The backward Muslim majority Mewat district, around 50-km removed from the glitz and glamour of the Millennium City, is often stigmatised as the hub of criminal activities. Its three assembly segments — Nuh, Punhana and Ferozepur Jhirka —have 4.58 lakh voters, of which Muslims roughly account for between 3 lakh and 3.5 lakh voters, while Hindus for 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh.
Mewat, which has cultural continuity with regions in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, has a low literacy rate of just 54.08% compared to the state average of 75.55% in 2011 census. Owing to backwardness and unemployment the people here have been caught in the vicious circle of crime and are arrested regularly from across the NCR.
On December 2013, a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative was arrested from Mewat. In 2011, five Mewati Muslims were arrested and charged with the ignominious Dhaula Kuan rape case. Over 120 criminals from Mewat were arrested in 2012 by the Delhi Police for their involvement in various crimes. The region is a hotbed of illegal quarrying in Aravallis that employs dumpers which are driven mostly by minors and are one of the biggest reasons of accidents on the Sohna highway.
People here feel the relative deprivation vis-à-vis neighbouring Gurgoan despite falling under the same Lok Sabha constituency. Basic amenities like drinking water, electricity and education are a luxury for the region and hence the disenchantment with the current dispensation.
“The biggest problem is drinking water. We drink water that is ferried by tankers which we store. As of now each tanker costs Rs 500, but when peak summers hit, the cost will escalate to over Rs 700. Our animals too drink from the same. This is nothing new and no government has ever addressed this,” said Haji Wali Mohammad from Kheri Kankar village. “Proper schools are still a distant dream. Government schools don’t function, teachers don’t teach, only moneyed people can afford private schools,” he lamented.
“We have been used as in the rest of India just as vote-bank. Nothing concrete has come our way. It seems the ruling class has an interest in keeping us downtrodden and uneducated. Our children have nowhere to study. A medical college has been opened in Mewat, but to what avail? If children cant study how will they enter colleges? How else will we remain their chattels,” said Jagguddin of Kheri Kankar village.
The sentiment was seconded by over thirty Muslim magnates sitting on a dharna since January 17 just outside Rojka industrial area on the Sohna-Mewat bypass. They are from nine villages around the area protesting against Hooda government for having acquired their land at what they call ‘throwaway’ prices and gave ‘nothing’ in return.
While, Rao Inderjit Singh, the sitting MP of Gurgaon, is faced with the challenge of INLD’s Zakir Hussain, Rao Dharampal of Congress and Yogendra Yadav of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), public opinion, from the villages of Rojka Meo through Kheri Kankar and Ghasera to the district headquarter at Nuh, seems swinging in favour of local lad Hussain at least as of now.
“He is one of us, not only because he is a Muslim, but also because he belongs to Mewat and has been standing with us through thick and thin. He is approachable, unlike Rao Inderjit Singh, who is unapproachable and is seen only when elections are around. We can catch Zakir anytime we want,” said Mohammad Sharief of Kheri Kankar village. Mohammad Izhar of Rewasan village added, “Zakir will most likely get the majority of Meo votes.”
BJP candidate Rao Inderjit Singh had changed sides to join the BJP after a 35-year innings in the Congress and thus may lose out on Muslim votes here due to obvious reasons. Hussain too has changed political stripes in all the past elections – this time on INLD ticket, he fought the last Lok Sabha election on a BSP ticket from Gurgaon, losing to Singh by over 80,000 votes and the one before that on a Congress ticket from Faridabad – but, his USP this time is that he is the sole Muslim candidate in the fray.
“Even if Aftab Ahmad (Congress MLA from Nuh and currently state transport minister) comes to ask us to vote for Congress candidate, we are not going to do so. We will vote for Aftab if he comes up in assembly elections,” said Shahnawaz Hussein, panchayat member of Ghasera village. As per political analysts, Ahmad is in a catch-22 here: if he asks for votes for the Congress, he might lose ground with Meos in assembly elections; otherwise, he is likely to lose face in party and might not get a ticket at all.
Adding credibility to the observation, Chaudhary Khurshid Ahmad, father of Aftab Ahmad and ex-Haryana minister, on Sunday asked party workers not to vote for Hussain in any case. “If you want to vote for Hussain, do it over my dead body. Voting for INLD is voting for Modi,” he said, in the presence of candidate Rao Dharampal.
On the other hand, while Singh had garnered roughly over 60,000 votes in the last elections from Mewat, even this time around he is expected to maintain the number despite having joined the saffron brigade. “Last time the Hindus votes had got fragmented among all parties, but this time we are voting just in Modi’s name, so, Inderjit Singh will most likely get more Hindu votes this time.
What he will lose on Muslim side, he will gain on the Hindu side,” said Ram Sharan Pradhan, panchayat member of Ujina, the only village in the area with 100% Hindu population. Ujina, Sangal, Jajuka, Bajeda and Kurthala, along with a few others, form a Hindu cluster, which is materially better off than the surrounding Muslims.
As of yet, the AAP, despite its best efforts, does not seem very successful in making inroads with the rural folk of Mewat. Arvind Kejriwal has planned a stay in Nuh on Saturday and Yadav has also toured the district, promising much for its development such as colleges for girls.
“Yadav is a good man but there is no point voting for him. The AAP is good for urban areas like Delhi, not for us. Even in Delhi, the party betrayed people’s mandate by resigning,” said Eijaz Mohammad of Nuh.