This is the fifth post in a series on “What are Delhi’s MLAs up to?”
Harmeet Singh’s office is less than a 15-minute drive from my residence, making him the closest BJP MLA. According to MyNeta.info, he is a 12th pass 45-year old businessman having 6 crore in assets, and no criminal record. I visited his office on three different days over the last two weeks, between 11:30am to 1pm, but was turned away as Harmeet was not in the office at the time, nor would he come in later in the day, is what I was told by his staff. Persistence paid off on my fourth visit.
Harmeet Singh’s Victory in the Delhi Elections
The results of Delhi’s Assembly Elections were controversial in Kalkaji. The winning margin (2044 votes) of BJP’s Harmeet Singh against AAP’s Dharambir Singh was smaller than the total votes polled by an independent candidate (3092 votes), whose election symbol resembled AAP’s broom. Voting data reveals that independents normally do not garner even 1% of the vote share, which is why the 3.4% vote share of Kalkaji’s independent candidate is most likely due to voters mistaking the torch symbol for AAP’s broom.
Fourth Time’s the Charm
Harmeet’s office is in the basement of a three-storey building. While the two machine-gun-wielding policemen caught my attention, they did not surprise me given it is a commonplace occurrence among many politicians. Harmeet’s office is at least five to ten times bigger than any AAP MLAs office I had seen. Unlike most AAP MLAs, his office does not have an office table around which the activity is centered. Instead, his large private room had a flat-screen TV, a rectangular 12-seater conference table, and six grand leather sofas, around which Harmeet meets people, signs documents, and makes phone calls. It was in this room that I had an opportunity to interact with him for just under an hour, making it the shortest interaction I have had with any MLA until now.
I began with my usual line of questioning, focusing on his background, his entry into politics, his successes and challenges as a first-time MLA. All I knew about him was what I had read on his website: “Harmeet Singh (Kalka) is an All India Secretary General of Youth Akali Dal (SAD) and Joint Secretary, Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee.” Judging by his age, 45, I wonder whether the Akali Dal know what Youth means. The website also clarified that Harmeet belonged to a political dynasty, but not in the traditional sense. His grandfather was President of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Committee.
“Logon ki seva karna humare khoon mai hai” (working for the public is in my blood), said Harmeet, referring to the work of his grandfather. “I spend 10-12 hours/day among the people in my constituency, during which time I quickly solve all the small problems people have. Other than that, I have commissioned 19 projects,” he continued. When I asked if figures were available regarding the costs of the work, Harmeet said that neither he nor anyone in his office has any official figures to show. This was because most of the work was funded through the Delhi Government’s Urban Shelter Board’s budget. According to Harmeet, 50 lakhs of the annual 4 crore MLA Local Area Development (LAD) Fund had been spent. The day I met him (November 3), The Asian Age had reported that Harmeet Singh is one of a handful of MLAs who haven’t spent a single rupee of their MLALAD Fund.
My repeated questions asking for specific details regarding the nature of the 19 commissioned projects prompted Harmeet to add that, “No development work has been done in Kalkaji for the last 15 years.” During this period the Congress’ Subhash Chopra was Kalkaji’s MLA. “People understand that because of Suspended Animation, not much work has been done over the last 8 months,” he continued. Despite this, Harmeet said that he has worked on Delhi’s staple urban development problems: streetlights, sewer lines, and roads.
“The MCD is not cooperative, and this is negatively impacting the people. Three of the four Councilors under me are from the Congress,” Harmeet explained. It is true that an overwhelming majority of people’s daily-life related complaints fall under the ambit of the MCD, where political considerations prevent progressive governance. Unfortunately, MCD elections, like most municipal corporation elections, do not receive the citizen or media attention they deserve. My educated relatives do not recall whether they have ever voted in the MCD elections, nor do they know who their current Councilor is.
“State Government has to exist, Delhi needs a government for public work,” Harmeet stressed.
An Interaction Cut Short
My session was cut short as Harmeet had to attend to urgent political matters: TV channels were reporting the fact that BJP had told the LG that they are not in a position to form government, and that Delhi will most likely face re-elections.
I exited the wooden-floored office, passing by the two machine-gun-laden policemen. A few minutes from Harmeet’s office, the side of the roads along a section of Kalkaji’s market was dug up and some sort of public work was underway (most likely related to sewers or water). I wondered if this was one of the 19 projects Harmeet had commissioned, or an initiative by one of the Congress Councilors of Kalkaji.
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