New Delhi: Shaheen Bagh obstinately sits close to the reserved constituency Trilokpuri (East Delhi), which erupted into Hindu-Muslim riots months after Narendra Modi victory in 2014. The “inquilab zindabad” chants by protesters against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 fill the air of the Okhla constituency. At Jeet Ki Goonj Home Minister Amit Shah said – “We want a Delhi where there will never be a Shaheen Bagh!” However, the word of Shah is not subverting the “mudda” of the state elections – “bijli, paani, shiksha aur swasth.”
Though the experts we spoke to believe that things can change if voters buy the “danger’ narrative being built around the protests at Shaheen Bagh. Some of them believe that BJP is trying to establish a direct link between Shaheen Bagh/anti-CAA protests and the Delhi election. Also, this is the first electoral test of the Act. One has to wait to watch February 11, 2020, results.
Blocks don’t care about Bagh.
If you want to find your way in Trilokpuri, you should know the Blocks well – 36 in all. Local issues dominate the minds of the residents living in clusters of some of the Blocks News18.com visited. “Shaheen bagh… kyun apni pareshaniya kam hai kya?” said an old toothless man sitting outside the multiple dosa counters run by South Indians in the vicinity.
A retired sanitary inspector Ram Kishan joins in and is not quite impressed with frequent mentions of Shaheen Bagh in election rallies - “BJP is trying to bring up Shaheen Bagh for polarizing the elections – to spark a counter that can translate into votes for them but Delhi votes differently – the protests against CAA-NRC do not figure in our voting issues,” he said.
The time for elections has been marked by divisive statements in the past. Shah’s pitch against Shaheen Bagh was not a surprise for them, “Ab chunav ka samay hai, yeh sab toh hoga, lekin voters local mudda dekhenge. Shaheen Bagh, international issue, our election is for local issues. There is a protest site not just in Delhi but in every other corner of the country – people around the world watching it. Why would we get swayed by it? We are voting on what matters to us – the basic education and health,” said RB Yadav, who retired from the electricity board.
The constituency has three government schools that have seen improvement, the residents are content with water supply though there are complaints by some on contaminated water being supplied as the sewer and water pipes have burst which has led to contamination of water, “But this can be rectified, what matters is work has been done, it has to improve by the next party that forms the government,” said another Mubbashir Azeem, an electrician.
The young boys and girls find improvement in three of the schools in the vicinity – which have benches, teachers, and toilets for girls. Parents say that six years ago their daughters had to control themselves because there were no washrooms maintained in the government schools. Things have improved in the past few years.
“The demand now is the next MLA should upgrade the existing system,” a common sentiment in Trilokpuri.
In 2015, Raju Dhingan from AAP won with 74,907 votes beating BJPs Kiran Vaidya with 45,153 votes. This time Councillor Rohit Kumar Mehraulia is standing for AAP, a music teacher and opposition leader in Nagar Nigam. Dr Sunil Kumar who has his clinic in Trilokpuri thinks, “Vaidya and Mehraulia are going to have a tough fight… Vaidya takkar degi local muddo pe.”
But Shaheen Bagh has an “image” in nearby seat
Bagh is not a mudda but it has an image – from voters across party lines – AAP supporters to BJP supporters the protestors are being used for political purposes. One of the AAP members in the district Rajdutt Pandey, district president said, “Shaheen Bagh has only 3000 people sitting there, what about the other thousands who are not joining? Everyone is not misinformed. People are being used for politics and after elections, this will all wipe out. All interests will be served. In his opinion “No one will be asked to leave the country – CAA NRC are central issues, the government at the Centre will deal with that but local residents are not understanding this,” he said.
This is in stark contrast to AAP leadership that has shown support to Shaheen Bagh and opposed CAA.
At Block 20, where the riots took place in Trilokpuri, some BJP supporters have bought in the narrative that the protestors have been paid to sit and everything is being managed by some agency that is providing the paraphernalia for protests. Urmila and Mamta said, “I have heard the protestors have been paid!” Though the women say the issues will be local when they are vote, Shaheen Bagh comes up in discussions but not at the time they vote. For most of them the commuters have been troubled and it will end after elections in Delhi – “because the protests are misinformed. The doubts will be cleared,” said Meenakshi Sharma, a housewife in Block 20.
Hilal Ahmad, Fellow, Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies Foundation, Nantes, France, Associate Professor, CSDS, New Delhi said that their surveys show “Delhi elections have always been localized.”
He added in an email from France, “Firstly, voters in Delhi are fully aware of the difference between a Lok Saba election and an assembly election. The nationalism without the governance of BJP, hence, might be counterproductive. Secondly, the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh have also distanced itself from mainstream political parties. It has been transformed to a people's movement. Focusing entirely on a self-claimed non-party formation in a local election, in my view, cannot produce the required political rhetoric for the BJP,” he said.
The experts believe that BJP is trying to establish a direct link between Shaheen Bagh/anti-CAA protests and the Delhi election. “This is also a political compulsion for the BJP. Citizenship and structural changes in the legal-constitutional framework of country has already been identified as the main agenda by the Hindutva politics. Unlike the previous core-Hindutva issues-Ram Temple, 370, Triple Talaq-- this new agenda has not yet been tested in any election so far. In fact, the BJP establishment has not yet been found a popular election-centric rhetoric for this new Hindutva. In such a context, Shaheen Bagh is turned into an electoral symbol to legitimize anti-Muslim Hindutva nationalism,” added Ahmad.
Not very optimistic is Sanjay Kumar, Political Analyst and Psephologist. He understands and explains the localized elections but sees BJP strategy differently. He said, “Delhi election is happening on two different grounds where AAP is focusing on development work, BJP picking up Shhaeen Bagh. But it is not a big issue.”
He added, “BJP is trying to build a larger narrative on Shaheen Bagh by making it an issue of safety, integrity of the country. He is bringing up the factor of fear and danger – on how there is some danger from minority community to the majority community. If they successfully build that narrative around integrity and safety and danger only then things might change.”
BJP’s Shaheen Bagh pitch will win if it establishes a relationship between the peace of the country with the protests. Shaheen Bagh standalone does not matter as elections are localized but still how it is going to be built matters.