Sohna to vote for development
Located at a distance of over 25 kilometres from the Millennium City, Sohna changes character as one drives past the high-rise corporate offices, half-built condominiums and several private educational institutions that adorn the sides of the Sohna Road.
As one approaches the main town, the buildings, which have come up over the last decade, give way to vast open spaces and old tombs.
The road that leads up to the main town offers a clear picture of its past, of villages still trying to keep pace with urbanisation while holding on to their rich historical past. Several tombs and mosques, built during the Lodhi era, lie abandoned even as vast lands are rapidly being acquired for corporate offices as Sohna aspires to become a satellite town of Gurugram.
A massive old fort wall on a hill, on the outskirts of the city, looms over the town, a reminder of the town’s historical legacy.
HT, in the build-up to the polls on May 12, paid a visit to Sohna, among the nine assembly constituencies of the Gurgaon parliamentary seat, to assess the political legacy of Sohna and ascertain the mood of the voters.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the incumbent member of Parliament (MP), Rao Inderjit Singh, contesting on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket, had garnered the highest votes in Sohna constituency — getting 64,165 votes out of the 141,681 polled votes, a vote share of 45%. Sohna had accounted for over 10% of Inderjit’s total votes in nine assembly constituencies of Gurgaon. He was closely followed by Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate, Zakir Hussain, who polled 46,849 votes (33% of the total). The remaining votes were shared between candidates of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and independents.
In the past 15 years, the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency has been a fight between Rao Inderjit Singh and Zakir Hussain, with Inderjit claiming a hat-trick of victories and Hussain finishing as a runner-up thrice.
In 2009, when Inderjit had contested on a Congress ticket, he had polled 27, 550 votes compared to Hussain’s 28,925 votes in Sohna. The total voter base of Sohna, at the time, was considerably lower — at 83,765.
Ram Kanwar, a political analyst and former professor, Haryana Agricultural University, Hissar, said that the BJP is likely to emerge as the number one party in Sohna. “The incumbent government appears to retain support among its voter base — Rajputs, Gujjars and Yadavs — in Sohna. Although the INLD has given the BJP competition in the constituency, the split within INLD this year means that there appears a possibility that some of the Muslim votes, traditionally a vote bank of the INLD, may switch over to the Congress,” said Kanwar.
In the villages and towns that HT visited, voters voiced their concerns about transport connectivity, lack of higher educational institutions, jobs, access to healthcare facilities and drinking water. However, despite these shortcomings, the support for the incumbent government appeared strong, especially, in the aftermath of the recent air strikes by India in response to the Pulwana terror attack.
A small detour from the Sohna Road, over six kilometres from the main town, leads to Daula village after an arduous journey on cramped and dusty roads. A dozen elderly men are engrossed in a game of cards, the village’s favourite activity to kill time in the day, on a community plot (chaupal), which has been christened ‘Gullu ka Nehra’. Vijay Singh or Gullu, a villager informs, is a social worker who owns the land.
Daula was among five model villages adopted by former President Pranab Mukherjee under the Smart Gram project in July 2016. The objective was to set up basic infrastructure, information and communication systems to improve governance and provide better services, livelihood and economic operations.
Gullu said, “This is where all the important discussions take place in the village and all the disputes are settled.”
The village has three schools, pukka roads and gets electricity throughout the day, unlike earlier, says Gullu. A major concern among villagers, mostly landowning farmers and ex-servicemen, is the lack of access to quality healthcare, jobs, poor telecommunication connectivity and lack of higher education institutions.
“The mobile networks are extremely poor. The government has laid down wires and set up routers across the village, but the connectivity remains poor. The only spot where one can get network is near the temple, perhaps due to some divine intervention. I have to walk a few metres every time the phone rings,” said Shishupal Singh, a retired government official.
Singh said that the village had been transformed after realtors and developers purchased land to construct offices and residential projects along the Sohna Road over the last decade. The region, he said, witnessed exponential growth in the past decade with circle rates of village properties rising, but said that the construction boom and urbanisation is yet to translate into jobs. “The youth of the village commute to far-off places such as Gurugram, Faridabad and Palwal to study and to get jobs. The town has some private educational institutions, but not everyone can afford to pay high fees. The government should set up a polytechnic college to help create jobs in Sohna. Moreover, it is not safe for women to travel to far-off places,” said Singh.
Ompal Singh, a retired ex-serviceman, said that in the past five years, the situation had significantly improved as the village was getting “bijli” and “paani” full time. “However, the village lacks access to basic healthcare services. There is a health centre, but the doctor and the nurse visit only once a week. It remains locked on other days. We have to go to the government hospital, which is understaffed, and most of the patients are referred to the Civil Hospital in Gurugram for treatment,” said Ompal Singh.
An Ayushman Bharat kiosk at Sohna Civil Hospital has been set up for those eligible to get registered.
Despite the evident shortcomings, those present at the chaupal were unanimous in their support for the incumbent government ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. “The current government has given a proper reply to Pakistan on terrorism by conducting airstrikes and exacting revenge for the Pulwama attack. Desh ko power de di (the country has been empowered). When it comes to delivery mechanisms, it was earlier difficult to get an LPG cylinder and the system had gaps. Now, there is no middleman. The level of corruption has gone down,” said Sukhpal Singh, a farmer.
Rakesh Singh, an ex-serviceman, also expressed his support for the BJP and said PM Modi has given a befitting reply to Pakistan. “He was the architect of surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LOC) in 2016 and now, we have conducted airstrikes deep inside the territory of Pakistan. He has done in five years what previous governments failed to do. Now, Pakistan will think twice before attacking us,” said Singh.
In the adjacent Alipur village, several farmers, beneficiaries of the PM KISAN yojna, which was announced in the 2019 interim budget, praised the government. Under the scheme, small and marginal farmers cultivating crops on up to two hectares (five acres) of land, get direct income support of ₹2,000 per quarter from the government.
“There are issues when it comes to healthcare and cleanliness in the village. But the government has provided subsidies for inputs. The power situation has improved considerably and at present, we get power for at least six hours a day. If it can be raised to 12 hours daily, it would be enough to till one acre in a day. The situation is at least better than it ever was earlier,” said Ishwar Singh, a farmer, who has been staying here for four decades.
Bather Devi, a widow of an army officer who served in the 1971 war, said that the government had ignored the needs of the armed forces though. “The government has worked in providing civic amenities. However, one grouse is that I am yet to receive the arrears of one rank one pension (OROP) scheme. The ex-servicemen have been protesting but the government does not pay heed to them,” said Devi.
Eight kilometres from Alipur, at the post office in the main Sohna city, a group of senior citizens stand, disgruntled, in a disjointed queue, waiting for their monthly pension. The internet at the post office has been down for several hours and some of the older women are squatting near a banyan tree in the office complex, waiting for the ‘net’ to become operational.
Sixty-five-year-old Satish Chand said, “I have been coming here for the past three days to collect my pension but the internet has been down. This delay takes place almost every month. When the internet is functional, there is a power cut. All this talk of ‘Digital India’ is a lofty idea here.”
Outside the post office, a herd of stray cattle is feeding on the garbage strewn across the road leading to the main bazaar. Residents said that the city lacks a proper waste disposal mechanism and farmers often leave their cattle on the main roads during the day.
Notwithstanding the support from farmers, members of the trader community said that concerns persist.
Nand Kishore, 35, a trader, said, “The government made tall promises in the last election, but the reality on the ground has not changed. Sanitation remains a major problem. Swachh Bharat is merely a slogan. In the past five years, no politician from any party has visited us to address our concerns.”
He, however, rued a lack of a credible alternative to the current government.
At least 10 buses are stationed at the bus stand in the centre of the city, waiting to ferry passengers to Gurugram, Nuh, Ballabgarh and Faridabad.
Twenty-three-year-old Prince Khattana, a first-time voter and a resident of Sohna, works as a parking attendant in Gurugram. “I commute daily between Sohna and Gurugram. Earlier, I used to take a bus but the frequency of buses is limited, especially at night. There is a lack of cheap transport options to commute. The shared auto rickshaws are expensive. I had to purchase a second-hand motorcycle to commute,” said Khattana.
He said that he would vote for the BJP government, as he believed that PM Modi is a strong leader and the other parties have failed to put out a strong candidate.
About a kilometre from Alipur, in Ghamroj village, which is dominated by Rajputs, residents said that irrespective of the candidate or the work done by the incumbent government in the past five years, their vote would go to the BJP.
Param Chauhan, 42, a milk supplier, said, “My family and I have been voting for the BJP for decades. The candidate does not matter. It is about supporting an ideology. BJP has worked for the nation and initiated several developmental schemes. No major scams have taken place under this government. It will take time for things to change at the ground level.”
Umar Mohammad, a property dealer, however, said that the BJP’s work, in terms of development and governance, has been disappointing and that he would vote for change. “The government had promised ‘achhe din’, but that was just a gimmick. Traders suffered during the period following demonetisation and also due to the hasty implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Unemployment has increased by a big margin. The government has failed to create jobs,” said Mohammad, adding that he travels to Sohna for work daily from Nuh, which is also among the nine constituencies that make up the Gurgaon seat.