Why do people associate Islam with terrorism?” 19-year-old Tania Tariq says almost to herself.
The teenager looks confused over why a leader of a national party would call areas like Jamia Nagar and Batla House a “hub of terrorists”.
“How can V K Malhotra call these areas safe havens of terrorists? Walk around the area and you will find only educated people leading usual lives,” the second-year student of English Honours at Jamia Millia University says.
“Only this kind of statement leads police to pick up innocent Muslim youths randomly from the university campus,” she says. For a “secular nation”, Tania will cast her vote for Aam Aadmi Party when Delhi goes to the polls on April 10.
Just days back, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader V K Malhotra had described Jamia Nagar and Batla House in East Delhi constituency as a “hub of terrorists”. While the statement has left most residents of the area “hurt”, a few others feel it is “a deliberate political stunt” to gain votes from the majority community.
The East Delhi constituency, which includes areas such as Jangpura, Okhla, Trilokpuri, Patparganj, Gandhi Nagar, Kondli, Krishna Nagar and Shahdara, has over 15 per cent Muslim voters.
Muslims are expected to play a decisive role in at least three parliamentary constituencies in Delhi – Chandni Chowk, East Delhi and North-East Delhi.
“Minorities in Okhla segment will vote as a community against BJP. In the thorough fight against BJP, they are internally divided between Congress and AAP. The youths, who feel Congress takes Muslim votes for granted, are likely to vote for AAP,” businessman Javed Khan says.
“It is likely that AAP will get 60 per cent of the votes and Congress the remaining 40 per cent. My vote will go to Rajmohan Gandhi of AAP as he is a respectable candidate,” Khan says.
A resident of Zakir Nagar in Okhla, Khan says people know Jamia Nagar as a “university area” and Malhotra’s remarks cannot scar its residents. “Flats are rented out only after police verification of the tenants. There is no question of accommodating terrorists.”
In 2008, Delhi Police led an operation in a building in Batla House. While two youths, who police claimed were terrorists, were killed, two others were arrested. According to police, another youth had escaped.
The encounter, which was carried out in connection with the serial blasts on September 13, 2008, led to an uproar among residents of the area and human rights groups.
They claimed it was a “fake encounter”. But Delhi Police were given a clean chit after the National Human Rights Commission submitted a report on the police version.
“It is such a disturbing thought that a single encounter at L-18 has come to define what Batla House and its residents stand for. Also, it was an encounter whose veracity I doubt till today. It is unfortunate that Malhotra, who represents a national party, is indulging in such small talk,” 55-year-old Liyaqat says.
The Batla House resident, who deals in apparel, adds, “The majority of votes in this area will go to Congress’ Sandeep Dikshit. He is a man who has looked after our every needs.”
While Congress candidate from the constituency is sitting MP Sandeep Dikshit, BJP has fielded Maheish Girri. AAP’s Rajmohan Gandhi, who is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, is being seen as an “educated and respectable” candidate in the constituency.
Sahabu Nisha, 55, says, “I am an illiterate person. From what I understand of grassroot-level politics, Sandeep deserves to be re-elected for the kind of work he has done for people like me who lived in jhuggis earlier.”
In the spirit of community voting, the party often becomes more important than the candidate it has fielded. Salim, a garment shop owner, and 45 others in his family, will prove this right by voting for Congress.
“We do not care who the candidate is or if the party will win. All we know is every member’s vote in our family will be cast for the hand symbol,” the elderly man says.Shehzad, an engineer, says there is a “novelty factor” with AAP. “AAP at least wants to cleanse the system. BJP only believes in spreading hatred among communities through malicious statements against Muslims.”
For 38-year-old Ahsan Ali, AAP is the only existing alternative. “My vote goes to Kejriwal’s party. BJP humare samajh ke bahar hain (we cannot understand BJP),” Ahsan, who runs an eatery in Batla House market, says.