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Lok Sabha elections 2019| Purvanchalis: From the crowd to the kingmakers

Purvanchalis — a term used to describe migrants from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh in Delhi — are nearly a quarter of Delhi’s two crore population.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 10, 2019 07:14 IST
Risha Chitlangia
Risha Chitlangia
New Delhi
Lok Sabha elections 2019,LS polls,Purvanchalis
People celebrate Chhath, the most popular festival of the Purvanchali community. The Purvanchalis are migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. (Sonu Mehta/ht file)

Delhi cannot run without Biharis, JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar had said in 2017 while campaigning for his party for municipal corporations elections.

That was poll rhetoric. Now sample some statistics. Purvanchalis — a term used to describe migrants from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh in Delhi — are nearly a quarter of Delhi’s two crore population. As voters, they have a decisive say in 30 of the 70 assembly constituencies in Delhi and at five of the seven parliamentary seats. Also, the Delhi government had made a special provision of ₹20 crore in its 2017-18 budget development of ghats for Chhath, the most popular festival of the Purvanchalis.

And, even though a large part of the community lives in working class neighbourhoods and illegal colonies spread across the city, most political parties in Delhi have now come alive to their aspirations and needs.

In the current Lok Sabha elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah, in his first election rally in in South Delhi parliamentary constituency, stressed on the development of Chhath ghats. “For the Purvanchal community, the BJP has developed more than 200 Chhath ghats,” said Shah while listing out major infrastructure projects, including widening of NH-24 (Delhi-Meerut expressway) and Delhi-Mumbai corridor, sanctioned by the Centre.

With the community having the power to sway electoral fortunes in 30-35 assembly seats, including Kirari, Burari, Karawal Nagar, Ghonda, Sangam Vihar, Nangloi Jat, Badli, and in parliamentary constituencies such as West Delhi, East Delhi, North East Delhi and North West Delhi and South Delhi, they are on the radar of all major players.

Since a large section of the community living in unauthorised colonies and slums, the BJP is talking about the Centre’s decision to grant ownership rights to property owners in unauthorised colonies. The AAP is projecting the work done by it in the public health and education sectors.

The Congress, which counted this segment among its core supporters till 2013 when the community vote shifted to the AAP, is reminding people of how it under the Sheila Dikshit government that basic infrastructure such as sewer and water pipelines, roads were launched, especially in the trans-Yamuna area, home to a sizeable Purvanchali population.

Haroon Yusuf, Delhi Congress’ working president, said, “Our government had done a lot of work for the people living in Delhi, especially in unauthorised colonies and slums. The AAP government is stalled most of the projects started by us. They are harping on the education and health sector, but in reality, they have done nothing.”

AAP’s North East Delhi candidate Dilip Pandey said, “Our work in the health and education sectors have benefited everyone, including migrants who have come here with an aspiration for a better quality of life.”

The BJP, which was known as a party of Punjabis and Baniyas in Delhi, also shifted focus to tap this major vote base, especially after the party’s defeat in 2015 Delhi assembly elections in which it won just three seats despite its vote share remaining intact. The appointment of singer-actor and North East Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari, who had joined the party just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, in 2016 was a tacit an acknowledgement of the community’s growing strength in the city. Tiwari has been given the party ticket again from North East.

The Purvanchalis used to be a traditional vote base of the Congress before it shifted loyalties to the AAP and, therefore, the Congress has fielded its Delhi heavyweight, Sheila Dikshit — a three-term chief minister of Delhi — to take on Tiwari and reclaim the community’s vote. Dikshit also has Uttar Pradesh connection. Her father-in-law Uma Shankar Dikshit was a Congress politician from UP. Before making a foray in Delhi politics, she has represented the Kannauj parliamentary constituency in 1984 and was the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate in 2017 UP assembly polls.

In the 1990s, when the population of the community started swelling in Delhi due to migration from UP and Bihar, BJP’s Lal Bihari Tiwari won three Lok Sabha elections from East Delhi (the boundaries of the seat were redefined in 2008 during delimitation to create North East Delhi seat). Lal Bihari Tiwari had defeated Dikshit in 1998 Lok Sabha elections from East Delhi.

Manoj Tiwari said, “The party has appointed me, a Purvanchali, as the state chief. Which other party has a Purvanchali state chief? We gave representation to the community in the municipal elections. They (AAP) had hurt the Purvanchali asmita (pride) when they attacked me at the inauguration of the Signature bridge.” The party had fielded 27 (10% of the total number of wards) Purvanchalis in the municipal elections in 2017.

Former Congress MP Mahabal Mishra, who is party’s West Delhi candidate, says that it is impossible to ignore the community. “What was considered ‘Bheedh’ (crowd) in the 1990s is now an established vote base. It can’t be ignored,” said Mishra, party’s Purvanchali face and one of the first community leaders in Delhi politics. Mishra earned electoral laurels by winning Dabri municipal ward (part of Dwarka assembly constituency ) in 1997.

“The community was widely noticed as a vote bank only after 2015, as it played a crucial role in AAP’s success,” said Sanjay Kumar, director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Kumar said, “In the past, political parties have used them, but never gave them tickets. It was mere tokenism. The community was never considered at par with the Jats, Punjabis and Baniyas.”

In 2015 assembly elections, the AAP had given tickets to 11 Purvanchalis, while the BJP and the Congress had fielded just three and two Purvanchalis respectively. In 2013 assembly elections, five of the nine Purvanchali candidates fielded by the AAP had won. In the 2017 municipal elections, the Janata Dal (United) contested 113 wards where Purvanchalis holds sway.

Pandey said, “It was AAP, which respected and acknowledged the community and gave representation in city’s electoral politics. We have 11 MLAs from the community.”

If there is one thing that mirrors the rise of the community in Delhi’s power corridors, it is the festival of Chhath. Over several decades, the four-day festival, in which devotees give offerings to the sun god, has evolved from being a phenomenon when the labourers took a break en masse to a celebration that has the Delhi cabinet on its toes with thousands of workers from several government agencies manning more than 500 Yamuna ghats across the national Capital.

Tanvir Aeijaz, professor of political science at Ramjas College, Delhi University, said that the community doesn’t vote as a block.

“They may be considered a vote bank but Purvanchali is not a homogenous group. They vote differently. There are people who have been living here for a very long time and consider themselves a part of the city, while there are migrants, especially workers, who have come here for a better life. The issues of these two groups of people from the same community are different when it comes to voting in elections. For migrant labourers, livelihood, access to better education and health facilities, water and electricity tariff are the key issues.”

First Published: May 10, 2019 03:46 IST