New Delhi: Although it’s not a full-fledged state, elections to the Delhi assembly have nonetheless always attracted widespread attention. Other than the city’s position as the centre of political power at the national level, the presence of a robust educational infrastructure as well as strong services and manufacturing sectors act as a strong magnet to attract people from all across the country.
As a result, the city-state is also often regarded as the microcosm of the world’s largest democracy.
According to the 2011 census, of Delhi’s total population of over 1.1 crore, 42% were migrants. With certain unofficial estimates pegging the number of people from the Northeast living in the Delhi NCR at 10 lakh, the 2020 polls witnessed a significant percentage exercising their franchise in the city for the first time.
So, what were some of the principal issues with people from the region? Also, did the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have an impact on their voting preferences?
“The main issue for most arriving in Delhi from the Northeast is the difficulty in finding a decent accommodation as often homeowners continue to be reluctant about renting out their property to people from the region,” informed executive member of Bhartiya Janata Party’s Scheduled Tribe Morcha, Linda Newmai. “And even those who do, often refuse to draft a formal rent agreement, which results in such tenants not being able to provide a valid proof of address while trying to register as voters,” she added.
To resolve this challenge that the Election Commission of India (ECI) organised four voter registration drives in association with Delhi’s Police’s Special Police Unit for North Eastern Region (SPUNER).
“In many cases, the id cards sent by ECI to voters’ postal address would be returned by the homeowners. Since late last year the commission has, therefore, allowed applicants to instead collect them from SPUNER office,” said Newmai.
The drive that was first held in 2014, resulted in nearly 7,500 people from the Northeast registering as Delhi voters. In 2018, about 1,000 people were registered as voters. The exercise was held twice in 2019, with around 4,000 new voters getting added to the city’s electoral rolls. Thus, a total of 12,500 new voters from the region have been added through this special drive.
Elaborating further on the issue, activist Maivio Woba remarked, “It is mostly the younger lot in the age group 20-30 that has benefited most from the special voter registration drives. These people are mostly first-generation migrants to the city. As for those whose families have been living in the city for the last two-three generations, they obtain their voter ids in the routine course.”
On being asked about the main determinants while voting, most felt that it would be based on local issues.
Retiree Ramesh Baruah observed, “This election is an assessment of the work done by the ruling Aam Admi Party (AAP) government since 2015. My entire family is, therefore, supporting AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal!”
Baruah who was a staunch Congress supporter since his youth, gravitated towards AAP in 2015 after he felt India’s own grand old party losing its identity due to a crisis of leadership.
Another leading member of the community claimed off-record that many among the first-time voters he had interacted with were toying with the idea of voting for AAP.
However, renowned activist and a staunch supporter of prime minister Narendra Modi, Temsutula Imsong felt that the progress Northeast had witnessed in the last few years would also play a crucial role in determining the choices of the people from the region living here.
“Absence of economic blockades in states like Manipur, work on important infrastructure projects like the four-lane Dimapur-Kohima Highway and the return of peace are all examples of good governance. It is only in the past few years that the Central Government has actually been focusing on development of the region and people appreciate that,” she opined.
In fact, BJP which was reduced to just 3 seats in Delhi assembly five years ago, left no stone unturned to woo voters from the region. The aggressive campaigning mounted by the party saw important regional leaders such as Assam chief minister Sarbanand Sonowal, Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh and Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb in the city to canvas support for the party’s candidates in areas in South, Central and Northwest Delhi that have large concentrations of people from the region.
Most people that EastMojo spoke also denied that anti-CAA protests back home would have any influence on voting in Delhi. They felt that the grounds of opposition to the contentious legislation in the region were very different from those in the rest of the country.