February 5, 2015 10:43:44 pm
Less than 5 km from Delhi airport’s plush Terminal 3, a lane in South Delhi’s posh Vasant Kunj leads to Rangpuri Pahadi, a cluster of over 1,000 houses and shanties.
It was the site of a widely publicised demolition two months ago. It appeared largely forgotten for much of the run-up to the elections, except by the Aam Aadmi Party. Until this week.
With two days to go before Delhi votes, a road has come up in this slum. Residents say construction began five days ago and is nearing completion. And posters of both the Congress and the BJP have come up apparently overnight, alongside those of the AAP.
Mohammad Iqbal Ansari, 67, has lived in Rangpuri for nine years but this is the first time he has seen a road being constructed. “I wonder why,” he says.
“Don’t they need votes?” replies Ahmed, 45, who sells snacks in the area. “The BJP thinks it can build roads at the last moment and win votes. But how can they forget the demolition?”
In November, some 400 houses were razed for alleged encroachment on forest land. Rival parties blamed the BJP MLA, Satprakash Rana, for having reported the alleged encroachment to the forest department.
The Congress made an effort to win residents over, but it was brief. Rahul Gandhi, visiting the slum the day after, declared the bulldozer would have to pass over his body before razing another house, and his party put up tents for uprooted families. Among them was Asha Verma, a mother of five who works as a domestic help, and whose pictures with Rahul went up on the Congress’s Twitter page. “We were sleeping outdoors in the cold, and Rahul arranged accommodation. What did Modi do?” she says.
Like Asha Verma, Iqbal Ansari remains committed to the Congress. He reads the signs, however: “AAP candidate Col Devendra Sehrawat (Bijwasan seat) holds sabhas regularly with people here, and there is just too much anger against the BJP after the demolition,” he says. “I think the AAP will win.”
It was the AAP that sustained its work with residents, who say volunteers provided food and milk packets for almost a week after the demolition. “The AAP candidate has kept coming here, holding regular nukkad sabhas on our problems,” said Gajendra Pratap. He spoke to The Indian Express before the late arrival of the Congress and the BJP.
“Though the BJP had put up a tent at the entrance, inside Rangpuri not a single poster of either the BJP or the Congress could be seen until two days ago. Only AAP workers would roam around with jhaadus, talking to people,” says Rakesh Singh, a vegetable vendor. “Now suddenly, there are colourful flags and posters everywhere. And they have made such a nice road so fast.”
Outside the house of Aslam and seven others flutters a row of Congress flags. But the mason, who hails from Moradabad, has made his choice. “Some people came and put up the flags outside our house, but how does it matter?” he says. “We will vote for AAP.”
One problem residents will hope the new government can resolve is the absence of sewers. People often fall ill, they say. With the nearest hospital 14 km away at Safdarjung, the sick go to “doctors” without an MBBS degree. P K Malik, 36, who hails from Bengal, runs a clinic. He studied till class XII; his children go to DPS and Bloom Public School under the EWS quota. He says Rangpuri has eight “doctors” like him.
Lack of roads and streetlights is another problem. What matters more to locals, though, is the demolition, an issue not raised at BJP rallies in Bijwasan by either Rajnath Singh, Navjot Sidhu or Manoj Tiwari. “Sidhu’s rally was on a ground where Rangpuri starts,” Quresha, who works as a domestic help, said on the day of the rally. “The BJP never bothered to paste even a poster here.”
Quresha used to vote for BJP MLA Rana. “He never visited Rangpuri even once after demolition,” she mused.
Ahmed and his father, 70, used to vote for the Congress. “Vote toh itne saal Congress ko diya. BJP ko toh kabhi nahin denge,” the father says now. “Magar Aam Party mein kuch dam lagta hai.”
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