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India Elections Diary: Gurgaon

Shanty towns and suburbs in one of India's fastest growing cities have yet to reap the benefits of economic growth.
Last modified: 2 Apr 2014 09:38
Angoor Devi, 60, says her vote will go to the candidate from her Kumhaar caste (potter) only

Wih the expanding skyline, open motorways, exponential growth in real estate, nightlife, and five-star hotels, Gurgaon - city adjacent to Delhi - stands as one of the showpieces of India's growth story.

But in many of its surrounding suburbs and villages, such as Sohna, one dweller says, "the two-decade-long economic growth is yet to reach us".

Sohna is a shantytown on the outskirts of Gurgaon. The lanes here are crooked, streets dirty and houses are covered with dust that is part of its air. People living in this area are mostly locals, unlike in cosmopolitan Gurgaon where educated young professionals from across the country work for various multinational companies, leading comfortable lives.

The town is still struggling to kickstart its growth engine, which will take it out of its wretchedness.

"All my life I have supported the Congress and worked as a party worker, but what have we got in return? Nothing." says Lal Singh, a farmer. Singh, in his early 50s, now supports the Aam Admi Party or Common Man's party and blames the ruling Congress party for the problems the residents face.

A large number of people here have been traditionally voting for the Congress, but the AAP seems to be making inroads and India's main opposition, the Bhartiya Janata Party, is ahead as per opinion polls.

People such as Singh say after the Congress came to power in the local government, the first thing it did was to empower the middlemen that virtually made it impossible for farmers "to sell crops at their prices in the markets".

Caste factor

The problems in Gurgaon constituency are age-old just like in most of India, where political parties always promise to end the poverty and provide basic amenities to people in their manifestos, but neither parties keep their word nor people seem to vote for their manifestoes.

Castes still dominates the pollscape in Gurgaon as well as the rest of India.

For example, Angoor Devi, 60, says her vote will go to the candidate from her Kumhaar caste (potter) only.

"It [caste] is more important than the party affiliations of the candidate," Devi told Al Jazeera in the Sohna market where she sells earthenware in a roadside stall.

She may not vote for the AAP candidate Yogendra Yadav who is fighting on the plank of ending corruption and crony capitalism in India, but that doesn't stop her from putting a marigold garland around Yadav's neck during his campaigning.

BJP is a favourite to win the parliamentary polls according to many pre-poll surveys. The party has developed a campaign around its controversial prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on the lines of American presidential elections, but in towns and villages, local issues, caste, religion and the image of local candidates play a greater role.

When you travel a little deeper into Mewat, a Muslim-majority belt in Gurgaon constituency, "national" issues take a back seat.

A few years ago when the local government decided to acquire valued prime agricultural lands to pave the way for the industries, the compensation and the rehabilitation became the main issue. Many farmers launched strikes to protest against the "insignificant" compensation. The issue thus lies at the core of this election.

"We don't care who comes to power in India. All we want is a proper compensation or return of our lands. We would welcome any party that helps farmers," a group of older villagers in Mewat told Al Jazeera outside a tea stall.

But many young Muslim men here do not share this view. To them religion and Muslim aspirations matters the most. They insist that they will throw their weight behind a Muslim candidate only.