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Analysing the Okhla verdict: How Congress pulled up victory?

Shakeb Ayaz

During the Dec 4, 2013 state assembly elections in Delhi, the Okhla vidhan sabha, a Muslim dominated assembly segment favoured the Congress candidate Asif Mohammed Khan shocking political adversaries and observers alike as no one had anticipated the victory of the leader who had just crossed over to the Congress party, ahead of the polls. The sitting legislator had won this seat for the first time in 2009 by-election on a RJD ticket riding on the wave of anger against the Batla House encounter in which two alleged Indian Mujahideen operatives and a Delhi Police inspector were killed. The victory of Asif Mohammed Khan was due to polarization of Muslim votes in his favour. The dynamics of Muslim politics in Okhla is very complex at the grass root level and it wades through many factors at multiple levels, including identity politics, impact of Muzaffarnagar riots, rise of Mr Narendra Modi in the national politics, fear of BJP or a non-Muslim winning this seat, patronage, history of mobilization in the constituency particularly in the two Muslim dominated wards 205 and 206.

These factors led to people polarizing in favour of the sitting MLA Asif Mohammad Khan who according to media reports was facing the ire of the people over poor civic conditions, sewage strewn lanes and filthy drains. The Sunday Guardian reported on Oct 19, 2013, few months ahead of the elections that people were unhappy with the sitting legislator. Besides this an RTI query said that the Okhla MLA received Rs.426.98 crores in 2013 for development of his constituency which is not visible. (BeyondHeadlines, May 2, 2013).

The Muslim dominated areas of the two wards 205 and 206 are known as Jamia Nagar town as Jamia Millia Islamia lies within these two wards. Mr Khan also got committed Congress votes from the two non-Muslim dominated wards – 207 and 208. History of mobilization is extremely important phenomenon and it impacts the voting behaviour of the people. Mobilization strategy is a phenomenon through which the communication channel is established among the leaders and the electorates. The bulk of the Jamia Nagar population consists of migrants from Old Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who gave the sitting legislator over 38,000 votes (from Jamia Nagar) out of 50,004 votes that he polled from the entire Vidhan Sabha. Mr Asif Mohammed Khan defeated his nearest rival Mr Irfanullah Khan of Aam Admi Party with a massive margin 26,545 votes, highest in Delhi 2013 polls. The victory was unprecedented.

The 2008 controversial Batla House encounter has come to occupy the centre stage in the politics of Jamia Nagar. The politics in the last six years has revolved around the alleged fake encounter and the alleged framing of Muslim youths on fake terror charges all over India.

In the 2009 by-poll Mr Asif Mohammad Khan fighting the seat on RJD ticket won the seat defeating Braham Singh of Bahujan Samaj Party. The Congress was pushed to third position in the electoral battle of Okhla in 2009.

Political culture and formation of political attitudes directly impacts the voting behaviour. It also depends upon how political, economic, social and religious groups have sought participation of the people in various activities and set the agenda of mass mobilization through various issues in preceding years.

If the trend of mobilization in Okhla constituency’s Muslim dominated area is done it could be easily gauged that there is no history of mobilization in the area on developmental issues. The local political class taking advantage of certain lapses from the part of the state has used the distrust between the citizens and the state to augment their own political constituency.

When Iraqi dictator Saddam Husain was executed in December 2006 by US, Mr Asif Mohammad Khan, then Okhla councillor and now the MLA mobilized people on the issue of “American terrorism” in the Muslim world. He effectively used mosques and religious leaders to spearhead his campaign.

According to news item of July 19 on media website TwoCircles.net, Mr Khan in 2010 communalized the demolition and sealing drive carried out in the locality against unauthorized construction going on in the Muslim dominated locality and called for a Jamia Nagar shutdown and termed the drive against unauthorized construction as an “anti-Muslim conspiracy.” Mr Asif Mohammad Khan became the MLA riding on anger against the alleged fake Batla House encounter. During the MCD polls in 2012, the MLA along with social activist Amantullah Khan supported the candidature of Zia-Ur-Rahman, an alleged operative of Indian Mujahideen (PTI, April 1, 2012).

Rahman was defeated by the Congress’s Shoaib Danish (JD-U candidate in 2013 Delhi polls). Later again in 2012, Amanatullah Khan (LJP candidate in 2013 Delhi polls) organized many protests and hunger strike against the terror arrests of Muslim youths on false and fabricated terror charges after many youths were acquitted by the courts of law. (IANS, Nov 30, Dec 4, 2012)

So, the locality was so much engrossed with issues of Batla House encounter and alleged framing of Muslim youths, that the issues of economic development and better governance and “under performance” by the Delhi government or the sitting MLA Asif Mohamed Khan could never become a part of political discourse in the Muslim dominated locality. The people appeared to be more concerned about “threat to their existence” allegedly from “the state institutions”. People cite the Gujarat riots, Muzaffarnagar riots and the alleged fake Batla House encounter to argue that the state institutions of the country have failed to provide security to the Muslims.

The atmosphere prevailing in the locality may be the reason why the Aam Admi Party experiment was not successful in Delhi and other so called Muslim seats — Ballimaran, Matia Mahal, Mustafabad and Seelampur because the issues prevailing here are totally different from rest of Delhi. On the other hand the AAP was seeking vote on issues of bijli (power) and paani (water) which are secondary issues in the locality.

The polarization in Jamia Nagar in favour of Congress candidate Mr Khan was due to various factors, the prominent among them was rise of Mr Narendra Modi in the national horizon and the events at Muzaffarnagar. Whenever Mr Modi visited the national capital during the campaigning for Delhi assembly polls it became a topic of discussion at the Batla House chowk (town centre).

People feared the possibility of Muslims votes being divided among the four strong Muslim candidates – Asif Mohammad Khan (Congress), Amanatullah Khan (Lok Janshakti Party), Shoaib Danish, councillor of ward nos 205 (from Janata Dal-United) and Irfanullah Khan of the Aam Admi Party.

These were probably the chain of events that are in the minds of an ordinary voter whenever he moves out to vote on an election day. These factors led to the polarization in favour of the Congress candidate pulling up a victory on Dec 4, 2013 polls.

(Shakeb Ayaz is a New Delhi based journalist and political science researcher. He has been associated with Lokniti, CSDS for some years now. He is working on a book “Batla House Chowk” analysing the political and social protests in Jamia Nagar.)

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