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Student Activists Organise to Contest MCD Polls on Workers’ Issues

The Krantikari Mazdoor Morcha, which has been working for the well-being of workers, will field candidates from three areas in Delhi.

The Krantikari Mazdoor Morcha has been organising workers' protests and are contesting the municipal polls on workers' issues in Wazirpur. Credit: Facebook

The Krantikari Mazdoor Morcha has been organising workers’ protests and are contesting the municipal polls on workers’ issues in Wazirpur. Credit: Facebook

New Delhi: Smaller electorates for the municipal corporation elections in Delhi have given immense hope to smaller parties and independent candidates. In fact, the possibility of winning has also encouraged students and those working for workers’ rights to pool in their resources to contest the MCD elections.

One such group of contestants is from the Krantikari Mazdoor Morcha (KMM), which had, over the last decade been working for the well-being of the workers and has decided to contest from Wazirpur in the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, Karawal Nagar West and Sri Ram Colony in the east. All three KMM candidates are contesting under the plastering trowel symbol.

Talking about why they are contesting elections, KMM spokesperson Harsimran Kaur, who is pursuing her PhD from Delhi University, said, “We are contesting for the first time. We had been working with the workers and teaching the children in these areas for between five to ten years and this time we decided to contest as a lot of people urged us to do so.”

She said the group has fielded three candidates from diverse backgrounds. Sunny Singh, a worker’s activist from Wazirpur, who has participated in several auto sector protests and a steel workers protest is the candidate from the constituency. Yogesh Swamy is the candidate from Karawal Nagar West, as he had run a campaign for getting roads constructed in the lower middle income group constituency. Finally, Beena Singh, a homemaker, was chosen to represent the group in Sri Ram Colony.

Kaur said their groups wants to expose the double standards of the other major political players. “AAP claims to be the so-called representative of the working class. But workers in factories run by their MLAs and candidates do not get minimum wages. The previous councillor from Karawal Nagar was from the Congress but did nothing for the area and as such the roads are in a bad shape,” she said.

In Khajoori Khas, under which Sri Ram Colony falls, Kaur said the group had run a campaign after students of class nine and 11 were failed en masse by a school. “We campaigned in the whole area, distributed pamphlets and students were allowed to sit for a re-test and some of them did pass later.”

For the group, which is low on financial resources, the only mode of campaigning was door-to-door canvassing. Kaur said it has also been raising funds simultaneously. “We carry a donation box and seek funding from our voters too. On the other hand the other major parties are promising money and goodies to woo the voters. The BJP is also using mandals which organise various poojas and use prasada distribution as a means to attract people.”

Water, health are major focus areas

The KMM is promising to provide access to clean potable water to all. “In Wazirpur a large number of residents use rubber pipes to procure water, which often leads to contamination.”

Another area that needs attention is public health. Kaur said the group has been organising medical camps. In this regard, she questioned AAP’s claims of opening mohalla clinics, saying: “When we ask people about mohalla clinics, they say they do not know about it. There used to be old clinics and what AAP has done is put boards of mohalla clinics outside them. These are functional in only a few areas.” Moreover, she said, people in these constituencies are also suffering on account of non receipt of rations.

Studies, activism and politics go hand-in-hand

Singh, who is the group’s candidate from Wazirpur, is a social activist who is also pursuing his doctorate from Delhi University. It was while doing his graduation from Hindu College that he got influenced by the writings of Bhagat Singh. Influenced by a group of activists of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, he started working with them for the upliftment of the working class in Karawal Nagar.

In 2013, Singh shifted to Wazirpur and started working with factory workers there. “Simultaneously, I also began writing about workers’ issues in a magazine,” he said, adding that it was during a month-long workers’ strike in the area in 2014, that he worked as a general secretary in a committee constituted to fight for their rights.

It is the exposure he got during the struggle that woke up Singh to the reality. “I realised that most of the workers’ unions work like dalals or commission agents. While they are arms of major political parties, they charge 20% commission on whatever relief they are able to get for a worker,” said Singh.

His group had formed the Dilli Ispat Udyog Mazdoor Union with 600 registered workers and it is their support, he believes, which brightens his prospects in the civic body elections.

As for who are they up against, he said, it is the collective failure of all the three major parties – AAP, BJP and Congress – which has led to a situation in which the poor and working class find themselves living and working in pathetic unhygienic conditions.

A rally taken out by the Morcha in Delhi. Credit: Facebook

A rally taken out by the Morcha in Delhi. Credit: Facebook

Minimum wages

“In 2016 we had organised a workers movement to demand an end to contract system and [the provision of] pucca houses to the jhuggi dwellers. But the AAP government in Delhi did nothing. Even the promise of minimum wages to workers made by it is only on paper. Even candidates of these parties do not pay minimum wages to the workers. And when workers file complaints with the labour department against non-payment of minimum wages, they are asked for proof of employment. This is an issue because the factory owners get most of the work done without having anything in writing,” said Singh.

In fact, he said, these major political parties are not too bothered about the plight of the workers and this shows in the selection of factory owners as candidates from the constituency by all three of them.

Participative style of governance

As for how their style of representation would differ from present practice, Singh said: “Our councilor will only take as much salary as is given to an unskilled labourer.” But more importantly, he said, the decision making process would be made more participatory.

“The councillor will be responsible to the jan panchayat of the area. We will also make mazdoor panchayats, councils and gali committees and all these would encourage participatory decision making as happens in Venezuela and other countries. We do not agree with their socialist models but this is what we would use to help people understand issues and participate in the decision making process through these bodies,” he declared, indicating an intent to incorporate new approach to tackling issues.