New Delhi: Named after a colony where a large number of refugees were rehabilitated following Partition, the Rajinder Nagar constituency is dominated by the Punjabi community. The dominance of one community and of residents from the Old Rajinder Nagar and New Rajinder Nagar colonies is reflected in the selection of candidates for the upcoming Delhi polls: the BJP has picked former MLA and spokesperson R.P. Singh while the Aam Aadmi Party has fielded national spokesperson Raghav Chadha. Congress, on the other hand, has fielded a student leader from a local village and the Jat community, Rocky Tuseed.
In the past, the constituency has regularly voted for the BJP. Puran Chand Yogi from the BJP won the seat in 1993, 1998 and 2003. In 2008, Ramakant Goswami, a trusted aide of the then Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit was elected and became a minister in her government. Thereafter in 2013, R.P. Singh of the BJP wrested the seat back from the Congress. During the 2015 polls, he lost to Vijender Garg ‘Vijay’ of AAP as the party swept the Delhi elections.
This time AAP, which did not give tickets to 15 sitting MLAs, has replaced Garg with Chadha, who was born in an area hospital. He claims to be a ‘local’ whose maternal and paternal grandparents reside in Old and New Rajinder Nagar respectively and who was brought up eating “chholay bhaturay” in the area.
A chartered accountant by profession, 31-year-old Chadha had fought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the South Delhi constituency but had lost. Now he is trying his hand from his “janam bhoomi”. He recently said he would come out with a list of specific ideas and promises for the constituency, which has a total of 1.76 lakh voters.
The constituency has a diverse feel to it. The Old Rajinder Nagar and New Rajinder Nagar are both high-income group areas. They also have a number of hospitals, clinics and coaching centres which support an informal economy. A number of commercial establishments now dot these residential areas and sealing of properties is an issue which concerns businessmen here.
In Old Rajinder Nagar, Gopal Pant of Prince Restaurant spoke about how over 60 premises were sealed around 3-4 years ago and, of them, over a dozen have still not been unsealed. He hoped that the Delhi government would do more to address the needs of the business community.
The Rajinder Nagar block president of the BJP, Bhisham Lal, said that all throughout the party has retained its support base owing to its work. “Even in 2015, when R.P. Singh lost, we had got 7,000 votes more than in 2013, when he won. So it is the Congress vote which shifted.” He insisted that the availability of water was a major issue and that the benefits of the free water and electricity schemes were not reaching most of the residents.
Unlike Chadha, who has insisted that the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Population Register, are not poll issues and that local issues alone would matter, Lal has said that AAP has made them poll issues by actively supporting protests in Shaheen Bagh.
The Congress candidate has accused the BJP of playing divisive politics. “People here are concerned about congestion, parking, facilities for students and water supply,” said Tuseed, who was elected president of the Delhi University Students Union in 2017.
Claiming to be a “real” local, who hails from the village of Dasghara in the constituency, Tuseed accused the Kejriwal government of only making hollow promises. “We have 1,000 mohallas in the constituency, but only one mohalla clinic came up – in Todapur village,” he said, as he spoke about how little development work had been undertaken in the villages, slums and colonies in the constituency.
At Dasghara village, which is just off the road leading from Pusa Institute to Dhaula Kuan, the sight of stray cattle and dogs roaming the streets and parks and garbage strewn across does not paint a very pleasant picture. Lalit Chaudhary, a resident, charged that while the village locals had themselves created spaces to sit in and maintained parts of the parks, the councillor and the legislator had done precious little.
“We only get about an hour of fresh water supply, that too in only some parts of the village, the parks are not maintained, we do not have a mohalla clinic, there is only a primary MCD school and dispensary, and the condition of the roads is bad,” he said and added that simple needs of the people had not been fulfilled by either the BJP councillor or the AAP MLA.
However, most women in the area appeared to be happy with the performance of the Kejriwal government. One of them said that she would go to the Todapur village mohalla clinic for treatment and always managed to see the doctor and get medicines.
Others spoke about how they had been getting their old age pension on time, how they were happy with their savings because of free electricity and water and free travel in buses for women.
Some, however, complained about the lack of a proper school in the village. “We spend Rs 600-700 per child to send them to schools in Rajinder Nagar by a van,” said a resident. However, this anger was also directed towards the BJP-ruled MCD which reduced teaching in the village school from Class 8 to Class 5.
The residents also complained that several girls from the village who had failed in Class 9 were not supported via special coaching by the Delhi government schools and, as a result, had to drop out.
Yet, many residents insisted that the manner in which AAP workers and leaders remained approachable was their biggest strength. “Jaisay aap humsay aaraam say baat kar rahe ho, aisay hi who kartay hain. Humay bhagatay nahin hain (The way you are talking to us comfortably, so do they. They do not shoo us away)”, said a resident.