Naveed Iqbal : Thu Dec 05 2013,

Just outside Jama Masjid, a barber shaves a boy’s head while All India Radio airs the voter turnout for the first three hours of polling in the capital. A curious crowd gathers around the radio.

Voting began slowly and picked pace after noon as the labourers of the Walled City woke up to a holiday and poured into the streets looking for work. As the bulletin ends, people begin discussing which way the tide may turn. “They keep talking about Lokpal but I don’t see it happening,” one says and others join in with details of when they had last seen the local MLA.

Less than 100 m away, the Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya serves as a polling booth, where policemen remind people that they cannot carry mobile phones inside the booth.

“In a locality like this, blame gets transferred and nothing gets done. We have many problems — we get water only for four hours in the morning, which is so contaminated that it cannot be used for drinking. Besides, the condition of the roads is there for everyone to see,” Khursheed Jahan (50) says.

Will she vote for the same MLA again? “Yes, what choice do we have? There is a lack of trust for the BJP. We are traditional Congress voters.”

In these Muslim majority constituencies — Matia Mahal, Ballimaran and Chandni Chowk — voters show an eagerness to maintain status quo.

An imam in Bazar Lal Kuan, says what others won’t. “People are wary of Modi and that’s why they will not vote for the BJP, irrespective of the candidate,” he said. Athar Javed has lived here all his life and voted for the candidate who “seems trustworthy”.

BJP workers in the area are seen putting together plates of biryani. “The local MLA is not secular, we need to make sure we change that this time,” one of them says.

However, the imam at Khalilullah Masjid in Batla House has been making fervent appeals to the locals to “vote for change”. Other areas with a dominant Muslim population — Okhla, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Seelampur — painted a similar picture. People feel a need for development, loyalty towards the Congress and reject BJP. Also common was the uncertainty over AAP. “They are an alternative but not the clear favourites only because they are new and don’t have any sway in the constituency,” a voter in Mustafabad says.

Marked by dilapidated roads, unavailability of water and ineffective drainage systems, the Okhla constituency is witness to a close fight between the Congress’s Asif Mohd Khan and JD(U)’s Shoaib Danish. Voters weigh these issues as well as the candidates. “The MLA is very powerful in the area. Support for the JD(U) candidate is also forthcoming. The AAP candidate has a positive image in the region, but it does not appear to be sufficient to get a good number of votes,” a young voter in Jamia said. He believes that illegal construction in the area is a key factor this election.

Turnout remained high in most of these areas. The fate of Congress’s five stalwarts — Haroon Yusuf, Mateen Ahmad, Hassan Ahmed and Asif Mohd Khan — was sealed in these areas.

Naveed Iqbal and Siddhartha Gupta


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