Give us development, not freebies, say Delhi’s slum voters

May 6th, 2009 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Bahujan Samaj Party New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) Slum-dwellers do not want to be taken for granted. A day before the election inhabitants of Delhi’s shantytowns say they are fed up of being wooed with freebies like cash and liquor at poll time and want concrete action on basic amenities like water, sanitation and electricity.For Vimla, who lives in a slum cluster in Kalkaji in south Delhi, freebies won’t dictate her vote Thursday, when the seven Lok Sabha constituencies here go to the polls.

“The poor people’s vote is taken for granted. Just give them money and buy their votes. Big speeches and unfulfilled promises of water and electricity - that is all we have got so far,” she said.

Vimla, like many others, wants change.

“Come election time and candidates and party workers distribute ‘kharcha paani’ (money). Parties try to cut into each other’s votes, sometimes by giving individuals up to Rs.10,000 in cash. Bottles of country made liquor are often handed out at night,” said a resident of Kusumpur Pahari on condition of anonymity.

Bal Roop Gautam, a roadside tea seller from a south Delhi slum cluster, said: “We have the right to be part of the development process. Our needs have been ignored long enough.”

Gautam, 60, says he has never accepted a bribe, but there are many in his neighborhood who do. Still, many in his area will vote for what matters to them - inclusive development and infrastructure.

He says he will support the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), as his past votes to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress were of no use.

“We struggle for water each day. There are just three taps in our entire colony of 30,000-odd people. Sanitation is in a shambles. People around me are perceptive about these issues. I think they all are looking for someone who will bring about some development that includes and impacts us,” said the father of four.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi estimates that over three million people reside in over 1,000 unauthorised slum clusters in Delhi. Officially, 14.82 percent of Delhi’s population is estimated to be below the poverty line.

According to Bibhuprasad Mohapatra, a political researcher who has been working on transparency and accountability in Indian politics with the India Development Foundation (IDF), poor people look for development more than others.

Soon after the Delhi assembly elections, Mohapatra headed a research project “Governance and the Poor: A case study of Delhi assembly elections 2008″, which reinforced the changing trend of the ’slum vote’.

Mohapatra stressed: “Most MLAs or MLA aspirants work through political recruits in slums and JJ clusters…it could be that people in low income households do know the worth of their bargaining power through voting and can use it effectively to make their representatives behave!”

This, he said, was borne out by the 2008 Delhi assembly election results when seven new MLAs were from areas with a large population of poor voters.

After delimitation, Delhi’s earlier slum-dominated Outer Delhi constituency has been split, making it difficult for politicians to isolate the “slum vote”, he said.

The biggest slums in the capital are in the Kalkaji area, the Navjivan camp and Nehru camp, Kathputli colony, Okhla, Seelampur, Yamuna Pushta, Prem Wadi, the Wazirpur industrial area and the Rakhi Zakira colony. Of these, a high concentration of slums is in the South Delhi, Chandni Chowk and East Delhi constituencies - although slum clusters are present in some measure in other places as well.

A big worry on the minds of many slum inhabitants this time is that they may be displaced by the government’s proposed rehabilitation scheme.

The residents, mostly daily wage earners, labourers, guards, shopkeepers and petty traders, are worried that they might lose the hovels they have nurtured into homes for the last 35 years.

“God only knows when I will be forced out of home - there is this uncertainty. But the politicians who first said they would help us conveniently never talk about that during elections!” said Rajesh, a labourer who lives in an Okhla slum.

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