The scorching heat in the afternoon melts the tar which generally stick to the shoes and it is a clear sign that the Keshopur road in the Khyala municipal ward has been freshly metalled.
In the adjacent Vishnu Garden ward, lanes and bylanes have been dug up as labourers lay new pipelines with sharp precision. And amid all the repair work, children scurry around open gutters in great excitement as hordes of houseflies feast on the heaps of garbage all around.
Vishnu Garden and Khyala, a mix of slum clusters and urban villages, are parts of the Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency, which is all set to choose its new MLA on April 9, a by-election necessitated by the resignation of AAP’s Jarnail Singh to fight the Punjab state polls.
The Keshopur road has been hastily repaired a week before the polls after two years of relentless complaints, local trader Pankaj says, as a Bajrang Dal-led Ram Navami procession, headed by a two-time BJP councillor, rolls out from a local Shiva Temple, right opposite a mosque.
Amid cries of ‘Hum hai Hindu babbar sher’ (we Hindus are lions) and ‘Matrubhumi ki raksha karne hum talwar uthaenge’ (will pick up swords to protect the motherland) by youths actually brandishing swords, Raj Kumar Grover patiently explains how the procession is “apolitical”.
“You see, I have been organising the yatra for nearly 20 years. And it has got nothing to do with my political affiliation. This is all the name of Lord Rama,” the BJP leader says.
At this west Delhi constituency, the path to the voters’ heart is clearly through its roads, most of them in dire need of repair.
Also, round the clock water and sanitation—issues that have been “ignored” by successive MLAs, residents complain.
Walk the narrow alleys of Vishnu Garden and a picture of civic neglect and crumbling infrastructure does not take too long to emerge.
The apathy is so complete that residents even seem to have stopped swatting the flies.
“They outnumber us by thousands so we have called a truce,” Manoj, a local milkman, says in jest.
“Water and poor roads are the two biggest issues. The road leading to the Pacific Mall from Vishnu Garden has been dug up for the last year or so and despite several complaints, no one bothered to get them repaired. But as soon as the bypolls were announced, the metalling work started,” says Pratiksha Luthra, a BPO professional.
Roads in Delhi are owned by multiple agencies, including the Delhi government’s PWD and the civic corporations.
Parminder Kaur, an elderly resident of Vishnu Garden, stresses on the urgency to mend the roads, explaining how they turn dangerous for her and people of her generation once the sun sets, forcing them to stay closeted or venture out knowing the risks.
“The bumpy roads have troubled us for the last year or so. Travelling on the roads is a nightmare for aged persons like us. There is always a fear while you are walking that you might lose balance and fall. Even travelling in a cycle rickshaw or an e-rickshaw is scary on the bumpy roads,” she says.
Jarnail Singh’s “desertion” to fight SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab’s Lambi, where he eventually lost, has clearly miffed the locals and dented AAP’s prospects to hold on to the Punjabi-dominated seat, which was once a Congress bastion.
“The area MLA deserted his constituency for Punjab and didn’t take up the issues with the concerned agencies. Even water is a big issue. Water timings are irregular and many a time, the water that does come is pungent and not suitable for even washing clothes,” Sumita, a housewife, complains.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will address a rally on Thursday at the Vishnu Garden-Khyala area in support of the party’s candidate Harjeet Singh, a local Sikh face, who completed his graduation from Delhi University and went on to establish a successful transport business.
AAP’s Delhi in-charge, Ashish Talwar, says BJP and Congress workers were fully committed as long as the parties did not release the list of candidates for the upcoming municipal polls.
“But once the lists came out, infighting has broken out which will affect their campaigning for the by-election as well. But AAP workers are sorted,” he says.
AAP had changed its Vishnu Garden and Khyala ward candidates as well, but Talwar rejects reports of any disquiet, saying those who had left have returned to the party fold.
On the other hand, Congress is banking on the clout of its candidate Meenakshi Chandela’s family. Successive generations of the Chandela family have been in politics and enjoy considerable popularity in the area and the Congress hopes to register its presence in the 70-member Delhi Assembly through her.
The BJP-SAD combine has fielded veteran Manjinder Singh Sirsa, who had won the seat in 2013.
In the recently held Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee election, he had defeated the Congress-backed candidate from the Punjabi Bagh ward.
Sanjeev Kumar, who owns a shop in a Vishnu Garden market, feels it is Sirsa who holds the edge.
“On the surface it may look like a three-cornered contest, but mark my words—the fight is only between the BJP and the Congress. Sirsa has an edge as he is a ‘sardar’ which will help him bag the Punjabi-Sikh vote. Plus he will be able to cash in on the Modi factor.”