Riots, markaz wounds still raw, Chauhan Banger gets ready to vote in civic bypolls
Two-hundred metres away from the Jafrabad Metro station, where stone pelting between the pro- and anti-CAA later snowballed into riots in northeast Delhi, campaigning for the municipal bypoll in the Chauhan Banger (ward no. 41E) is on in full swing.
While the candidates of three main political parties are focusing on local issues such as mending broken roads, building a new library, addressing parking problem, improving sanitation service, riots and the crackdown on the members of the Tablighi Jamaat for attending a congregation at the Nizamuddin Markaz in violation of the rules imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic also find frequent mention in the conversations.
Chauhan Banger with 40,000 voters is one of the five municipal wards where bypolls are scheduled on February 28. The bypoll was necessitated in the ward, as the sitting AAP councillor, Abdul Rehman, won the assembly election from Seelampur last year. Most of the people here are Muslims employed in household industries and run small mechanical workshops.
Although no violence was reported during the February riots from Chauhan Banger, locals recall the horror and fear which had gripped the area for days. Imamuddin Khan. 41, a resident of the ward, said, “We all were scared and didn’t step out for two days. I have been living here for nearly three decades, but I never saw such tension among people in the area.”
Some residents feel that the riots may have a bearing on the election outcome. Maulana Mohd. Daud Amini (58), rector of Madrasa Babul Uloom in Jafrabad, vividly remembers the events preceding the violence. Amini said, “There was an anti-CAA protest near this [Jafrabad] Metro station. Though no violence was reported, but there was an atmosphere of fear as police took a few young men for questioning.”
He alleged that Muslims also had to bear of the government’s action against the congregation at the Nizamuddin Markaz. Over 2,300 people were evacuated from the Markaz and taken to quarantine centres. Amini said, “The way the Markaz issue was handled, the community felt targeted. It is the poor people who bore the brunt of the incident. The fruits and vegetable vendors from the community found it difficult to earn their livelihood during the lockdown. The community is hurt as it was vilified. Though it has been a year, the two incidents are still fresh in minds of people.”
AAP candidate Mohd Ishraq Khan, a former MLA from Seelampur, said, “There is anger in the community. People talk about it when we meet them.”
Khan is pitted against Zubair Ahmad, son of Congress veteran and five-time MLA from Seelampur, Mateen Ahmed, and BJP’s Mohd Nazir Ansari, a local party worker who has been actively working with the minority wing of the party for over two decades.
Zubair said the Muslim community was angry over the way riots and the Markaz incident were handled. “While we are focusing only on development issues in our campaign, these issues do come up. The area needs sanitation services. The situation of essential services in the area has gone from bad to worse,” said Zubair, whose main promises include setting up a library and improving sanitation services in the area.
Ishraq Khan dismissed the allegations of the government “mishandling the riots and Markaz” issues. “Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the riot-affected areas and the government made all efforts to provide immediate relief to the victims. The Congress has no relevant issue to talk about.”
Hitting out at Zubair, Khan said, “His father represented the Seelampur constituency for over two decades, but he didn’t do anything. It is only after the AAP came to power that new schools and medical facilities were constructed here.”
The AAP is going all out to retain the ward, which it won in 2017. Environment minister Gopal Rai, who is also AAP’s Delhi unit convener, recently campaigned in the area. The new state Congress team has been working hard to revive the party and hoping for a favourable outcome. The BJP, which has never won any municipal election from this ward, is banking on the central government schemes such as PM-UDAY for giving ownership rights to residents of unauthorised colonies to garner support. Mohd Nazir Ansari said, “Our focus is just on development. The area has been ruled by Congress and AAP in the past but look at the conditions here. The Centre has announced several schemes for housing, better employment, ease of doing business, etc. We are telling people about it.”