There was a time in the national capital when “Bihari” used to be a slang and people coming from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand braced discrimination in Delhi. Now, they have changed the political and socio-economic landscape of Delhi and they are addressed as Purvanchalis as a block, giving them a homogeneous identity rather than their heterogeneous reality on the lines of caste and religious beliefs.
These Purvanchalis make around 30-32 per cent of Delhi voters. This makes them formidable. In the bygone era, the Congress was the sole claimant to their votes primarily due to leaders such as Mahabal Mishra – who along with his son Vinay Mishra recently joined the ruling Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister. Mishra had emerged as the go-to-person for Purvanchalis if they found themselves in distress in Delhi.
In 2015, the AAP wooed Purvanchalis by fielding nearly a dozen candidates from the community right on the back of anti-corruption movement, which saw massive participation of Purvanchalis in Delhi. Now, Purvanchalis are a big attraction for all political parties vying for power in Delhi Assembly election.
The AAP has fielded 12 candidates, like 2015 Delhi Assembly election, this time too hoping the Purvanchali would stand behind the party once again. But the BJP and the Congress too are competing for the same vote bank; the BJP more eagerly than the Congress, it appears.
After the AAP of Arvind Kejriwal routed the BJP and decimated the Congress in 2015, the BJP leadership woke to the numerical strength of the Purvanchali voters. Drafted in the BJP in the wake of 2013 Delhi Assembly polls, Manoj Tiwari – a singer-actor-turned-politician – was made the Delhi BJP chief, much to the chagrin of many party veterans from the city; such names included Vijay Goel, Harsh Vardhan (both Union ministers), Satish Upadhyay (the former Delhi BJP chief) and Vijender Gupta (one of the three BJP leaders to enter Delhi Assembly as MLA in 2015).
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The BJP had fielded only three candidates with Purvanchali connection in 2015. This time, the party has already named eight among 57 BJP nominees for the 70-seat Delhi Assembly election. More names are likely. The Purvanchal cell of the Delhi BJP earlier demanded 21 nominees from the community arguing that there are 27 assembly segments where Purvanchalis decide who wins. This makes up for three-fourths of the majority mark (36) in Delhi Assembly.
To wean away Purvanchali voters to its fold, the BJP is expanding its alliance with the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister to Delhi as well. Reports suggest that the JD(U) will have two candidates in Delhi Assembly election and Nitish Kumar is expected to campaign for the NDA in Delhi. This will be the first such arrangement between the alliance partners from Bihar. This also means, the BJP is making sure that at least 10 Purvanchali faces are nominated as NDA candidates in Delhi Assembly election.
The Congress is doing its own bit, maybe a little less and a bit late. Having sidelined Mahabal Mishra in the past five years, the Congress needed a fresh face from Purvanchal. It roped in Kirti Azad – the son of former Bihar chief minister Bhagwat Jha Azad and former BJP MP from Bihar – and made him the chairman of campaign committee for Delhi Assembly election.
The Congress has given ticket to three Purvanchali nominees among the 54 it has named so far for the Delhi Assembly election. This includes Poonam Azad, the wife of Kirti Azad. She will contest from Sangam Vihar, one of the localities with high percentage of Purvanchali residents.
In addition, the Congress is bringing its alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad, the former Bihar chief minister, former Union minister in the UPA government and who is currently serving a jail sentence after having been convicted in cases related to fodder scam of 1990s. The RJD is the single-largest party in the Bihar Assembly where the Congress is a minor partner. In Delhi, the Congress has offered four seats to the RJD – thus taking the number of Purvanchali nominees to seven, at the least.
The AAP organised Aapan Purvanchal festival at 300 locations in Delhi in the build up to the Delhi Assembly election. It introduced Maithili as an optional subject in Delhi government schools. Maithili is an old and widely spoken language over a vast territory in North Bihar. The Kejriwal government also claimed to have built over 1,000 ghats in Delhi for Chhath — a trademark festival for Purvanchali people.
The BJP, on the other hand, has promised to build Yamuna river front along which permanent Chhat ghats will be built. Late Sushma Swaraj used to perform Chhath as a devotee.
The race for Purvanchali votes in Delhi Assembly election makes the 2020 edition an unusual but interesting one. It cannot be predicted if the Purvanchali voters – or nearly one-third of total voters – will vote as homogeneous block or have their individual preferences dictated by democratic ideals, issue-based pro and anti-party sentiments, or along caste and creed lines the way it has been seen in many elections in the Purvanchal.