Partyless but not voiceless
Independent candidates are livening up the Delhi Assembly election campaign and widening the choice for voters. A look at four of them
DELHI ASSEMBLY elections are around the corner and we have the three main parties fighting for the Capital city’s power seat. But while the spotlight is on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress and the potential winners from them, we take a look at those who will fight without the backing and funds from a party.
A lot of the conversation recently has been about finding alternative parties, finding new opposition, so why can’t an Independent get the chance? The first general elections of 1952 had in fact seen 36 Independents winning — maybe fresh faces is what one needs inside the Assembly.
We spoke to four candidates, of whom two are from the New Delhi constituency from where the present chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal will face the challenge of a re-election. This constituency has the maximum number of candidates running from here – 28.
The two from New Delhi we spoke with are 70-year-old Daya Shankar Agrawal, an old-timer of sorts, who always carries a conch in his pocket. And 30-year-old Rahul Beniwal, who lost his job in a private company about seven months back.
Patriot also spoke with Shama who is standing from the Mustafabad constituency and Neesha from Vishwas Nagar, who both highlighted that they want to do something for women.
Here are their stories:
Daya Shankar Agrawal is no rookie. His first ever election candidature was for the President of India in 2012, his most recent adventure, standing against the present chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal for the New Delhi Vidhan Sabha seat.
We met the 70-year-old in his wife’s office space at Civil Lines between a stationery shop and a supermarket. “It is all my wife’s,” he tells us “my wife gives me the money to fight the elections. She’s my financier”, Agrawal adds with a smile.
He is not spending much on campaigning, instead banking on the relations he has built over the years. Having taught yoga in Lodhi Garden for 30 years, he already knows many people in the constituency. “I go to restaurants and connect with people. And the bookstores in Khan Market where I meet people. I don’t want to disturb people with rallies,” he says but also adds that he may hold a small one if he gets the permission.
He wants to focus on fighting corruption, providing jobs, have ‘minimum taxes’ – “I want Rozgaar, Vyapaar” (employment, business).
He talks at length about the key years which brought him to a juncture where February 8, the date for Delhi polls, became so important for him. He came to the Capital in 1970 from Madhya Pradesh, took up a university job in 1971, got married in 1972, had his son in 1973, joined Jayprakash Narayan’s Sampoorna Kraanti movement in 1975, in 1977 worked “underground during emergency… unlike my colleagues who were jailed…they didn’t disturb me much as I had a child”.
By 1980 he went to Rishikesh, learnt yoga, and started teaching people through travel agencies, in hotels, and even parks, simultaneously teaching at the university. “I continued this till 2010 when my friend advised me to take retirement, saying you’ll get enough pension and you won’t have to work. So, I retired voluntarily but my file was not cleared.”
This is what began his tryst with electoral politics. “Someone told me I should approach the President as he is the Visitor of the University. I decided to contest the presidential elections knowing fully well I wouldn’t qualify as I wouldn’t get the required signatures of 50 MLAs or MPs to propose my name.” (A nomination paper of a presidential candidate has to be subscribed by at least 50 electors as proposers and at least 50 electors as seconders.)
He admits to getting false signatures with the help of his friends to show the required support, “but before I did this I made sure that there was no punishment if I did get caught”.
His nomination paper he says was accepted for the position of vice president and president. It was all, “to protest and make (the president) aware of my pension. At the point of nomination, we are both equal.”
In 2014 he heard that his pension would come through, but was yet again deferred. “So then in 2017 I again contested for the presidency.”
With no relief, he saw another way while watching television. “I saw one programme which said if you want to highlight your problems, contest the highest post”, and so he went to Varanasi to contest against the prime minister in 2019s Lok Sabha elections. “But I tell you the truth, the Returning Officer (RO) said no”, apparently because of his being an Agrawal would mean. “I could take a couple of thousand votes away from the prime minister. The RO made silly points like how do you have 7 million rupees? I said it was my money, are you the income tax official?”
He finally got what he wanted, but the RO asked him to withdraw and take his money back. “They cleared my pension finally and on July 1 I got my first pension. I received arrears of almost Rs 90 lakh”.
In 2012, he joined the movement against corruption with Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. “But when they launched the (Aam Aadmi) Party I was not very keen. Their behaviour was not good. They gave me a ticket but I didn’t want it so I gave it away to my friend Harish Khanna and he became the MLA”, in 2013 before the party abdicated its position.
Now, he wants to fight for real. To make changes to what he sees are challenges that are not being tackled by the current government. “Kejirwal doesn’t speak of fighting corruption anymore. My election symbol is the CCTV camera, for rashtriya nigrani”.
“I don’t have any personal grudge (against Kejriwal). As New Delhi is in the control centre, not just a seat of the CM candidate, I decided to run from this seat.”
Another CM opponent
A resident in New Delhi constituency, Rahul Beniwal feels that his ‘localness’ gives him an edge over the others in the contest. An independent candidate, Beniwal was done with the “politics of lies” spread by both the central and state governments and decided to fight the elections.
“While one party is doing politics on Shaheen Bagh, second one on freebies and the other is busy fighting among themselves. At a time like this, New Delhi constituency voters should vote for an independent candidate,” he tells us.
Bringing attention to more local problems of his area, he chose the symbol of a bucket as residents of his constituency face lack of water. “Unlike Kejriwal, who doesn’t even belong to this city, I know the problems of my area,” he adds.
The 30-year-old says that most of the candidates that have been elected from the parties in New Delhi constituency have never been local residents of the area. “Now we should have a local MLA. Since the MLA here mostly goes on to become a Chief Minister of the city, the grievances of the people here are not looked after since the entire city goes to the CM. If there is someone local and particular for the area, then they would be able to address the issues and make better use of the funds as well.”
One of the slogans he is raising during his campaign to attack Kejriwal says: “Jhadoo choro, chalo sikshya ki aur” (leave the broom, work for education). Beniwal stresses on the need of quality education and English medium schools. “Bring it to international level since in this age speaking English is a must.”
Beniwal is known as a helpful and friendly face in the locality. “I belong to the Valmiki community and noting my keen interest in working for education, people from the Valmiki Samaj suggested that I should contest for the elections.”
In his fight against Kejriwal, he also raises the issue of unemployment, a cause which is quite personal to him. Son of a government servant, he completed his graduation in BSc and was working in a real estate company for six years, but lost it due to demonetisation. Taking up another job after this, he started working in the loan section of a company. Things turned bad again when his company started laying off people due to recession, and he lost his job. For the past seven months now, Beniwal is unemployed and is looking for a job.
Campaigning door to door, he is aware that it will take him time to gain people’s trust. “The politics on freebies and lies that is going on now has to end. To make people aware of this, I have decided to enter politics.”
Beniwal was never part of any student politics before, but has helped in party works of previous MLAs in his area. Along with this, he is always active in social activities in his locality and environmental drives, he says.
“Whether we lose or win is for later. My main aim is for people to understand that they should stay away from these political parties and vote for a good man from their own constituency, judging him through their capabilities.”
With women’s support, I can
Shama is contesting from New Delhi’s Mustafabad constituency — One of the three constituencies which did not vote for the AAP in the 2015 elections.
People at New Mustafabad, a Muslim-dominated area, claimed votes had been divided between the AAP and the Congress which is why the BJP had won. This time could it be an Independent? Shama hopes so and also the women who have backed her and pushed her forward to run for the seat.
She has been a member of an NGO called the RWA Federation of Delhi for the past seven years, which works with poor women and children providing them with help to acquire pension funds, education, more recently a tuition centre for children of poor families.
This work also means that she already has support from the community impacted by her work and that of the NGO, she tells us that with little to no funds for campaigning she has been relying on the people around her. “The people here are supporting me because I keep doing something or the other. I have not done any rally yet, I just speak to community members”.
Her election symbol is a truck. When asked about its significance, she just calls it the one she was given after having to pick three. “That’s what I was given”, she adds nonchalantly. For her what matters is getting work done, she says. She points to young people in her community, who while graduates have found no jobs and have to start driving a rickshaw and other odd jobs to sustain themselves and their families.
“If I get the MLA post I will be able to do something for the people, I want to focus on unemployment. Our children have studied till BA but they have no jobs. So, first I would tackle this and then focus on the safety of women.”
When we ask the mother of four schoolgoing kids about her husband, who drives a cab for a living and his support, she says she wouldn’t have done it without it. But perhaps what matters more, as she says immediately after is the support of the women.
House help to helping homes
Every day at 8 am, Neesha leaves her home to work as a house help in four houses at her locality and returns at 1 pm, going back for a few hours in the evening. She has finally requested a day off to campaign for the upcoming election.
Residing in a crowded colony that is known as T-huts in Kasturba Nagar, narrow lanes lead to a one-storey building where she lives with her family. Steep stairs lead to a tiny room with paint scraped off from the walls. The 32-year-old Neesha shares this room with her husband, son and other relatives.
She is obviously not your regular politician. Contesting for the first time, Neesha felt the need to fight in the elections because there was nothing much happening for women in the area. With the support of the women in her community and her husband, she decided to contest as an independent candidate. “There are hardly any jobs for women here and we do not have enough to even feed our children.”
As a first step to address this problem, she plans on opening small industries to provide employment for women in her colony. “If I win the elections, I will first open a pickle manufacturing unit where women can work and men can also work in the supply department.”
Neesha did not receive any formal education. She points out that most of the people living in her colony do not have the right educational qualification to get good jobs. Hence the small industries will create jobs that will not require such qualifications.
To support her family, Neesha had to take up working as a house help in 2012. Her husband Dinesh Kumar lost his eyesight which costed him his job at the HRD ministry, where he worked. Dinesh started selling golgappas to make ends meet and moved on to open a small grocery shop but that didn’t work out, and now the family relies on his disability pension and Neesha’s pay.
Married for 11 years, they have a 10-year-old son, and while her husband was interested in politics from childhood, Neesha too wanted to do something. So in November of 2019, they went around in their locality trying to raise support.
When we met her, a team of 11 women along with her relatives were around for support, to show solidarity. All of them wore red scarves with the election symbol for Neesha, a bat, say, “Gareeb uthega tabhi to sab gareebo ko uthayega” (If a poor person rises they can raise others). When we ask, why a bat? Pat comes the reply: “Issbar chakka marenge, ball boundary se bahar” (This time we will hit a six). Neesha plans to campaign along with them, and a dhol to attract attention. They have also campaigned on social media and even made use of TikTok to share their campaign videos.
She plans to keep fighting for the cause even if she loses this time. “We are getting a few proposals from bigger parties to join them, but we won’t. We are not greedy. We only want to do good for others.”