Lok Sabha Polls 2024: From Caste Dynamics To Freebie Promises Of AAP And BJP, Here’s What Will Decide South Delhi’s Votes

The South Delhi constituency, represented by veteran leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Madan Lal Khurana in the past, is now in a tug of war between opposing leaders belonging to the Gujjar community.
Left- AAP Candidate Sahiram Pehalwan, Right- BJP Candidate Ramvir Bidhuri
Left- AAP Candidate Sahiram Pehalwan, Right- BJP Candidate Ramvir BidhuriSocial Media

In the sweltering heat of May, as residents of South Delhi prepare to cast their votes on the 25th, a rickshaw promoting the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Sahiram Pehalwan rolls past the DDA Ghats in Sangam Vihar. Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) workers conduct a final mic check in anticipation of the arrival of BJP candidate Ramvir Bidhuri, accompanied by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

AAP’s loud slogans of “Jail ka jawab vote se” fade away as the convoy arrives and Shah greets the massive crowd with “Abki baar 400 paar” after having addressed rallies in Hisar and Karnal. The show goes on as Shah counts on Modi’s achievements in the past 10 years and the manifesto for the upcoming elections.

However, nothing seems to have changed for Deepak Gurjar, a local shopkeeper who was closing his shop a little too early that day. “Rallies and road shows do no good but just block the road for us, as if they’re really going to change anything for us,” an agitated Deepak says as he anticipates heavy congestion on his way back home.

But this is not just today’s issue, locals stated that evening traffic congestion is now a daily affair. “Despite construction of so-called flyovers and subways, I always face the [traffic] jam and no leader is talking about giving the aam janta jam-free roads,” says a local resident, adding that the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road and the Palam-Dwarka flyover always remain choked.

As one passes through the various assembly segments of the South Delhi Lok Sabha (LS) constituency, it becomes evident that the seat is a hotspot of caste-based politics. Both Bidhuri and Pehalwan belong to the influential Gujjar community. The constituency comprises of Ambedkar Nagar, Badarpur, Bijwasan, Chattarpur, Deoli, Kalkaji, Mehrauli, Palam, Sangam Vihar and Tughlakabad.

Ramesh Bhiduri of BJP had won the LS elections from South Delhi in 2014 and 2019. But instead of giving him another run from the constituency, the BJP decided to go with another candidate from the same community.

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According to publicly available data, the constituency has 22,21,445 voters, of which 9 per cent are Gujjars. “Of course, things are easier when our leader is from the same community, we will vote for Bidhuri because this is a Bidhuri area and we like to be represented by our caste,” says a resident of Sangam Vihar.

New Promises And Old Issues

In Tughlakabad, where AAP’s candidate Sahiram Pehalwan is a sitting MLA, his party promises to build a big government hospital, a school and a sports complex if they emerge victorious from the South Delhi constituency. Meanwhile, BJP’s Ramvir Bidhuri promises to address the concerns around water supply and poor transportation network. He has also talked about expanding metro connectivity to all areas of South Delhi.

However, there are many who are not convinced by these promises. “They have already engaged a lot of area over construction of Golden metro line from Aerocity to Tughlakabad due to which a lot of innocent people’s lands have been taken and they are not fairly compensated already,” says 30-year-old Suraj Katariya. He adds that these projects take long to complete and there is no proper compensation or rehabilitation.

Uday Kumar Singh, a shopkeeper in his 60s who migrated from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh in search of employment, says infrastructural development is for the rich and does not help the poor much. “The area is dominated by Jatts and Gujjars, of course, they have a good chunk of money coming from their lands and they will keep voting for a Gujjar leader who knows the villages and shares the same caste but what about the poor? Are there no policies for their upliftment?” he asks.

“Landfills issue in Okhla is ages old now, I’ve been seeing it since the times I can recall but there is no resolution yet. New leaders come and give tenders to contractors to fill these dumpsites but only to keep filling their pockets as this has become a fashion now and we are the ones who face the issue,” says an Okhla-based trader.

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Although he acknowledged that both the candidates need to update their “old and boring manifesto” and “focus on real problems”, he says he plans to vote for Bhiduri due to his good relations with the leader.

Some People Left Behind

In Khanpur’s Harijan Basti,  migrants from states like UP and Bihar live together in harsh conditions, mostly in unauthorized colonies. Even for those among them who have managed to enroll themselves in Delhi’s voters lists, the election on 25 May is yet another day of struggle.

“No leader has ever come to us. Neither to ask for votes nor ask about our problems,” says a dweller from the basti. While they are unaware of most electoral promises made in the run-up to these elections, they do avail some welfare schemes from the central and state governments.

Women voters are another section that does not seem to have received much attention from the parties. Rajani Chandela, a 20-something lady who works as a house help in an affluent locality of Kalkaji, says that demands for a bare minimum of streetlights and deployment of ladies' police force at specific points remain unaddressed. Women voters say that this is a major security concern especially during the evenings. “But no one is talking about this,” says Rajani.

When asked if Kejriwal’s Samman Nidhi Yojana of Rs 1000 can attract women voters, Jyoti Khatana, a homemaker, says she’s unaware of any such schemes, “These are all scams. I am sure even if we are the poorest, we might not qualify for it but at least I’m able to send my children to a good government school and be able to take this ride for free,” she says, hinting that Kejriwal’s freebie measures have been useful so far.

While the AAP leadership has expressed confidence on winning all seven seats in Delhi as part of the INDIA bloc, the BJP, too, seems self-assured in its goal of going past 400 seats in the Lok Sabha. Come 4th June, when the LS results will be declared, it will be clear whether South Delhi will continue in its BJP fervour or if AAP can extend its influence beyond assembly elections.  

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