What are Delhi’s MLAs up to? Jarnail Singh engages with the community

This is the sixth post in a series on “What are Delhi’s MLAs up to?”

Tilak Nagar had been a BJP stronghold for the last 10 years. In 2013, 32-year old Jarnail Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) beat the incumbent’s son, Rajiv Babbar by 2088 votes (2.38% of vote share). The constituency is predominantly Sikh and I had the honor of visiting a magnificent Gurdwara constructed by a community of Sikhs who hailed from Afghanistan. It turns out that Jarnail and I share the same ancestral hometown, Peshawar.

RWA Meetings

It was my first time sitting in the back seat of a Sarkari Ambassador as I rode with Jarnail to meet the Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) of Shankar Garden and New Krishna Park.

I’m not doing a favor, it is your tax money being spent in your area, the way you want it,” Jarnail said. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s Junior Engineer who was assigned to this ward was present as well. The meeting had a clear agenda, and Jarnail systematically updated the RWA on the status of projects in Shankar Garden. Members raised concerns, asked for clarifications, and thanked Jarnail for his sincerity and effective work. I was surprised with the orderly, yet informal nature of the meeting since “government work” usually conjures one of two images: long lines or disorderly parliament. “This is the seventh time Jarnail is meeting us,” Mr. Malhotra informed me.

Residents of Tilak Nagar provided positive feedback when I asked them about their views on Jarnail Singh’s work. “Jarnail doesn’t overpromise and under-deliver. He agrees to an inauguration only after the months-long process of submitting proposals and tendering quotes is complete.” Resident’s greatly appreciated Jarnail’s authenticity and the professionalism with which he carried out his responsibilities, “Jarnail treats everyone with respect, even those who did not vote for him.”

Jarnail Singh (Left) and the MCD's Junior Engineer (Left) share a positive working relationship. He is the youngest and most active Junior Engineer I have come across.

Jarnail Singh (left) and the MCD’s Junior Engineer (right) share a positive working relationship.
He is the youngest and most active Junior Engineer I have come across.

RWA meeting in Shankar Garden

RWA meeting in Shankar Garden

Shankar Garden's RWA President inspecting Government paperwork.

Shankar Garden’s RWA President inspecting Government paperwork.

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Each RWA meeting had two components: an indoor meeting and outdoor inspection of sites where work needs to be done or is ongoing.

This was the sixth time Jarnail met with Krishna Park’s RWA. Each RWA meeting had two components: an indoor meeting and outdoor inspection of sites where work needs to be done or is ongoing.

Governance Structure

Like other first-time MLAs, Jarnail and his staff have had to learn the ropes of Indian bureaucracy quickly. They were happy to share some of this gyaan (knowledge) with me.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is an organ of the Delhi State Government, which means that Delhi’s MLAs have considerable political power over the functioning of the institution. This is not true of the MCD, which is largely an autonomous body, where Councilors hold sway. Regarding DDA administration, Delhi has been divided into 11 districts since pre-independence. Each one has a District Development Committee (DDC). Jarnail is the Chairman of West Delhi’s DDC, meaning that he has political power over a set of government officials. During the legislative assembly’s Suspended Animation, this additional source of power has contributed to Jarnail’s ability to commission projects faster than other MLAs.

In 1957, the DDA was tasked with the responsibility of planning the infrastructure necessary for Delhi’s expanding population. Put simply, DDA is in charge of urban planning. According to its website, “The biggest challenge… has always been to provide adequate residential and commercial infrastructure facilities to over 11 million people in the city.” Currently, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung is Chairman of the DDA.

“90% of citizen complaints are a result of the malfunctioning of the MCD,” Jarnail explained, “if a road is narrower than 16ft, then it falls under the jurisdiction of the MCD. Wider roads are under the Delhi Government’s Public Works Department.” This answered many of my own queries (and hopefully answers yours!) about the pot-holed roads of Greater Kailash I. Councilors, and the MCD are responsible for the state of roads within neighborhoods.

AAP has published report cards highlighting their MLAs work.

AAP has published report cards highlighting their MLAs work.

Office Administration

Jarnail touched the floor before entering his office, and prayed for five minutes at his office’s shrine before sitting down to work. Individuals or groups met Jarnail and raised concerns such as dysfunctional sewerage lines, derelict parks, and streetlights for safety. He frankly explained whether action from his end was possible, suggested temporary fixes until the government machinery kicks in, and gave estimated time frames within which he could get the work done. There is one catch. Everyone must give Jarnail a signed, written letter detailing the nature of work requested.

Jarnail has separate files full of such letters, depending on the nature of the request. I hadn’t seen any other MLA keep such detailed records of requests and projects undertaken.

7-8 people at a time can meet Jarnail Singh in his office.

7-8 people at a time can meet Jarnail Singh in his office.

An Extraordinary Life

Jarnail’s optimism and boyish charm hide the struggles he has overcome. Due to familial hardships, 14-yeard old Jarnail dropped out of school and took up his first job at an AC repair shop, which paid R.s. 300 per month. He developed a technical mindset over the years, but his salary wouldn’t increase beyond R.s. 800 per month.

“Jisko kuch nahi milta, usko salesman ki job milti hai,” (He who doesn’t get anything else, becomes a salesman) Jarnail joked. Jarnail earned 6,000-7,000 per month as a salesman, but the forced interactions with thousands of people helped him gain self-confidence. Chance interactions led to the opportunity to start a business, for which he took a small loan. Jarnail continued his job as a salesman for several years after he started his company on the side.

He eventually quit the job, became a full time entrepreneur and got a traditional arranged marriage. His wife and 3-year old son drop by the office everyday after school, sometimes having lunch together in the office. Jarnail never went to college, but completed his secondary education. According to his affidavit, he hast just over 1 crore in assets.

I am thankful for how far I’ve come, and want to help others,” Jarnail told me. “Before AAP, I was apolitical.” The Indian Against Corruption movement tapped into Jarnail’s longing for improving the conditions of the community where he grew up in. In December 2012, two months after AAP was founded, Jarnail started volunteering for the party. He went door-to-door to converse with residents and inform them about AAPs vision of transforming politics. Almost no one took him seriously. Many ridiculed him for believing that India can change.

In addition to being Tilak Nagar’s MLA, Jarnail is President of AAP’s Youth Wing.

The Jarnail Singh’s of West Delhi

Coincidentally, AAP’s West Delhi candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was a 41-year old journalist named Jarnail Singh. From the 16 candidates of West Delhi, there were three Jarnail Singhs in total, as two more Jarnail Singh’s were listed as independent candidates. It is alleged that political opponents planted the independents to cheat voters from supporting the AAP candidate. Especially when one considers the fact that independent candidates barely campaign or get any publicity, the independent Jarnail Singhs garnered 90,682 votes (6.7% of vote share).

The Indian Express’ report on the Jarnail Singhs of West Delhi makes a comical Slim Shady reference, “West Delhi confused: Will the real Jarnail Singh stand up?” As common as the name may be, I can safely say that my experience with Talik Nagar’s Jarnail Singh was definitely unique.

Tilak Nagar: Constituency Map

Tilak Nagar: Constituency Map

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Want to know more about Jarnail’s work? Watch this 16-minute video.

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12 thoughts on “What are Delhi’s MLAs up to? Jarnail Singh engages with the community

  1. jarnail singh is the best..he did a lot of work here..my vote goes to him…bt its true that condition of park is not good and narrow lane of our colony needs repair but both come under bjp mcd!!!!!! how many pple know this???..not many i guess..delhiites plz vote for aap nd not bjp v hv already seen what they hv done to mcd here..

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  2. Nothing done in Lajpat Nagar (Jungpura Constituency)
    Deeply saddened to know that Mr. Dhir switched from AAP to BJP.
    I hope necessary decisions for this area are taken up soon.
    Jai Hind!

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  3. In my opinion this article does not give a right picture of his engagement in area during last 10-11 months of his being as MLA of Tilak Nagar. As I belong to his constituency reside in WZ block of Vishnu Garden Ext. have never seen him even during his last campaign and in due course too. He might have worked for already developed area like Vikas Puri, Mahavir Nagar, Guru Nanak nagar etc. but never have done any work or any sort of planning for area of Vishnu Garden and Khayala. A simple example that Keshopur road was constructed in 4 lane with solid concrete with beautiful street light but has he ever been to this place and check that this road is totally blocked by vegetable and fruit vendor and this road is permanently blocked throughout the day from one side. Evening time the condition of this area become worst for us to commute. I think it was a little better when this road divider was not there.

    Secondly the most critical point is security : this place is never been visible as secure place for people and specially for ladies and girls of this area. Rarely we see any police control van in area.

    Another point to think over is illegal encroachment. Area’s road and park are badly taken over by unauthorized people and even Govt. department too. Park in Madrasi colony always badly dig up during Chhat festival but never filled up back which cause no one can play even walk in it. Earlier parks exist behind the Mosque is now taken up by Govt. official to construct unwanted buildings and these are only for ribbon cutting ceremonies of MLAs/MPs. These buildings are constructed for no use and on the play where children or senior citizens could spent some time.

    I think S. Jarnail Singh could think over all these points so that next time election we should not change our mind where earlier we voted him with a lot of hopes.

    Regards

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    • Your concern is notable but you are pointing to wrong person, all the concern you have pointed does not lie under his jurisdiction. Parks and encroachment come under MCD jurisdiction which is headed by BJP. Similarly security issues are handled by police which is under central government, earlier under congress now under BJP. You should raise your objections with them but there is no medium to take up issues with political parties other than AAP.

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  4. We are very happy to see such M.L.A. He is exemplary to All other MLAs. God bless him. People vote for him to their development.

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  5. brilliant article..keep up the good work.i only hope aap somehow wins.i always wanted to know wether aap mlas were any different from others.i think i got my answer.thanx for that.if possible do write about dhingan and koli..they ddnt get tickets..was their performance really that bad?..from other sources i do thinka dhinkan and ms dhir did good work but dhingan failed in controlling riots but veena anand was a complete failure while koli i dnt know no one says anything abt him neither good or bad..whats ur take?

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