Travelling from Gurgaon to Mewat, it is impossible to ignore the drastic changes in the landscape. From Gurgaon’s posh residential localities and glass buildings of multinational corporations, the highway enters the arid fields of the semi-urban district Mewat. The socio-economic and cultural divide between these two districts is reflected in the electoral politics of the Gurugram Lok Sabha constituency.
Gurugram parliamentary constituency comprises three districts – Gurgaon, Mewat and Rewari. In the upcoming general elections, 8.9 lakhs voters from Gurgaon, 5.3 lakhs voters from Mewat and 4.19 lakhs voters from Rewari will vote for their member of parliament. Majority of voters belong to the rural parts of the three districts, while only 20% of the people living in urban areas constitute as a voting population. In terms of gender, Gurugram has 10.78 lakhs male and 9.55 lakhs female voters. The voter turnout in the constituency has also been steadily increasing – from 61.7% voter turnout in 2009 to 71.6% voter turnout in 2014. It is likely that female voter turnout will be higher in the 2019 election. According to data from the Election Commission of India, Haryana witnessed a record turnout of 45% female voters in the 2014 general election.
Despite Gurugram’s rapid urban development, caste and religion continue to play a decisive role in the elections. The dominant caste in Rewari and Gurugram is the Ahir caste, while the Meo Muslims dominate Mewat district. Other main castes in the constituency are Yadavs, Jats and Punjabis. The Meo Muslims in Mewat tend to vote en bloc – until now only INLD and the Congress has managed to make inroads into the region. In 2014, people in Mewat voted for the Indian National Lok dal candidate, Zakir Hussain, but he lost to BJP candidate and 3-time winner from Gurugram seat, Rao Inderjit Singh. A highly popular candidate from Gurugram, Rao Inderjit Singh shifted from the Congress to the BJP in 2014. The Ahir community is Rao Inderjit’s main supporters, but his developmental efforts in the constituency have added to his popularity.
Mewat remains one of the most backward regions of Haryana. Employees at Radio Mewat, a community radio station in Mewat are acutely aware of the differences between their regions and the urban, developed regions in Gurgaon and Rewari. As young professionals, they are distinct from the larger Meo Muslim community of agriculturalists, laborers or truck drivers. For the reporters of Radio Mewat, lack of employment and education opportunities are major impediments to the socio-economic development of the region. The setting up of a railway line connecting Delhi to Alwar via Nuh (in Mewat) has been a long-standing demand of the people. The project was announced by the UPA government’s railway budget in 2013, but the construction is yet to begin. “Ho sakta hai kyunki hum Muslim hai, hampe dhyan nahi deti sarkar” (“Maybe it is because we are Muslims, they do not pay attention to us”), says Saurabh Khan, a reporter for Radio Mewat.
Imraan, another reporter from Radio Mewat argues that the numbering system used by the state government to designate families below the poverty line also reflect differential treatment against the people of Mewat. “Sirsa mein number 5 parivaron ko BPL banaya hai, lekin Mewat mein vahi number valon ko BPL parivar nahi banaya…aisa bhedbhaav hota hai” (In Sirsa, the families with number 5 designation have been declared BPL families, but the same number families in Mewat have not been made BPL families…differential treatment happens like this), says Imraan. Apart from the railway line, water shortage is another issue facing the farmers of Mewat. In 2018, the Haryana government announced a Rs. 3,400 crore infrastructure project in Mewat, including a Rs.700 crore-feeder canal project to provide farmers with irrigation facilities. Education is another major concern, particularly female literacy, which is at a mere 40%.
Given the poor employment and education opportunities in the region, cattle rearing is the main source of income for the villagers. The last five months, cow vigilantism and lynching by gau rakshaks have brought Mewat region into the news. In 2018, two Meo men were victims of violence at the hands of gau-rakshaks in village Kolgaon in Nuh, the capital of Mewat district. But most of the cases of cow vigilantism took place in Alwar, Rajasthan (also the heartland of Meo Muslims) “Yahan gaaye Meo hi paalte hain, koi Hindu parivar nahi paalte…Log bahar se aate hain, gaaye lakar, yahan tanav banane…Hindu-Muslim aapas mein Haryana ke Mewat illake milke rehte hain” (“Most of the cows are reared by Muslim families in Mewat, not Hindu families…people come from outside bringing their cows to create tension here…but Hindu-Muslim in Haryana’s Mewat region live together peacefully), argues Saurabh. The young professionals at Radio Mewat strongly believe communal issues will not take a hold in the area; the work done by the Radio is committed to keeping developmental concerns at the forefront.
In spite of administration neglect, there are enough community networks that lobby for citizen’s concern. Radio Mewat is one such collective. The professionals conduct a range of programs – from tackling domestic violence against women to preparing exam material for students –catering to the needs of the community. The guidelines for community radio stations require that stations should not be politically affiliated with any party. So the reporters will work with the Election Commission to generate awareness about voting amongst the villagers.
As Haryana goes to the polls on May 12 in a single phase, it remains to be seen what kind of issues – developmental or otherwise – are raised during the campaign period, and how the people of Gurugram and Mewat respond to them.