Comprehending elections through the eyes of a local leader

A pradhan of a west Delhi slum cluster shares his account of how voting in his area has gone on to acquire a different meaning over the years. Voters are no longer swayed by ‘gifts’ but look forward to actual development.

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | December 4, 2013


Veer Singh, pradhan of a slum cluster in Raghubir Nagar
Veer Singh, pradhan of a slum cluster in Raghubir Nagar

At around four in the evening, most of the women in the jhuggis were back from their work.

Some were busy cleaning their utensils and washing clothes, while others were taking care of the kids, simultaneously chatting about the routine things.
Few minutes later, two men, in their sixties, came. At the sudden presence of an elderly, many women covered their faces with saree, while others greeted them with folded hands and touched their feet.

One of the two men carried a black bag, with ‘booth level officer’ written over it in white paint. At first glance he seemed to be one of the officers from the election commission. He opened his bag and spread the voting slips on the cot. He then ordered kids to call other women from their homes. 

Hiri, an Anganwadi worker, later clarified that he is Veer Singh, one of the Pradhans of the jhuggis.

While distributing election slips to the women, Singh said, “"Ab bade sahab to aayenge nahi ye dene. Ye kaam to hume hi karna hota hai (The big officer won’t come to distribute them. We have to do his work).” He said, “These slips with photographs tell us that our name is in the voters list.”
This cluster of jhuggis works no less than a village, which has many Pradhans, who together form the Panchayat, where families resolve their household issues. Governance Now spoke to Veer Singh, who is living here since 1980, when the jhuggis (known as T Huts in the election commission’s polling station’s list) were first established. Singh, 63 years old, talks about how people here see elections.

 

The jhuggis were established here in 1980. Today there are around thousand jhuggis with more than 2,000 voters. Most of the people are from Gujarati community involved in either selling steel utensils or old clothes in the mandi. There are also some people belonging to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana mostly daily wage labourers. Their wives work as domestic workers.

There is no fixed amount of land with each family. "Jitni jiske haath lagi, utni usne hadap li (People grab whatever they can get hold of)"
The jhuggis had problem of water supply till few years back, but that has been resolved to a large extent now.

But there is still a problem of open drains. It becomes worst during rains when water from drain comes out and enters the houses.
Also, almost all the people use the paid common toilets. Only the jhuggis, near the nallah have been able to build toilets in their homes.

There are around seven Aanganwadis here where small children study and are taken care of. We have our own Panchyat as well, which settle the family issues like divorce etc. The most senior members of the community act as sarpanches.

"Jhuggi walo ko vaise to kide makode samjha jata hai. Logo ke ghar kitne bhi gande ho, yahan se nikalenge to naak par rumal rakh lete hain (Slum dwellers are considered to be insignificant. Even if their own homes are dirty people will cover their faces with a handkerchief when they pass through our locality).”
But during elections the things change. People come with folded hands, are ready to sit on the floor, would drink water offered by us and make a lot of promises.

People here are not bothered about what happens in the political circles. Who is corrupt and who is not. They are just concerned with simple things that affect their lives. All they are concerned about are bijli, pani and sadak.

I have seen elections for elections for the last 33 years. It started when Congress’s Mayor Mahendra Singh used to fight from this seat and MP was Sajjan Kumar. But election season has change a lot this time. Earlier there were posters all over the walls, flags on the houses, loudspeakers on autorikshaws for months before the election. But this time you hardly get to see the hoardings, banners and posters.

We have always voted in large numbers.

"Yeh har nagrik ka adhikar hai. Hum bachcho ko padhne ke liye kehte hai, kyunki padhai ka koi batwara nahi ho sakta. Waise hi hamare vote ka koi batwara nahi kar sakta. Hum apne vote ke khud zimedar hain (It is the right of every citizen. We urge our children to study as there is no substitute for education. Similarly nothing can substitute our right to vote. We are responsible for our own votes)."

Workers of all the parties come and ask us to tell people to vote for them. We welcome everyone with folded hands. But as a Pradhan we never force anyone to vote for a particular person. It is their right and they have every right to decide whom they want to vote.

Right now people are listening to everyone. But on the last day we have meeting at night, where all the men assemble and tell their opinion and discuss all the candidates.

When the elections are near we get to see each and every candidate. This time we even saw campaign vehicles of NCP, JDU and Shiv Sena. New parties and candidates are coming up. They come and promise us about all the good things. If they fulfil even half of their promises they would never have to actually come and ask for vote. "Taraju wala aaya tha. Uske aadmi keh kar gaye kothi banwa denge. Logo ne kal kahan dekha hai. Woh to aaj ki baat karte hai. Unko paisa mil jaae to kisi ke saath bhi chal dete hain (The candidate whose party symbol is scales had come. His party workers promised to built houses for us. People are not aware of tomorrow. They think only about today. If they get money they will vote for anybody)."

Giving gifts or cash for vote is not a new thing here.

The politician gives it because people are ready to accept it. We can't just blame politicians for this.

"Ab jab mera pet bhara ho to koi mujhe zabardasti to khila nahi sakta na (If I am not hungry you cannot feed me forcefully)"

But politician thinks that they can make fool of these people. But they can't. "Aaj ki public bahut tez hai (Today people are very aware)"

In the Modi's rally, a few months back, lot of people were promised to get sewing machines. They even filled the form. They wanted public, and public wanted something in return. But after the rally, people were left empty hand. They did not get anything"

People, mostly do not walk in rallies. But this time many did with Taraju. Modi's name has been successful in drawing enough crowd because of the Gujarati community here. But whether it would change into votes or not, time would tell.

There is a widespread belief that Congress nominee would win this seat.

Chandela’s name has been associated with us (jhuggi) for a long time now. We voted for him when he was with BJP and later when he joined Congress. Initially people were sad that he was not contesting this time, but we know seat would remain in the same house and ultimately he would work.
He is from the Khyala village nearby and is easily accessible. He has also helped people. The fund comes from the government but it depends on the will of the MLA to actually spend it.

On election day, we give duties to people to ensure everyone comes to vote. Early morning, we ask daily wage labourers to go first so that they do not miss their wages. We also take old people and ensure they do not have to stand in the queue.

My wife and some other women have the duty to take all women along. Till now the elections have always been peaceful here. There has never been any report of violence.

 

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