, Phd Scholar, SIS, JNU
Abheshek Kumar, Independent Researcher, Delhi