UP civic polls: In Ghaziabad localities, voters torn between Yogi factor and poor sanitation

Cleanliness does not feature in campaign material. But does it matter to the voter?

WrittenBy:Akanksha Kumar
Date:
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“This drain next to my shop is choked with cow dung and no one comes to clean it. Some locals here own buffaloes and dump waste just like that,” said Ajay Garg, a 45-year-old hardware shop owner in Ghaziabad’s Roop Nagar.

With overflowing drains, filth on streets, Garg’s locality is just one among the 100 wards in Ghaziabad district that will go to polls on May 11 in the second phase of the urban local body polls in Uttar Pradesh. 

Garg isn’t alone. Despite cleanliness being a primary concern for voters in Roop Nagar, it finds no mention in the many posters festooned onto the walls and poles in the area.

Notably, Ghaziabad had ranked first in the Swachch Survey last year whose results were announced by the centre. In 2019, the Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation was also among seven district corporations chosen by the Yogi Adityanath government under the ‘Smart City Project’. Officials had promised to prioritise solid waste management in the city but the situation on the ground remains in stark contrast to the picture presented by the mainstream media. 

Does cleanliness even feature in the campaign? Newslaundry went to two wards of the 55 wards in Loni – Ward 52, Mustafabad Colony and Ward 54, Roop Nagar – to tap into the pulse of the voter and check what matters the most in this election.

‘People will vote for Yogi’

Dashrath Saini, the BJP’s local ward in-charge in Roop Nagar, is a busy man these days. His wife Beena Devi is the party’s candidate for the councillor’s position in ward 52, and Saini is overseeing the campaign. “For us, the main issue in these elections is development, something that has been missing under the incumbent councillor,” Saini said. “Focus on the condition of the drains here. We have to reach out to sanitation workers on our own, who come only when we call them,” he said, pointing to the  drain in front of his house. 

Beena Devi, BJP's councillor candidate from Roop Nagar.

What prompted Beena Devi to contest the elections this time? “The drainage system, power supply and unpaved roads – those are the main problems of the public so thought of highlighting them.”

In the previous elections, in 2017, the ward was won by an independent candidate, Raees. However, BJP has managed to stake a claim for the mayoral post in Ghaziabad since 1994 after the municipal board was upgraded to corporation status.  

For a chief minister whose regime has now become synonymous with bulldozers and encounters, both often viewed as contrary to the rule of law, the same image has helped the BJP reap electoral dividends in the 2022 UP assembly elections. And the trickle-down effect can be seen even in the municipal election in Ghaziabad, with the party’s performance on civic issues not seen as a major concern.

“We will still vote for the BJP because overall the law and order situation has improved under (chief minister) Yogi,” said Ajay Garg, among the ward’s 6,500 voters.

“Roads need to be built, streets get waterlogged every season and my kids have to go to school wading through knee-deep water,” said Pinky Devi, a homemaker living in Ghaziabad for 15 years. But, she added, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has helped “catapult India on to the global stage and so I will vote for BJP”.

The district is marred with issues of water-logging, water crisis, and poor facilities at government schools and health clinics.

‘It is not just about BJP and SP’

On the other side of the road, a narrow kuccha lane leading to Zakira’s house is pockmarked by mud puddles following a fresh spell of rain. The 35-year-old has been living in ward 54, or Mustafabad, for the last 18 years. “We all really get hassled every time this lane gets waterlogged. No one (from the municipal corporation) comes to clean or pick up garbage so we end up throwing waste on empty plots in the neighbourhood.”

Despite repeated complaints to the incumbent councillor, Ashfaq from Samajwadi Party, there has been no improvement in the situation, she claimed.

Pointing at another choked drain next to his house, Mohd Yaseen said, “There is no main connecting drain here so the water stays where it is. The only work the municipal corporation does is send some of its staff who come with dolchis (cane baskets) to collect sludge. But when the drain has no outlet, how is this going to help?”

Mohd Yaseen, a resident of Mustafabad, who was compelled to renovate his house due to seepage by sewage water.

Due to the seepage of sewage water into the walls of his residence, Yaseen had to spend a fair share of his earnings as a local businessman on maintenance several times over the last few years. “There is no story of vikas that one can talk about in this area. Be it a candidate from the BJP or any other party. All we want is that work should be done.”

His neighbour Shameem Ahmed said, “Cement and plaster are weaning off in some houses, so drainage water is a big issue here. There is no proper sewage system here, only water pipelines were laid.” 

At the heart of the problem is an unfinished project and lack of political will. 

Mohd Yameen, a former councillor from Mustafabad in Loni.

Mohd Yameen, a former councillor whose wife Shakila Begum is contesting the election on a CPI(M) ticket, said, “Work began to build one main drain sometime in 2012…but it couldn’t be finished.” 

There are roughly 13,500 voters in ward 54 – nearly all of them from the Muslim community. 

Which way will the vote swing this time? “We are on the side of the person who does our work so it’s not about the BJP or SP, people will be inclined towards the party that delivers,” said Shameem Ahmed. 

The SP-RLD alliance has fielded Ranjeeta Dhama as their candidate for the position of chairperson of Loni Nagar Palika. 

Yameen claimed the “main contest” will be between BJP and RLD and issues such as the forced shutdown of meat shops and hate speeches will define the election in at least ward 54. “The drift will only be to defeat BJP,” he said, adding that the BJP’s Pasmanda outreach may also impact the election. “Everyone wants a share of the vikas by siding with the winning candidate.”

While the SP has been largely focusing on local civic issues such as water-logging, sanitation and traffic jams, the BJP is pitching law and order as the poll issue. Votes will be counted on May 13.

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