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Millennium Post

Migrant power

I am Harsh Vardhan speaking. On behalf of the BJP and myself, I express my good wishes to you all on the auspicious occasion of the Chhat Puja. I am sure with the grace of Chhat Mai (Goddess Chhat), Delhi will move fast on the path of development and good governance.’ Thus surprised a jingle on radio on an early morning last week as I drove to Delhi University.

BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan interspersed his appeal in Hindi with a fair use of Bhojpuri words to reach out to the Bihari and Purvanchali population which has become a powerful political force in the politics and socio-economic profile of Delhi and NCR region in the last two decades. A beeline of the leaders across the parties queued at Puja Ghats for photographs which appeared on the morning of 9 November, confirming my premise.

I recalled an incident of 1991, when the use of word Bihari still had a pejorative connotation. I, along with my father, was returning to Malkaganj in a bus from Boat Club after attending a rally organised by the BJP-VHP in 1991. The bus conductor had called out to an acquaintance saying Abbe Oy Bihari! and my father had turned towards him. I had to explain that it was not meant for him at all but used to deride somebody else.

 Much water has flown down the Yamuna since then. Use of the term Bihari to ridicule the others has ended almost. Because migrants have altered not just the socio-political geography of the state but also captured a major segments of professional and business space in Delhi and NCR.

As per an estimate, Delhi hosts nearly 72 million people from outside. Thus, migrants constitute nearly 47 per cent of the total population of the national capital. Though, the migrants comprise of people from all parts of the country but those who have altered the political grammar of the state are primarily from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.  People from Uttarakhand comprise of nearly 10 to 12 per cent in 10 constituencies and thus are able to decide the fate of the candidates effectively.

UP concentration is very high followed by Bihar almost in all zones. However, in terms of rate of growth, Bihar seems to be catching up very fast with UP. According to a perceptional survey done by the Institute for Human Development for Delhi government, while the share of UP rose from 43 per cent in 2001 to 47 per cent in 2013, Bihari population registered a quantum jump from 14 per cent in 2001 to nearly 31 per cent in 2013. The social composition of demography is also very interesting.

While 90 per cent of the people who are settled in the Jhuggi Jhopari (JJ clusters) are from scheduled castes, unauthorised colonies are dominated by people belonging to general categories. They are the ones who left Bihar during heydays of Lalu-Rabri regime. Regularisation of unauthorised colonies are thus more beneficial to these people rather than the weaker sections of society. Again the religious demography of the state has also undergone a change.

As per an estimate in 1992 nearly 1.5 lakh Bangladeshi Muslims had got settled in Delhi. Their population has grown manifold and they are now the legitimate citizens of this country. A religious profile of the migrants show that while in most of the unauthorized colonies migrants are predominantly Hindus, almost 81 per cent followed by 17.5 per cent Muslims.  This is also the case with the JJ clusters of south, west and central zones.

Nearly 91 per cent are Hindus followed by Muslims being 8.6 per cent. In some of the JJ clusters Muslims are the predominant majority.  However, an interesting point is that while the migrants come from diverse social and economic background from their states of origin but they polarise not on religio-ethnic but on regional lines. Thus, caste which is so powerful a force in the electoral dynamics in Bihar, melts away and a regional identity works. Though Mayawati’s emergence has made a significant change in this pattern yet the regional polarisation works in constituencies. Though no survey has been done to suggest who came when and from where and is settled for how long in Delhi but it is generally agreed that the flow of migration increased  phenomenally after the failure of governance in these two states which got badly rattled under the politics of Mandal and Kammandal in late 80s and early 90s. Failure of governance, derailed economic development and anarchy on the college and university campus threw a pattern of migration.

Delhi which happened to be the destination for students from upper class strata started finding inflow of students even from middle and lower middle classes. Mal-governance, poor economy and rising unemployment pushed the landless labourer and semi-skilled craftsmen and workers to join the migration late when economy of Bihar reached the pinnacle of dysfunction.

Migrants significantly changed the socio-economic profile of the city. Now every second house maid is either from Bihar, Bengal (including Bangladeshi), Odisha or Jharkhand. Similarly, the job of the plumbing is nearly monopolised by the people from Odisha. In early 90s, cycle-rickshaws were seldom seen on the roads. Now it has become one of the important transports for inter-localities transportation.

Similarly, almost all the roadside vegetable sellers are people who are from outside Delhi who now have settled here. Electricians and painters, people engaged in construction works are by and large from outside. The influx of the population on the one hand has congested the cities with the phenomenal growth in number of slums and increased the burden on the civic amenities it has also lowered the cost of services which otherwise would have been many times more than what it is today in Delhi.

It would be interesting to know the economy of the people in adjoining campus areas; how they are able to manage their luxurious lifestyle without business or job in the family. There are thousands of families in areas like Vijaynagar, Mukherjee Nagar, Kamalanagar, Shaktinagar, Malkaganj, Model Town etc who are leading a decent life from rents they earn. This now extends to other far away areas like Rohini, Azadpur, Shalimar Bagh, Ashok Vihar etc. The monthly income of the house owners have gone up several times in these areas. The number of students over the years has gone up phenomenally every year. No wonder out of 75,000 of the total seats in Delhi University, Delhiites have to struggle hard to get a place in these institutions. These students feed the tuition centres and coaching institutes during their studies and subsequently the skilled technical and professional job markets.

But the most important aspect is the politics of the state. Migrants who happened to be at the periphery and whose political share was limited as voters have significantly started impacting the politics of the state, be it student politics or the teachers politics. In the 90s it was rare to find more than two or three faces from outside Delhi in college staff rooms of Delhi University. But scenario now has changed. There is no any staff room where one does not find a significant number of teachers from Bihar and UP.

The result is visible. All the major teachers outfits on the campus, except the one led by the BJP, are led by the people either from Odisha, Bihar and Bengal. And this has come to them because of numerical strength of teachers from these states. The so-called Delhites know it well that they cannot afford to ignore them.  One reason why the BJP-led National Democratic Teachers Front has been doing poorly in the election of the teaching bodies has been the fact that the organisation has not adjusted to the changing demographic composition of the city but sticking to old arithmetic which has pushed it to a non-visible face on the campus. It is a reality that leaders from both the parties have been nurturing antipathy towards the migrants. When OP Kohli became the chief of Delhi BJP he attributed the problems of Delhi to the over flooding population of migrants. He was right in a sense but was wrong politically and BJP had to pay the price for it. Similarly, chief minister Sheila Dikshit also has been using such remarks against the migrants from time to time. But they have now no option. Migrants now constitute a sizable political force in many of the constituencies.

There are many constituencies where they have roughly equaled the local population. In 10 constituencies, their population is between 23-37 per cent. They include Shahadara, Gonda, Burari, Kirari, Vikaspuri, Uttamnagar, Laxminagar, Patpatganj, R K Puram, Sangam Vihar, Matiala, and Dwarka. In Uttamnagar, purvanchali voters are nearly 41 per cent. If the population of Uttarakhand is compounded with it the figure goes closer to roughly half of the total electorate of Delhi which is nearly 1.15 crore. Out of this Purvanchal vote is closer to 37-40 lakh and Uttarakhand near about 13 lakh. Yet, their share in the power structure is not sufficient.

Last time, BJP had given ticket to three Purvancahlis and one won. Congress gave ticket to only one. In the MCD election BJP gave tickets to 18 candidates from Purvanchal in which 12 won. Congress gave tickets to just four.

Sikh communities constitute only 2 to 2.5 per cent of the total electorate yet BJP has left four seats to Akalis. Purvanchalis comprise of nearly 37 per cent of the total electorate yet they have got just four seats. Jats are not more than 2 per cent of the population but BJP has fielded 12 Jat leaders from different constituencies.

Congress is no better as an alternative. It too has fielded only four leaders from Bihar, UP and Uttarakhand taken together. Migrants have now started saying; ‘Vote Hamara, Raj Tumhara Nahi Chalega, Nahi Chalega.’ When they say so, their anger is directed towards the local leadership of both the parties which still prefers to cling to old arithmetic. It is not that these leaders do not understand what is written on wall but they are clueless about how to manage the reality. They think mere presence in the festivals of these regions would be sufficient to entice voters. But this is not true. They not just want to be seen as insiders of Delhi but also want their due share in the political space. Gone are the days when they just used to be the poster makers and poster 
pasters for others.

The writer is Deputy Dean (Academics), University of Delhi
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