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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Scars of disharmony keep pot boiling: Hindu-Muslim wedge festers in North East Delhi

Begusarai (Bihar)-born Kanhaiya Kumar, the former JNU Students’ Union president and CPI leader who joined the Congress in 2021, is contesting from North East Delhi. His opponent is the BJP’s sitting MP Manoj Tiwari, who traces his roots to Kaimur district in Bihar

Pheroze L. Vincent Published 21.05.24, 10:18 AM
Kanhaiya Kumar and Manoj Tiwari

Kanhaiya Kumar and Manoj Tiwari PTI

Aish Mohammad, a retired CRPF head constable, became homeless overnight. His home on the banks of the Brijpuri drain in Bhagirathi Vihar in northeast Delhi was burnt down during the 2020 riots. He escaped by jumping onto a neighbour’s terrace and lived in a camp for displaced persons until his former employer, the force, helped him rebuild.

Four years since the riots, some of his Hindu neighbours still don’t talk to him.

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“Many people from both communities sold their homes and moved to areas where their communities are in the majority. I still see some of the people whom I had named in my FIR for looting and then burning my house, roaming around. Most of them are still unemployed. I rarely step out since I had a stroke two years ago. When I do, I miss the old harmony in the area,” Mohammad, 62, tells The Telegraph.

“I have heard some of the INDIA parties’ campaigners talk about justice for riot
victims. I don’t expect anything from the BJP. AAP didn’t do anything during the riots and during the pandemic also they weren’t very helpful. But they are supporting the Congress, whose candidate speaks well and may attract some of the Poorvanchali voters. Whoever wins, they must create jobs as when boys are idle then crimes like riots happen.”

Begusarai (Bihar)-born Kanhaiya Kumar, the former JNU Students’ Union president and CPI leader who joined the Congress in 2021, is contesting from North East Delhi. His opponent is the BJP’s sitting MP Manoj Tiwari, who traces his roots to Kaimur district in Bihar. Tiwari has twice won this seat, wresting it from the Congress in 2014 and then beating the former Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit by over 3.66 lakh votes in the 2019 polls. Dikshit passed away a few months after her defeat.

Like most Muslim residents in the constituency, Mohammed has only seen Kanhaiya campaign in his part of Bhagirathi Vihar, which is about 7km east of the Signature Bridge over the Yamuna. Tiwari, he says, largely sticks to neighbourhoods with more Hindu voters.

Pratap Mukherjee, a priest in four temples across the constituency, who also conducts pujas on invitation at homes, lives in Seelampur. There is a clear divide, he says.

“Voters in our apartment block are backing the BJP. Across the road in the market area where Muslims stay, a huge crowd turned out when Kanhaiya came to campaign. Even if Kanhaiya had come to us, I don’t think he would have made a difference. My neighbours say they would rather stay hungry than have the Congress come to power,” says Mukherjee.

Sometimes, he adds, people who visit the temples engage him in conversation.

“They ask, who is leading, whom I will vote for. I tell them to listen to both the candidates. We have seen Manoj’s work and Modiji’s work. So many educated young people can’t find work. Kanhaiya speaks very well. But the moment I praise Kanhaiya they dismiss me as a (Bengal chief minister) Mamata (Banerjee) man,” the Bengali priest rues.

At a scheduled public meeting of Kanhaiya at Yamuna Vihar last Friday, a few supporters trickled in before the event. No campaign flags were seen at the venue, and after a while, the guests realised that the meeting had been cancelled. None of their calls to Kanhaiya’s team were answered.

One of them, Karan Sharma, told this paper: “We have managed to open campaign offices in areas we haven’t entered in the past decade. The public likes to listen to him. We had some events scheduled for him where he did not turn up, so Congress MLAs from Rajasthan who are campaigning here filled in for him.”

At a restaurant nearby, Aman Kumar shares a pizza with a classmate after their NEET coaching class. Two vehicles of his family were set ablaze during the riots. His first vote will go to the BJP, he says.

“We don’t need free electricity from (Arvind) Kejriwal. We need a government that controls the ill-mannered people of Chand Bagh and Mustafabad,” the first-time voter said referring to the Muslim-majority areas. “Only the central government has the power to control those who riot and molest women. That’s why we need the BJP here.”

Kanhaiya has been assaulted by Hindutva activists during the campaign. Lacking funds, he is now crowdfunding online and had collected more than 39 lakh till Monday evening. Short of cadres, the Congress depends on AAP for its campaign. However, AAP members rue the lack of coordination.

An AAP leader in Karawal Nagar explained: “This contest is at least close this time, but for winning you need polling booth management which is done by people like me. Kanhaiya has not met us yet. He held a meeting in Sonia Vihar (hosted by the CPM) on Thursday that we didn’t know about and hence did not attend. Our members there asked us if we weren’t supporting him.

“Money isn’t the problem. We are a poor area with many rich residents. There are businessmen willing to contribute. No one wants a government that presides over riots. But he has not even met them yet.”

North East Delhi votes on May 25

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