A few metres from the entrance to Jagriti Enclave in Anand Vihar, a crowd is building up. It’s 1 pm and the temperature is touching 40 degrees. Anil brings his fruit cart closer to the gathering. “Not sure why there is a crowd here at this hour. Maybe I can sell some of these,” he says.
A little while later, former cricketer and BJP East Delhi candidate Gautam Gambhir arrives to address his maiden press conference after getting the ticket. A volley of questions, reminiscent of a fiery spell of fast bowling in a debut game, follows.
“Gambhir, how many assembly constituencies does East Delhi have?”
“Ten.” Gambhir had done his homework.
“And how many wards?”
The questions continue. “Do you know about the problems at the Ghazipur landfill?”
Gambhir pauses. The familiar aggression is missing. “See, it has been just a few days since I joined the BJP. I will figure out every detail about the constituency … I am not here to show stars to the people, I will work for them.”
The journalist’s attempts at ferreting out an angry rebuttal fail. Gambhir survives the spell.
The biggest challenge for Gambhir, barring his opponents, is one of perception. In a constituency such as East Delhi, which is home to plush gated condominiums and the most-neglected ghettos — where getting even an hour’s piped water supply a day is a luxury — Gambhir’s stardom could be a boon and a bane for the BJP.
Barely 1 km from where Gambhir held his press conference is the Anand Vihar jhuggi. Home to about 5,000 people, the slum is a far cry from the East Delhi societies. “We do not get water. The drains are completely choked. During monsoons, it’s a nightmare. We have approached every one possible. No one cares for us,” Ram Rajat, who has been staying in the slum for over 20 years, says. “No AAP, BJP or Congress leader visits us, apart from when polls are around. Only the local MLA (the BJP’s O P Sharma) has worked a bit. At least we get some water. Many of us might vote for Gambhir,” he says.
“Let someone come to seek votes this time, we will shoo them away,” says Sangeeta, who owns a small shop selling toffees and biscuits. “But we will vote,” she says.
Some children from the slum study in Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Anand Vihar. “After Kejriwal came, the school looks better,” Rajat admits.
Chandrasekhar, a member of the school management committee, tells Business Standard, “I have seen Atishi (the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from East Delhi) work. She connects with the people. Gambhir is good. He is a famous man. But, if he wins, how long he will be around is a big question.”
From Anand Vihar to Trilokpuri and from Shahdara to Kotla village, issues are aplenty, but one word is common: Education. “AAP has done wonders in the education sector. My daughter goes to Premchand Rajkiya Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Mayur Vihar. I studied in the same school. During our time, there was no water to drink. Even a few years ago, there were no proper benches. Now the school has water purifiers and proper classrooms. Kejriwal deserves credit,” Tohid, an AC mechanic who stays in Kotla village, says.
While caste and religion do not play a role in most parts of the constituency, places like Trilokpuri stand out. Since 2014, when building a small temple in the area snowballed into riots, leaving over 50 injured, the area has seen multiple skirmishes. “Many feel the riots in Trilokpuri were orchestrated by the BJP. Most people there are from lower middle-class backgrounds, and have nothing to do with religion,” says Jaishankar Singh, who stays in Karkardooma Gaon and has relatives in Trilokpuri.
Arvinder Singh Lovely of the Congress is also in the fray from the constituency, but the fight in East Delhi is more likely to be a direct contest between Gambhir and Atishi, who has been credited with revamping government schools in Delhi. AAP has been working hard to tell people what it has done over the past four years and its plan for the constituency in the years to come.
At an AAP workers’ meet in Krishna Nagar, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Atishi underline this. “Let us not work for the symbol. Let us fight for each ink on our fingers on the day of polling,” Sisodia says, drawing loud cheers from more than 300 workers at the venue.
Atishi reminds people of the fight in 2015. “If the BJP and the Congress have money, we have the josh. Remember how you defeated Kiran Bedi in Krishna Nagar? Let’s repeat the performance.”
Though confident of an Atishi win, some among the workers are edgy about Gambhir’s stardom. “Had it been Maheish Girri (the incumbent BJP MP), it would have been a certain victory for us. But Gambhir has an x-factor. It will be closer than we wanted, but we will win,” Nadeem Ahmed, an AAP worker from Khurji, says.
Back at Jagriti Enclave, Anil returns with his fruit cart. Gambhir’s press conference has not benefited him much. He cannot count the number of zeros in the ~147-crore assets that Gambhir has declared in his affidavit, but rues, “There are days I don’t even earn profits of ~147. It is tough. Whoever wins, it will never make a difference to us. It never did.”