New Delhi: Development issues such as regularisation of colonies, the ghost of Batla House encounter and the presence of a number of Muslim candidates along with a few from Gujjar community make a heady election cocktail in the sensitive Okhla constituency.
Election campaigning is heating up in the constituency that has over 50 per cent Muslim electorate who are considered the dominant electoral force followed by Gujjars (15 per cent) and OBCs (11 per cent).
This time the fight is likely to be fierce with a number of prominent Muslim leaders throwing their hat in the ring.
The BJP and BSP have fielded Gujjar leaders, who are banking on the division of Muslim vote, besides support from Gujjar and OBC communities.
BSP state president Brahm Singh is contesting from Okhla while BJP has fielded Dhir Singh Bidhuri. Brahm Singh had lost a close bye-election in 2009 when Congress MLA Pervez Hashmi had resigned on becoming Rajya Sabha MP.
Five years after the Batla encounter, political leaders in the Okhla constituency are still harping on it and believe it will pay them dividends as in the past.
Brahm Singh was defeated by Asif Mohammad Khan of the RJD, who is contesting from a Congress ticket this time. Asif had raised the Batla encounter issue vociferously in 2009
bypoll but has chosen not to harp on it this time.
He is facing tough opposition from the likes of BSP’s Singh, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Irfanullah Khan, Area councillor Shoaib Danish, who has quit Congress to join Janata Dal (United), Lok Jan Shakti party candidate Amanatullah Khan and Samajwadi party candidate Amiruddin.
The opposition have been gunning for Asif for first criticising the Congress on the encounter case and then siding with it for polls.
Asif, however, defends himself saying,”I want to make it clear, that the Batla House encounter case was an issue in the Lok Sabha polls (2008) not when I won the assembly polls.”
“I stand by my word that the encounter was fake but now the matter is in court and no point asking for a judicial enquiry. The encounter was fake for sure and the Muslim youths were innocent,” he told PTI.
This is a crucial seat for Congress in the Delhi in the larger context as it might indicate on what lines the minorities are thinking ahead of the general election next year. But it is not going to be easy for Asif as Congress seems to be a divided house.
“The Rajya Sabha MP of Congress Pervez Hashmi is working against me and is trying to make sure that I don’t win. This is not an allegation but the public is saying it,” Asif alleged.
A section of Congress had strongly opposed giving ticket to Asif arguing that a number of criminal cases are pending against him.
The main issues in Okhla remain that of development, including an acute water crisis and regularisation of the unauthorised colonies.
“Our main aim is to ensure clean and transparent politics,” AAP candidate Irfanullah said.
“From the election Commission’s point of view there are two most sensitive areas and one of them is Okhla. The development here is zero and inspite of being in South Delhi this area is most neglected,” he said.
“Regularisation is also made a political issue. Promises are made but nothing is done. Will regularise the unauthorised colonies if we come to power,” he said.
Irfanullah also called for justice to be done in the Batla House encounter case.
Another issue some people mentioned was “social stigma” associated with a minority-dominated locality. People have been regularly complaining that children from this area have not been getting admission in good public schools.
“There is issue of education, acute water crisis, land for burial, roads, sewage and a host of other development issues that are the main rallying points in this area,” Lok Jan Shakti party candidate Amanatullah Khan said.
“The sitting MLA won the last election raising sentiments and rallying against the Batla House encounter, but has now aligned with the Congress. This shows that he now regards the encounter as correct,” he said.
The local residents of the area believe that it is an “open election” where many candidates have a chance.
“We are fed up of promises and plans, we need concrete development work in the area, roads are broken, sewage system is non-existent and water crisis is growing by the day,” Danish Jamshed, a resident of Johri farm, said.
However, many others believe differently.
“Development can only come when we are considered equal.The Batla House encounter has shown that innocent Muslims were often targeted,” Wasif Khalil, an engineer in a firm, said.
The constituency has a total of 2.19 lakh voters out of which over 87,000 are women and 1.31 lakh are men.
The encounter had taken place at flat no. L-18, Batla House in Jamia Nagar locality here on September 19, 2008, six days after serial bomb blasts rocked Delhi, killing 26 persons and injuring 133 others.
Of the five flat occupants, Atif Ameen and Mohd Sajid were killed during the encounter.
Highly-decorated Delhi Police Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma succumbed to the bullet injuries sustained during the gun battle while head constable Balwant was injured.
Suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorist Shahzad Ahmad was convicted by a Delhi court in July for murdering a police inspector in the encounter.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh had dubbed the encounter as fake which had triggered a major controversy and a war of words between the BJP and Congress.