Lok Sabha elections 2019: Traders’ issues hold the key to Chandni Chowk
Of the 10 assembly segments in the constituency, seven house some of the city’s biggest wholesale markets and industrial units.Updated: May 04, 2019, 04:29 IST
Home to the national capital’s architectural heritage, colourful demography and a thriving commercial hub, the Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituency, represented largely by the city’s trading community, is likely to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections heavily influenced by three aspects — demonetisation, goods and services tax (GST) and the sealing drive.
Of the 10 assembly segments in the constituency, seven house some of the city’s biggest wholesale markets and industrial units. These are the trading centres of Chandni Chowk, Matia Mahal, Ballimaran, Sadar Bazar, Model Town, Wazirpur and Tri Nagar.
“The market has still not been able to revive from the effects of GST. Our profit margin has reduced sharply. The last three years have been difficult for our survival,” said Sanjay Goel, 48, who has been running a 70-year-old clothing store in Chandni Chowk.
While Chandni Chowk was exempted from sealing because of its “special status”, commercial establishments in other areas such as Tri Nagar, Model Town, Kamla Nagar and Shalimar Bagh were not so lucky.
Others said small-time traders, running units out of temporary structures that cannot be registered in government records, were the worst hit by the implementation of GST. Since a permanent address is needed to procure a GST number, many of them were forced to move businesses elsewhere.
“If we rent a proper shop, its rent would be around ₹10,000 at the very least. This is impossible to pay for someone like me who operates on a profit margin of around ₹3,000-4,000 a month. We moved our cloth business to Ghaziabad, where the rent is lower, but the profits, too, have fallen,” said Sanjeev Vermani, 39, who used sell readymade garments from the street side.
Meanwhile, other traders believe GST and demonetisation were measures needed to weed out corruption and black money from the country.
“The government needs to collect tax to function. It (GST) has made the sector more organised,” said Ramesh Gupta, 56, who sells canvassing material such as flags and merchandise for political parties in Sadar Bazar.
Till 2008, Chandni Chowk used to be the smallest parliamentary constituency in the country in terms of area. It only housed assembly segments in the Old Delhi area falling in the Delhi government’s Central district namely, Chandni Chowk, Ballimaran, Matia Mahal, Ajmeri Gate and Paharganj. The area covered was so small that it could be covered on foot.
Today, the Walled City comprises 30% of the entire constituency. The segments here are densely populated and have characteristic crowded and narrow walkways. With a population density of 27,730 persons per square km (as per the 2011 census), the Central district is one of the most densely-populated areas in Delhi.
In 2008, when a delimitation exercise was undertaken, other north Delhi neighbourhoods such as Model Town, Tri Nagar, Wazirpur, Shalimar Bagh and Shakur Basti were added.
Planned areas such as Civil Lines, Delhi University (DU) and government colonies in Timarpur comprise around 25% of the constituency. Unauthorised colonies like Adarsh Nagar and Jahangirpuri and slum clusters such as Shakur Basti and Inderlok count for another 25%-30% of the area here.
“Earlier the constituency had just about five to six assembly segments with around 6-7 lakh voters which one could cover entirely in a padyatra. The area is much bigger now and so are the challenges,” said veteran Congress leader and former MP J P Agarwal, who has successfully contested from the seat in 1984, 1989 and 1996.
The constituency with 1,557,403 voters is still the smallest of the seven parliamentary constituencies in Delhi in terms of electors. However, at 67.54%, it reported the largest voter turnout in 2014 elections.
Traditionally, merchants and money-lenders, Vaishyas, constitute 17.5% of the population here, and a sizeable Muslim population (14.2%), mostly concentrated in the Walled City, are the two key population segments in the area. While the traders, along with high-caste Brahmins (8%), are traditionally known to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Muslim community is known to favour Congress candidates.
“Muslims here have been voting for the Congress. But many have turned to the AAP for the work it has done on ground,” said Hilal Khan, 61, who owns an Urdu bookstore.
Other key sections like pockets of Punjabi voters (13.8%) in areas in north Delhi like Model Town and Shalimar Bagh, scheduled castes (16%) and other backward communities (17.5%) usually end up voting in a divided manner between the three parties.
With population growth, rampant unauthorised constructions and a huge influx of migrant workers, Old Delhi has been littered with major infrastructure challenges for decades.
It was only in December 2018 that one of the biggest redevelopment projects for the area started, nearly two decades after it was first conceived. The project, to be completed by 2020, includes pedestrianising the market, levelling pavements and removing the area’s infamous web of cables.
Bringing some ease to the congested streets, the Delhi Metro launched the ITO-Kashmere Gate corridor in May 2017. The line has made the commute to Old Delhi easier and parking hassles to rest.
Union environment minister and sitting BJP MP Harsh Vardhan, said, redevelopment of Walled City has been his dream. “The first thing I will do once I am back is to get Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on board for getting other such projects through,” said Vardhan, who will be contesting from the seat again this time.
While traders’ woes dominate discussion, issues like pollution, affordable housing, parking and jobs are key for residential areas such as Model Town, Pitampura, Mukherjee Nagar and Shalimar Bagh.
“The MPs must focus on their constituency in terms of improving the quality of life. None of the political leaders have put pollution on their agenda. The AAP has pitched everything on the condition of statehood, which is not convincing,” said Harpreet Kaur, 36, a resident of Model Town, who runs a small crafts business from her home.
In Adarsh Nagar, Jahangirpuri and Shakur Basti, mainly comprising unauthorised colonies and jhuggi-jhopri (JJ) clusters, basic facilities such as piped water supply, sewerage and proper roads, remain the key issues.
For the youth here, job remains a top priority. “Every other government promises jobs, but so many students end up waiting for years to get a decent placement,” said Anurag Khatri, a BCom final year student from the School of Open Learning (SOL).
Shakur Basti, the area from where CM Kejriwal was denied permission by the police for holding a rally last month, houses slum clusters that do not have electricity meters and have to rely on private contractor for power. “This time we will take a promise from the political leaders to make our houses pucca. Every time they dislocate us, our children’s education is affected,” said Mohammad Naushad, 41, a daily-wage labourer.
In the past, the seat used to be a Congress stronghold, but the BJP wrested it in the last general elections. This time, however, a triangular contest is in the offing.
In 2014, Vardhan had defeated AAP’s journalist-turned politician Ashutosh by over 100,000 votes while Congress’s Kapil Sibal ranked third, more than 2 million votes off the top.
This time, the BJP has repeated tried and tested leader Vardhan (64) — an ENT surgeon originally from east Delhi’s Krishna Nagar, from where he has been elected MLA four times. He was also the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections.
The Congress has fielded old-guard Agarwal (74) — a local from Chandni Chowk’s Parathe Wali Gali, who had fought his first Lok Sabha election from the area in 1984 and has represented the seat thrice since. Contesting his ninth LS election, he is believed to be the most experienced politician in Delhi.
The AAP has fielded a newcomer Pankaj Gupta (52) — a software professional, who is contesting an election for the first time. Gupta quit his job at a software firm in Gurugram to join the party full-time.
Asked about the issues plaguing traders, Vardhan, said, “My government has been working to find solutions. We have decided to set up an independent body to look into their problems.”
“We will win all seven seats by a huge margin. Both the Congress and the AAP have already accepted their defeat by trying to forge an alliance,” said Vardhan.
For Congress, infrastructure development and sealing are major issues. Agarwal said, “People in the area know me and my work… They are relieved to know that their old candidate who they could trust is back in fray.”
On being asked if the lack of an alliance with AAP would hurt the Congress, Agarwal said, “Not at all. The Congress is the oldest party working for people in Delhi.”
Gupta, however, is banking on people seeking change. “I have been working in the area for the past one-and-a-half years. Also, the party has worked for people much more in the past four years than what both the BJP and the Congress did in their rule. People resonate with the AAP, as we can deliver change,” he said.