Last evening, a friend and I were shopping for silverware at Dariba Kalan, Delhi's largest jewellery market, situated in the heart of the walled city of Shahjahanabad. We were busy examining some exquisite oxidised silver jewellery at one of the shops when there was a sudden burst of activity outside. We rushed out as did all the shopkeepers at the street. BJP's chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi was expected to pass through Dariba in a few minutes, on her roadshow through the Old City.
"Chappa Chappa Bhajpa" shouted BJP workers on bikes, announcing Bedi's arrival. Bedi was standing on top of a large van accompanied by the BJP candidate from Chandni Chowk, Suman Kumar Gupta and other local leaders. Having written earlier that Bedi lacked charisma, I must admit that the roadshow forced me to revise my opinion. Hardly anyone who saw her would say that she is a political newcomer. The former cop made eye contact with almost every person on the street, the way a seasoned mass politician would do. There is no doubt that Bedi is a better bet than Satish Upadhyay, Jagdish Mukhi or any of the other leaders the Delhi BJP had to offer. Perhaps Bedi could change the BJP in the city, I thought.
I asked the shopkeeper standing next to me who he would vote for. "I admire Narendra Modi, he will do good work for the country. But I might vote for Congress here as the MLA Prahlad Singh Sawhney has helped us many times. We can always go to him to get things done," he said.
We had to go towards Jama Masjid, a short walk from Dariba, so we decided to follow Bedi's convoy which also seemed to be going in that direction. But as the street ended, we saw that Bedi wasn't going to turn right towards Jama Masjid, instead her convoy turned left and moved towards the main road.
Those who are familiar with the social geography of Old Delhi would know that Dariba Kalan and adjoining lanes like Kinari Bazar are dominated by Hindu Baniya traders and soon after you turn right towards Jama Masjid, once a predominantly Muslim part of the Old City. It is also a different Assembly constituency - Matia Mahal - which comprises the area surrounding Jama Masjid right up to Turkman Gate and Darya Ganj. In Matia Mahal, most of the people didn't even know that Bedi's roadshow had just passed from very near them. It was a strange irony. Barely 200 meters away from the place where BJP workers were proudly shouting "Chappa Chappa Bhajpa" (BJP in every corner), there was absolutely no trace of the saffron party. A couple of flags maybe, hardly any poster and definitely no worker wearing the party colours.
It is not as if the BJP hasn't fielded a candidate in Matia Mahal, yet Bedi decided not to go there.
It is evident that the decision to avoid Matia Mahal wasn't based on logistical reasons. It was a conscious political decision. The BJP knows that it has very little chance of winning in a seat where nearly 80 per cent of the voters are Muslim. The seat is witnessing a straight fight between the Congress and the AAP. The local MLA Shoaib Iqbal personifies anti-BJP politics in Delhi. Iqbal first won the seat on a Janata Dal ticket in 1993. This was less than a year after the Babri Masjid demolition, a time when the Congress was seen as being soft on the Hindutva forces. Iqbal's politics was, therefore, as much against the Congress as the BJP.
Over two decades later, the political landscape has shifted, and Iqbal is fighting on a Congress ticket. But his USP still remains anti-BJPism. There are posters in the area with a picture of Iqbal taking off his jacket to take on a BJP MLA inside the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, the slogan above the picture says "Sher-e-Dilli" in Urdu. You can see a video of the altercation here.
The message is clear: Muslims don't exist for the BJP and the BJP exists for Muslims only as a threat.
A BJP MLA acknowledged this, in as many words, during the demolition of the Rangpuri Pahadi slum near Vasant Kunj on November 25 last year. When their jhuggis were being demolished, the residents of the slum, most of them Muslims, went to the local BJP MLA Sat Prakash Rana for help. Apparently, Rana's asked them why he should prevent the demolition when hardly any of them voted for him. The demolition wasn't stopped, more than 250 families were rendered homeless in the Delhi winter. Unable to bear the cold, a 70-year-old man, Noor Mohammad, died a day after the demolition.
The BJP isn't even trying to woo Delhi's Muslims. Like Matia Mahal, it has all but given up in the other Muslim majority seats such as Okhla, Seelampur and Ballimaran. The party is in the running in seats like Mustafabad, Chandni Chowk and Trilokpuri, where the Muslim population is somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent. But even in these, the party is counting on a split in Muslim votes between the AAP and the Congress and a parallel consolidation of Hindu votes in its favour. The Trilokpuri riots last year, which the AAP and Congress have accused the BJP of instigating, appear to have been an effort towards such a consolidation.
Kiran Bedi might be the face of the BJP's campaign in Delhi, but behind the mask, the party's politics remains essentially the same.