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MCD election: Purvanchalis are the new kingmakers in Delhi politics

Purvanchali, now constitute almost one-third, of the total population and command considerable sway in elections and all major parties claim to be fielding purvnachali candidates in the MCD polls.

MCD Elections 2017 Updated: May 12, 2017 17:28 IST
MCD election,MCD polls,Delhi election
The fact that regional parties such as Janata Dal (United) have also started participating in Delhi MCD elections underline the significance of the Purvanchali voters in Delhi. (Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

Delhi can’t function without Biharis, said Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a public meeting in Burari area of outer Delhi, underlining the contribution of migrants from his state to the different walks of the city life.

In common parlance, these migrants from Bihar clubbed with those from eastern UP, have come to be known as Purvanchalis (people from eastern India) in the Capital. And it is estimated that due to migration over the past decades, Purvanchalis now make nearly one-third of the city’s over two crore population.

The constant rise in their numbers has had a commensurate effect on their participation in the city’s electoral politics. And as Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) puts it: “From merely being a voting block, they are seeking hissedaari (share) in ticket distribution. It’s all because of their numbers, which no political front can afford to ignore.”

All major parties, including the AAP and the BJP, claim to have fielded over 10% Purvanchalis across 272 municipal wards for the April 23 civic polls. The Congress, which earlier enjoyed the support of this group, claims to have fielded over 50 candidates from the community.

Nitish-Kumar-led JD(U) has also fielded candidates in 113 of the 272 municipal wards, a majority of these being migrants, mostly those where either Purvanchalis are a dominant force or at least have a sizeable population.

According to a survey by the CSDS, Purvanchali population is dominant in about 16 of 70 assembly seats across the Capital. A majority of these migrants have settled in the unauthorised colonies and slum clusters, many of which are now in the process of getting a legal tag.

Political observers say the emergence of Purvanchalis on the city’s political horizon, as a shareholder, was sporadic until the advent of the AAP.

“In the 90s, Lal Bihari Tiwari, the BJP MP from east Delhi, was seen as the representative of Purvanchalis. In the new millennium, Congress’ Mahabal Mishra, west Delhi MP, was seen as one who rose through the ranks and ensured a share in the power structure. These groups started asserting themselves more in ticket distribution, but both the Congress and the BJP held on to the old dynamics. The political greenhorn, the AAP, experimented with it and bore fruits,” a Congress veteran explained.

The increasing political relevance gets reflected in the current assembly where about a dozen AAP legislators have their roots in Purvanchal — many of them being the second and third generation Delhiites.

Two of the six members of the Arvind Kejriwal Cabinet — Gopal Rai and Kapil Mishra — are from Purvanchal.

“Purvanchalis have been our strength since the India Against Corruption days. That is why we have so many Purvanchali MLAs and ministers. Actually, we started this so-called Purvanchali politics in the city, not only by giving party tickets but also by addressing their issues in governance,” a senior AAP leader said.

“ For the first time, the government has made a budgetary allocation to construct chhath ghats across the city. Feeling the heat, the opposition now has to follow it,” the AAP leader said.

Few months ahead of the municipal elections, the BJP appointed Manoj Tiwari as president of its Delhi unit, something unthinkable in the party which was dominated by Punjabis and Baniyas till a few years ago. Tiwari, a Bhjojpuri-cinestar, joined the BJP just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and won the North-East Delhi seat, which is dominated by Purvanchali population.

“Any dominant group (in terms of numbers) has the tendency to be in power. Unlike in their home states, where caste politics dominate, these migrants have a regional identity in the national capital, cutting across caste lines. They have become important for every political party also because the chances of them voting en-bloc are high due to the commonality of their identity as well as their issues. Nobody can afford to ignore them,” said Sanjay Kumar.

BJP insiders say, appointing Tiwari at the helm of the state unit is a calculated move to wean away these voters, considered traditional supporters of the Congress till the advent of AAP.

“The calculation is simple. The BJP strategists are of the view that it has a cadre vote of about 32-35%, which remains with it in the best and worst of times. And if the party is able to wean away sizeable Purvanchali votes, its vote share will become unassailable,” a senior BJP leader said, adding that the results have already started showing results.

“Tiwari brings a lot of star-power being a Bhojpuri filmstar. He has been making all efforts to be seen working in the JJ clusters and slums. The pictures of him doing night stays in slums do have a lasting impact. The AAP leaders realise this and therefore are avoiding a direct contest with him. They put up Vijender Gupta’s photo in their posters instead of the state president,” the leader added.

Political experts, however, describe the BJP’s move as a larger political strategy of the saffron party to bring certain sections of the society, who have remained unrepresented in the power structure, within its folds.

“The BJP, which essentially was a socially conservative party, has started giving progressive representation to several sub-castes and sub-regional groups. They implemented this strategy in UP, Haryana and Jharkhand,” said Ajay Gudavarthy, political scientist, JNU.

“The political opponents have failed to weave a counter-narrative. Though AAP was the first to realise this equation and gave representation to Purvanchalis in Delhi, the BJP is also doing it in the city now,” Gudavarthy said.

The Congress, which enjoyed the support of this group till a few years ago is also trying to win them back. Besides giving tickets to people from the community, the party is also roping in former ministers and senior leaders from Bihar to campaign in the municipal elections.

First Published: Apr 17, 2017 23:03 IST