Lok Sabha elections 2019: Mewat gets ready to vote for progress
Recognised as the most backward district of the country by NITI Aayog, Mewat is a major influencer in Haryana politics. Renamed Nuh, the district comprises three assembly constituencies — Nuh, Punhana and Ferozepur Jhirka — which are among the nine constituencies that make up the Gurgaon parliamentary seat.
Spread over 1,507 square kilometres, the district has 439 villages, as per the 2011 Census of India. Locals say little has been done in the past five years to alleviate the district’s ‘backwardness’. Hindustan Times travelled from Roz-ka-Meo in Nuh, the first village in Mewat district, till Kolgaon in Ferozepur Jhirka, which is among the last villages that touch the Rajasthan border, to gather a sense of voters’ mood.
As one crosses Sohna and moves away from Gurugram, the number of under-construction buildings dotting the skyline gradually recedes and the cityscape gives way to swathes of wheat fields. Bearing a distinctive golden yellow shade, these ready-for-harvest crops are flanked by the Aravalli mountain ranges and signal the beginning of Mewat. Located at a distance of roughly 46 kilometres from Gurugram, Mewat is a far cry from the glitz of the Millennium City. Carved out from erstwhile Gurgaon and Faridabad districts, Mewat came into existence as the 20th district of Haryana on April 4, 2005. As per 2011 Census, the region’s population was pegged at 10.89 lakh, of which the majority is mostly Meo-Muslims.
In April 2018, NITI Aayog identified Mewat as the most backward district of India. In an assessment on multiple parameters such as education, health, agriculture, financial inclusion, skill development and infrastructure, Mewat scored 26% — the lowest across the country. This socio-economic backwardness of the region continues to be the main area of concern for residents and will be a major deciding factor when the district goes to polls on May 12.
As one enters Roz-ka-Meo, the first village of Mewat, a large hoarding welcomes visitors to Smartgram panchayat Rozkameo. The village, along with four others in the state, was adopted by former president Pranab Mukherjee as part of the Smartgram initiative in 2016. The initiative aimed to transform the villages into “happy, harmonious and hi-tech villages” but residents said they are far from being happy.
At an informal chaupal session, Zakir Hussain, a 47-year-old, bemoans the lack of basic facilities. “In 2016, we were told the village would get all facilities but hardly anything has changed. The panchayat got these new benches placed across the village but sewage flows underneath it,” said Hussain, as he points towards the benches in disdain.
It is the lack of jobs and schools, however, which makes him both angry and upset. “The only government school has only till class 8 and doesn’t even have sufficient number of teachers. Even after five years of education, children are unable to write their names. The children don’t learn anything and fail to get jobs in the future,” he said.
In 1981, Haryana Shahari Vikas Pradhikaran (earlier Huda) acquired areas in the village for industrial development and set up units that are now being managed by the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC). These industries, however, have failed to provide job prospects.
“The industries here do not give jobs to locals. Only one person from the village works in the unit. They prefer to employ people from the outside and discriminate against the locals since we are Muslim,” said Hussain, as he is cut off mid-sentence by another villager, Ayub Popatdad.
Thirty-six-year-old Popatdad blames the BJP government for the job crisis looming over Mewat. “More than 90% of people in Mewat work as truck drivers. One can find a truck driver in every family, but now, all of them are unemployed. The BJP government tightened the norms for securing a driver’s licence. It has become almost impossible to secure a new licence or renew existing ones. From the earlier 60 trips per month, people hardly make 18 trips now, as not many want to hire drivers without licences,” rues Popatdad. He hopes the new government would relax the norms and return his source of livelihood.
In 2016, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had announced that Mewat residents who were using a licence made in other states would have to get a new licence. The entire process was shifted online and riddled with various hurdles, say residents.
“The whole process of procuring a licence was shifted online. Documents like voter ID, Aadhaar card and class 10 mark sheet are required. They demand that all the documents have the same details. Literacy level in Mewat is already very low. How will a 50-year-old get a class 10 mark sheet The process of applying is lined with many hurdles. Most give up and prefer approaching a middleman,” said Popatdad.
Azharuddin, a 32-year-old trucker, nods in agreement. “I got my licence made during the Congress regime. When the BJP came to power, I couldn’t get my licence renewed. Officials refused, citing different excuses. After struggling, I reached out to a middleman, who helped me in getting a licence from Gurugram. However, I had to pay Rs 30,000 for a licence that would have cost Rs 5,000 if officials had accepted my application,” he said.
Another major issue, residents say, is the attacks by self-styled cow vigilantes on those transporting cattle, which has created a palpable sense of fear— a sentiment that prevails across the district. “People have stopped transporting cows but even when we are transporting buffaloes to Delhi’s Ghazipur, we are vulnerable to attacks from ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow vigilantes). The vigilantes stop us, ask for money, and beat us if we refuse. Sometimes, these vigilantes are supported by the police,” said Hussain.
In the 2014 general elections, INLD’s Zakir Hussain was the front runner in Nuh with 69,175 votes whereas BJP’s Rao Inderjit, the current Member of Parliament from Gurgaon and holds charges of the MoS for the ministry of chemicals & fertilizers and Union minister of state (independent charge), came second with 21,121 votes. The Congress candidate secured 17,968 votes whereas AAP’s Yogendra Yadav managed to secure 1,884 votes.
In Gurgaon parliamentary segment, Hussain came second with 3,70,058 votes. Inderjit stood first with 6,44,780 votes.
Much has changed for the people of Mewat since then and going by local accounts, the upcoming elections will see a duel between the BJP and the Congress.
A few kilometres from the chaupal is another village called Mehraula. Mohammad Rizwan, 25, a truck driver, said that he will vote for the Congress, since the BJP had not done anything for his village or people. “There is no direct water supply. The pipes have been laid but there is no connection. People are compelled to rely on tankers that cost Rs 1,200 each, a burden for truckers like me, who are already feeling the pinch of licence rules,” he said.
Ramesh Chand, a sanitation worker, throws his weight behind Rizwan. A resident of the nearby Khod Basai village, Chand said, “The BJP government hasn’t done anything for the welfare of people like me who are compelled to clean sewers and drains without safety equipment or gear. Our salaries get delayed by two to three months now. Under the Congress government, at least we used to get our salaries on time.”
Jawahar Yadav, spokesperson, BJP Haryana, said, “Earlier, most truck drivers in Mewat had a licence they had procured from the Northeastern states. The licences were under suspicion and we only streamlined the process. Anyone who wishes to drive trucks using valid licences can do so. We have also increased the connectivity between Mewat and Rajasthan.The BJP government has already approved Rs 633 crore for a feeder canal project and Rs 151 crore for a dental college, and another Rs 51 crore for a unani college. Mewat will see more development when BJP comes to power again.”
Senior Congress leader Ajay Yadav said that the party would bring the much-needed change to Mewat. “Congress will lay tracks for the railway line in Mewat after forming the government. When our government was in power, we had created industrial units in villages and will expand these. We will also fix the process of procuring a driver’s licence so that the people of Mewat do not suffer,” said Ajay Yadav, former Haryana cabinet minister and senior Congress leader.
Yadav also promised that the party would set up a university in Mewat and another school for training truck drivers.
Ten kilometres from Mehraula is Ghasera. On the face of it, Ghasera can pass off as another nondescript village of Mewat, but its history sets it apart. It was from this village that Mahatma Gandhi, on December 19, 1947, exhorted Meo Muslim refugees to stay in India. His address persuaded many to stay back. However, decades after gaining independence, residents of the village say Gandhi’s message of peace is increasingly under threat.
Isa Khan, 88, was 16 when Gandhi visited the village. “He told us ‘Don’t go to Pakistan. You (Meos) are the backbone of India. You will get all your rights here’. This sentiment of unity is under attack by politicians who keep spewing hatred against our community. India is our country and we will vote to strengthen this amity. Politicians talk about mandir-masjid, but the village where Gandhiji came doesn’t even have basic facilities,” he said.
His grand-nephew, Mustaqueem, 18, said, “Look around the village. The streets are overflowing with sewage discharge and there are mounds of trash all around. For water, one has to rely on tankers, which costs Rs 700.”
The acute water crisis is also a major problem in Shikrawa village of Punhana. Located 28 kilometres from Ghasera, women in Shikrawa are compelled to walk long distances to fetch water. Navigating the dilapidated Pinangwan- Shikrawa Road makes the task more difficult.
“One has to walk for 2-3 kilometres to get drinkable water from the tap. It takes at least half an hour to walk back and forth with the heavy load on our heads,” said Attaiya, 64, a resident of Shikrawa village.
Her nephew Shafaat Khan added that stalemate over the construction of the road had existed for many years. “The road is in a bad state. It is also a source of heavy pollution and people fall sick due to the dust, but no one cares,” said Khan.
As more people join in, a discussion on the prospects of different parties turns into a heated discussion.“Most villagers in Mewat are either truck drivers or farmers. Under the BJP government, our crops have perished, farmers are given low prices for the crops. I will vote for a party that will waive off farmers’ debts,” said Rati Khan, a resident.
Shafaat’s son Sakib, however, said he would vote for a party that would make job-creation its agenda. “There are no jobs across Mewat. Youngsters are roaming jobless or involved in gambling. Jobs should be on the agenda of the new government,” he said.
Further ahead of Shikrawa is Pinangwan, another village of Punhana. The road that crosses through Pinangwan main market is a busy one and flanked by shops on both ends.
The mood of voters here is different. Mukesh Kumar, 30, owns a shop in the market. Kumar, as has been the family tradition, said he will vote for the BJP. “Pakistan ko karara jawab diya hai sarkaar ne (The government gave a good response to Pakistan post-Pulwama). Demonetisation was also a good move and cleared all the black money,” said Kumar.
However, he conceded that jobs had not been created under the present government. “Enough jobs have not been created. This is definitely an area of concern,” he added.
Some 13 kilometres from Pinangwan falls Nagina. In the busy market area, voters said they were disenchanted with the performance of Rao Inderjit. Arshad Hussain, 35, a chemist, bluntly said that Rao did not do any work. “He has hardly ever visited the constituency. The chief minister must have visited the constituency more frequently. The state BJP government is doing well but Rao has nothing to show for it. He has done nothing for Mewat or its people,” said Hussain.
He said people of Mewat have been waiting for a railway line for decades but successive governments have failed to take up their cause. “We have given up. It is unfortunate because people are unable to sell their products and services in Delhi and other neighbouring cities. A party that promises to start the railway line and create more jobs will have a greater chance of winning,” said Hussain, who is waiting for the parties to announce their candidates.
Kolgaon in Ferozepur Jhirka is among the last villages that touch the Rajasthan border, after which one enters Alwar. Not many people had heard about the village until last July, when it came into the spotlight in the aftermath of a lynching incident. Rakbar Khan, who was lynched in Alwar by suspected cow vigilantes, belonged to the village. Locals said the incident would weigh on the minds when they cast their votes. “People from the village avoid going to Rajasthan after what happened with Rakbar and me. We used to rear cows but out of fear, we have stopped doing that. I am unemployed at present. I will vote for the party that promises to dispel the fear of violence looming over our heads. People in Mewat have lived as a brotherhood all these years and that should continue,” said Aslam, a village resident, who was accompanying Rakbar when the incident took place.
Widening of the Gurugram-Alwar highway has also been a long-standing demand of the residents.
“The road is narrow and gets crowded. There have been hundreds of accidents on the stretch and many have died. There is no trauma centre either,” said Mushtaq, who runs a small shop in the village.