Lok Sabha elections 2019: Contrasts, caste decide poll fortunes in South Delhi
In 2008, when delimitation was carried out for Delhi’s parliamentary constituencies, all assembly segments in erstwhile South Delhi, except Kalkaji, went to the current Lok Sabha segments of New Delhi, East Delhi and the newly formed West Delhi.Updated: May 11, 2019 11:51 IST
The plush farmhouses on barren lands in Chhatarpur, the vast rural belt behind them, the planned neighbourhoods such as Saket and Vasant Kunj and the congested unauthorised colonies in Sangam Vihar and Palam all reflect the wide variety in demography and topography of South Delhi constituency.
Lack of schools, colleges, healthcare facilities, poor roads, water and drainage are among the top issues that echo across all 10 assembly segments in South Delhi constituency. But the priorities differ from place to place and, often, from one community to another in the same place.
In 2008, when delimitation was carried out for Delhi’s parliamentary constituencies, all assembly segments in erstwhile South Delhi, except Kalkaji, went to the current Lok Sabha segments of New Delhi, East Delhi and the newly formed West Delhi. The assembly constituencies that the old South Delhi seat had to part with include Janakpuri, Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar, Rajouri Garden, Delhi Cantonment, R K Puram, Hauz Khas, Malviya Nagar and Okhla.
Meanwhile, Outer Delhi, which used to be the biggest Lok Sabha constituencies in the national capital with as many as 21 assembly segments, was obliterated. A large part of what used to be Outer Delhi once makes South Delhi today. It gave South Delhi, the assembly segments of Palam, Bijwasan, Mehrauli, Chhatarpur, Deoli, Ambedkar Nagar, Sangam Vihar, Tughlakabad and Badarpur.
These areas have a large rural belt where the trend of selling lands in the absence of adequate groundwater had started in the early 70s. Most of these villages, such as Chhatarpur and Badarpur, were dominated by the Gujjars. Few such as Bijwasan and parts of Deoli, had Jat-dominated villages. While the major chunk of Outer Delhi’s Gujjar population came to the new South Delhi seat, a large part of the Jat population went to the newly formed West and North West parliamentary constituencies after the delimitation process.
“This trend coincided with a phase of migration,” said a senior Congress leader in Delhi. He said, “It was also the time when large population from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were migrating to Delhi. This led to the emergence of what we today know as the Purvanchali community — a major vote base for all political parties in Delhi today.”
Cocktail of caste and community
The BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri, the Congress’ Vijender Singh and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadha are locked in a triangular political battle for South Delhi this general election.
On vote share parameter, there are three major players – Gujjars, Jats and Purvanchalis.
Together, according to the numbers pegged by the political parties, Jats, Gujjars and Purvanchalis make almost one-third of the total voting population in South Delhi. And in this Jat-Gujjar-Purvanchali mix, the Purvanchalis form one half, and the Gujjars and Jats taken together form another.
Delimitation and immigration have affected vote bases in multiple ways. For instance, several villages in Chhatarpur and Badarpur have transformed from Gujjar-dominated villages to Purvanchali-dominated pockets. Some have resulted in the formation of urbanised slums such as Aya Nagar and Palam Village. The biggest unauthorised colony in Delhi such as Sangam Vihar are now a melting pot of identities.
How identities matter
Most Gujjar-dominated areas in South Delhi fall under constituencies such as Badarpur, Chhatarpur, Tughlakabad, Bijwasan and parts of Mehrauli.
The caste has influenced voting patterns too.
Tughlaqabad constituency has voted Ramesh Bidhuri, the current BJP MP in south Delhi, for three consecutive terms since 2003. Both Bidhuri and the MLA who succeeded him, AAP’s Sahiram Pehelwan, are Gujjars. Chhatarpur has had several Gujjar MLAs. Interestingly, the three MLAs that the constituency has had since 2008 are Gujjars from three different parties — the Congress, the BJP and then the AAP. Since 1993, Badarpur elected Rambir Singh Bidhuri, a Gujjar, thrice, even though he migrated from the Janata Dal to the Nationalist Congress Party to the BJP.
Most Jat-dominated areas in South Delhi fall under constituencies such as Bijwasan, Palam and parts of Deoli and Sangam Vihar. Caste has been an important factor in elections as well. For instance, Bijwasan has always had an MLA who is a Jat.
Currently, the rural belt where most such villages are located are marked by the frequest presence of posh farmhouses, some of them paving way for villages in the interiors. Former Union Minister and Delhi’s chief minister Sahib Singh Verma of the BJP, from erstwhile Outer Delhi, was a Jat. His son, Parvesh Verma, is an MP from West Delhi. The parliamentary segment was once a stronghold of Congress’ Sajjan Kumar, who is now convicted in the 1984 riots case. His brother was an MP from South Delhi but lost to Ramesh Bidhuri in 2014.
When it comes to the Purvanchali voter base, unlike North East Delhi, East Delhi and West Delhi, South Delhi is yet to see parties pitching Purvanchali candidates for the Lok Sabha.
The BJP has fielded Ramesh Bidhuri, who is a career politician, has, admittedly, focused his strategy around caste arithmetic.
On April 25, the BJP MP, who himself belongs to the Gujjar community, started his rally with a Jat chaupal in Deoli. On the same evening, he held a chaupal with “Kshatriyas” (upper caste Hindus) in the same constituency. Two days later, he chose to address a small gathering of Purvanchalis in Badarpur He returned to the same constituency on April 28 to address the Gujjar community in separate meetings.
The Congress’ Vijender Singh, a professional boxer, is a Jat from Bhiwani in Haryana but now lives in Shanti Kunj in Vasant Kunj. Singh said, he has a policy of not attacking anyone by name, including his political opponents in the BJP and the AAP during his election campaign. But he admittedly keeps his accent “desi” in political campaigns, which he said helps him connect with people.
The AAP’s Raghav Chadha is a chartered accountant by training. An upper-caste Punjabi, he grew up in New Rajender Nagar but now lives in Saket. Chadha pitches himself as the anti-thesis of Bidhuri – as someone who focuses only on development and sees politics beyond caste and regional factors. However, on occasions, he has criticised Bidhuri over an episode in which the BJP MP was accused of misbehaving with an office bearer in his own party who belonged to the Purvanchali community.
On the ground
For 50-year-old Tara Devi, a resident of Tigri area in Sangam Vihar in South Delhi, water supply is her primary concern. Devi, who is a purvanchali, has had a bad experience. Her son and husband sustained severe injuries after they got into fights with groups of other locals in two separate occasions while fetching water for their household from a government water supply truck.
While most Dalits in the unauthorised colony said they want a better drainage system, as much as they need access to more water, the Jats in the neighbourhood have different priorities.
“We want broader roads and better roads before anything else. The water crisis can be taken care of by good maintenance of the existing underground water reserve system,” said Devendra Singh, 38, a resident of Sangam Vihar who belongs to the Jat community.
Such patters can also be witnessed in constituencies such as Badarpur,
Deoli, Tughlakabad and Mehrauli among others.