Bharat Singh (left), the Indian National Lok Dal candidate from Najafgarh, campaigns in Delhi on Saturday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Dec. 2: About 40km from the heart of Delhi, Najafgarh is almost insulated from the political trends churning the state. Here, the gun wields power and booth-capturing is an uncomfortable reality.
Long before Virender Sehwag burst onto the national cricket scene and made Najafgarh a household name across India, the area had gained local notoriety for the intense gang war between two villages, Mitraun and Dichau Kalan, through the 1990s.
The gang war is now past but the rule of the gun is not. Sitting MLA Bharat Singh of the Indian National Lok Dal escaped narrowly on a June morning last year when a gang of eight gunmen shot at him in his office at 7.30.
Singh hid in his bathroom but was pierced by three of the 54 shots fired. He spent nearly two months in hospital and lost a kidney.
“Political forces were behind the attack; they want to intimidate me into giving up politics,” Singh says. His political managers point fingers at the Congress.
Singh is from Dichau Kalan, whose enmity with Mitraun dates back to 1992 when the Anoop-Balraj gang of Mitraun and Singh’s elder brother Kishan Pehlwan fought over a civic contract.
An Anoop-Balraj gang member was killed and Pehlwan, just 20 at the time, was sent to jail. He received bail five years later and spent years underground. Pehlwan, who faces some 27 murder cases but has not been convicted in any, is now a municipal councillor from Najafgarh.
Balraj was killed in 1998 and Anoop in 2004. No one has been convicted. The murders paved the way for the two villages’ panchayats to strike an uneasy truce.
Singh began his political career around this time. He fought his first Assembly election as an Independent in 2003 and received less than 8,000 votes.
In 2007 he won a municipal election and in 2008, bagged an Assembly seat as an Independent by a margin of over 11,000 votes. Within a year, he joined Om Prakash Chautala’s party.
In 2008, Singh had received just 450 votes from Mitraun’s 4,000-plus — his poll managers expect more this time. He is likely to receive most of Dichau Kalan’s 6,700 votes anyway.
Najafgarh, one of Delhi’s largest Assembly constituencies with its two lakh-odd voters, has voted Independents in the past two elections. The Congress had won in 1998 but the BJP has failed to make much of an inroad.
Congress candidate Bijender Dutt, 49, had joined the party only a year ago after having fought and lost civic elections on Bahujan Samaj Party tickets. The Aam Aadmi Party has fielded software engineer and political rookie Mukesh Dagar, 36.
Singh, who faces attempt to murder and criminal intimidation cases, tries to play down his muscle power and flashes his “development card”.
“After the attack, people (rivals) expected him to lie low or launch a counter-attack. They want to instigate a war once again, but Bharatji did not bite the bait,” said INLD spokesperson Dinesh Dagar.
At 6.30pm on Saturday, Singh arrived in a car to speak to a crowd of about 300 under the streetlights, with no loudspeakers or canopies.
Singh stood patiently as a turban was tied round his head and he was smothered in marigold garlands. His speech lasted barely 10 minutes. Halfway through the address, someone hastily handed him a microphone.
“We don’t believe in caste politics. We have done equal work for all the 36 biradaris (communities),” Singh said and the crowd nodded its approval. “I have worked towards development of the entire area.”
The Metro and much of the development the rest of Delhi boasts about have passed Najafgarh by. Roads and streetlights, though, have come up amid the vegetable and wheat fields in the past few years.
“People were scared to come to Najafgarh; now we at least have roads and streetlights,” said Ramvati Pant from Vinobha Enclave, a colony dominated by retired CRPF personnel.
“Bharat is the most accessible politician we have seen. We all have his mobile number and he is always there to solve our problems.”
Every seat matters in a tight election, and Singh has made his stand clear. “If it’s a hung Assembly, I shall always be found on the other side of the Congress,” he told The Telegraph.