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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

India elections: Race reaches a divided New Delhi

  • BJP's Manoj Tiwari emphasizes national security and anti-corruption
  • Congress' Kanhaiya Kumar focuses on economic disparity and social cohesion
  • Many residents feel that elections bring no real change to their fundamental issues
Update : 21 May 2024, 02:15 PM

Northeast Delhi is set for an electoral showdown on May 25 between Manoj Tiwari from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Kanhaiya Kumar from the Indian National Congress (INC).

The capital’s newest constituency is largely underdeveloped, comprised of resettlement colonies built in the late 1970s and home to large sections of migrant laborers.

Around 30% of northeast Delhi’s residents are Muslim; the rest are Hindu. Its issues are a reflection of India’s larger problems of inequality, unemployment and growing communal disharmony.

The lines of religious divide are evident in the region, and sectarian tensions have worsened since a communal riot in 2020 killed over 30 people.

Divided opinions

In Raja Market, a distinctly Muslim neighborhood, locals emphasized that education, safety and livelihood are some of the area’s main issues.

“Nothing good has happened here,” 24-year-old shopkeeper Mohammad Tariq told DW. “Bloodshed is common. People get stabbed over little disagreements. Even kids go to school with knives and blades,” Tariq said.

Women’s safety is another issue amid regular reports of sexual assaults in northeast Delhi.

Malti Tiwari, who lives close to Raja Market, said women’s safety has remained a problem under several governments. “Where is it safe for women?” she questioned but declined to elaborate.

Some say that it’s time for change

“We haven’t seen Manoj Tiwari here in the last 10 years,” said Mohammed Farhan, another shopkeeper, claiming the BJP MP only visits the constituency’s Hindu-dominated areas. “Kanhaiya Kumar is a new candidate. He is well-educated. We want change. We want a new face.”

Others, like 80-year-old Khurshid, said that, since the riot, both communities have viewed the other with suspicion.

“No work has happened in the area since the BJP came to power,” said Khurshid, who has been living in the constituency since 1975, adding that now, “it’s very difficult for Muslims here to step out alone.”

“We will say it clearly that we’ll vote for Congress. We’ll get Congress.”

In northeast Delhi’s Hindu-dominated Shahdara locality, locals with whom DW spoke were largely satisfied with the BJP’s Tiwari.

“We have all the facilities available to us. What don’t we have?” said pan shop owner Uday Raj Chauhan.

“The truth of the matter is that Manoj Tiwari belongs from here, lives here,” said the 44-year-old who voted for the BJP in the last three Lok Sabha elections. “A few months ago, a house nearby caved in, and some people died. He himself came to check on the family three days after the incident.”

Uber driver Shivlochan Prasad insisted that inflation and unemployment were not the current government’s fault.

“When there are more people, there will be higher prices. There will be more unemployed people. What can the government do about this?” he said, adding that Tiwari’s government deserved continuity.

Who is Kanhaiya Kumar?

Kanhaiya Kumar shot to fame in 2016 after delivering a speech about freedom from corruption, hunger and discrimination to a packed auditorium in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Kumar believes that the current government has polarized the masses across India and in his constituency.

“Hindu-Muslim divide is the easiest way for the media to describe today’s politics, but it isn’t the full picture,” Kumar said. “The social fabric is affected when there is an economic conflict, and we have been looking at these things as a separate issue.”

“Outsider agents were brought in so that the poor Muslims and Hindus of the region do not sit together and figure out the reason behind the lack of development in the last 10 years,” Kumar said.

Kumar’s campaign has been plagued with delays, defections and even an in-party protest by workers against his nomination because he is an “outsider.”

The protests died down after Kumar formally submitted his nomination with the Election Commission.

When asked about the chaos within the Congress party and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) it heads, Kumar said that politicians who did not feel pressured to lead change from their vote base had defected to the ruling party to avoid “inconvenience.”

He further claimed that defections would not change the outcome by much.

“I can see for the first time that parties are not fighting the elections; the public is. I can tell you this as a candidate,” Kumar said. “They know what they want to vote for. A lot has changed during these elections.”

BJP’s star performer

Singer and actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari is a popular face of India’s regional Bhojpuri cinema.

The BJP leader first emerged victorious in northeast Delhi in 2014, in the elections that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming to power.

Tiwari also won from the constituency in 2019 and is the only sitting BJP MP in Delhi to retain his seat as the party in the national capital fields fresh faces this year.

“The 2024 Lok Sabha election is an election for the future of the country. On one side is Narendra Modi, who raised the honor of the soldiers of the country … gave free treatment up to ₹5 lakh to more than 55 crore people of the country,” Tiwari said at one of his public meetings in northeast Delhi.

“On the other side is the Congress and INDIA alliance, which works to promote corruption, appeasement and anti-national forces.”

Tiwari called his opponent Kumar a “40-day tourist.” He has also accused Congress of ignoring northeast Delhi and last week accused the opposition party of being involved in “ appeasement” politics, in line with the BJP’s national stance towards the opposition.

“Immersed in vote bank and appeasement, the Congress is determined to insult the Constitution, making reservations on the basis of religion, which we have to be cautious about,” he said.

DW’s repeated attempts to arrange an interview with Tiwari for this article remained unsuccessful.

Disillusioned voters

Election fever in the capital has reached its peak, with locals vocally debating the pros and cons of their choices. But there’s another section of society that is disillusioned.

Mueedin, who owns a bike repair shop three buildings away from Kumar’s election office, has witnessed the rallies and speeches in the run-up to elections daily. The patriarch of a joint family with over 50 members, he said it does not matter whom they vote for.

“We have lived here all our lives. We have seen different governments come and go. They’re all the same,” the 62-year-old told DW.

“The road shows and promises are not new, they happen every five years. After the vote, things will go back to normal, and nothing will change.”

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