Need partnership, not pittance

Addressing a meeting of Purvanchalis (the migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh) in the national Capital last week, former national president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Nitin Gadkari urged them to change allegiance from the Congress to his party. The press note issued by the state BJP after the meeting made a very interesting reading. 

The handout said, ‘addressing the sammelan (meeting), former national president and Delhi election in-charge Shri Nitin Gadkari said, ‘The BJP will declare public holiday on the occasion of Chhat when it comes to power in Delhi. Chhat is a Mahaparva. Despite the decade old demand of more than 40 lakh people from Purvanchal demanding declaration of public holiday on this day, Delhi government did not pay heed to this. Now, BJP promises you that we will declare Chhat a public holiday once our party comes to power.’

That of all the aspiration and demands which the Purvanchlais have been harbouring and presenting from time-to-time, Gadkari could only get fascinated by having a holiday on Chhat speaks for the political bankruptcy of the state BJP, which has lost last three assembly polls in the city and is not very comfortably placed for the fourth, scheduled for November this year, either.

Such perfunctory allurements offered by the BJP leadership to the migrants to the national Capital have always proved to be counter-productive. Talking of Chhat, a similar attempt was made by no less a stalwart than Madan Lal Khurana during the 2003 polls, when he got the ‘festival’ organized at then deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani’s residence with all fanfare with participants also entering into a jig on the beats of Delhi’s ubiquitous dholwalas. Little did then Khurana and Advani realize that Chhat was more about piety then festivity.

In 2008, the BJP leadership did not do any better. Though it came out from the high pedestal of their bungalows and started visiting the Chhath ghats (jetties) to woo the Purvanchalis it still failed to grasp their sentiment. On the eve of 2008 Assembly polls, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Vijay Kumar Malhotra did the mistake of visiting the ghats in shorts, little realising that there was no escape from water and to be one with the Parvaitin (those fasting during the festival) one had to enter water and stand waist deep, even if it entailed wetting their clothes.

Coming back to the press note, what surprised most was that the handout claimed to resolve non-existent issues and problems affecting Purvanchali population in the city. The note went onto explain ‘the problems’ claiming that the party will focus on providing them (Purvanchalis) with affordable housing, ration cards and aadhar cards immediately after it comes to power.

This particular note reflects the fact that the state BJP leadership is still to acknowledge the Purvanchal community of consisting of anything more than the ‘Bihari labour’, who is always in the dire need of the benevolence of his employer – the effervescent Punjabi Bauji or a parsimonious Vaishya Lalaji. 

Gadkari as the in charge of the assembly polls in Delhi must realize that his party has to grow beyond just being an outfit of Banias and Punjabis, if it has to have any chance to make a comeback in the national Capital.

Theatrics of a Navjot Singh Sidhu claiming that the 14-year Vanvas (exile) of BJP was over and that it was all set to return to power was easier said than done. While in private BJP leaders moan that they start with the disadvantage of not getting the support of the minorities and scheduled castes in the national Capital, I wonder, what stops them from getting their support?

While the vote of the minorities may be a problem but there have been leaders in the city BJP from the scheduled castes who have been repeatedly elected legislators. Why the party failed to capitalize on their abilities? Same is true for the Purvanchal voter. The BJP in the national Capital has refused to make them equal partners in its politics.

Its representation even in present president Vijay Goel’s team is skeletal. Of the 14 district presidents appointed by Goel, there are none from the migrant community – either Purvanchal or Uttarakhand, both being numerically very strong across the national Capital. Similar is the fate of the Dalits, with just one figuring in the list. The votes of Dalits on at least 20 seats of the national Capital is decisive. In the absence of representation in the organization, when Goel claims that adequate representation would be given to migrants in the tickets distributed for the assembly polls, it’s difficult to receive it without a pinch of salt. In a press conference after the Purvanchal meeting, Goel and Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly Vijay Kumar Malhotra claimed ‘with more than three million Purvanchalis in the city, the party will give appropriate representation to them in the ticket distribution in the coming assembly polls.’ 

Ironically these two are best known Punjabi and Bania faces of the Delhi BJP, who have resisted any sharing of power with the migrants so far. That they did not have any prominent leader from the migrant community to share the dais with them while making the announcement speaks volumes about the lack of roots the party has among the migrants.

Delhi BJP should have learnt a few lessons from the gamble which the Congress played in the last Lok Sabha polls by fielding a known Purvanchal face from what was perceived as a ‘Punjabi-dominant’ West Delhi seat. While Mahabal Mishra won the seat for Congress, a ticket to him ensured that Purvanchalis voted for his party across the seven parliamentary seats.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, 
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