Purvanchalis -- people from the eastern-most part of Uttar Pradesh and the western end of Bihar -- form a significant chunk of voters for the upcoming Delhi assembly polls due on February 8.
The Purvanchalis are projected to form about one-third of Delhi's total population, comprising about 25-30 per cent of the total 14.6 million voters. Sources in all parties say the Purvanchalis can sway the poll outcome in over two dozen Assembly seats.
Perceived as a vote bank of the Congress, the Purvanchalis, however, switched to AAP after it was formed in 2012 and contested the 2013 and 2015 Assembly elections. The AAP and Congress joined hands to form Arvind Kejriwal's 49-day government in 2013. But in 2015, AAP swept the polls and bagged 67 of the 70 seats.
Both AAP and BJP have been focusing on the Purvanchalis and accusing each other of being anti-Purvanchalis. The AAP started a campaign 'Aapan Purvanchal,' which ran from October 6 to November 20, 2019, in an attempt to to connect with the voters and explain to them the good work done by the
AAP's Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh says the party has taken initiative to arrange new sewer lines in around 500 colonies, constructed roads and spent more than Rs 1,000 crore on development projects in areas inhabited by the Purvanchalis.
He also points to additional ghats (from 72 to 1,200) being built to enable people to celebrate Chhath Puja -- the biggest festival of the people from the belt.
BJP's Delhi unit chief Manoj Tiwari, a Bhojpuri singer-turned-politician, has told people that AAP has humiliated Purvanchalis by projecting him as its "enemy."
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in September last year sparked a controversy saying people from Bihar were getting free medical treatment in Delhi. Tiwari then accused him of showing disrespect to the people of Bihar (Purvanchal).
Kejriwal, while praising his government's health facilities, had said despite the massive expansion of public healthcare infrastructure in Delhi, some hospitals do see overcrowding.
"This is because people from across the country are coming to Delhi to access our hospitals. Today, someone from Bihar can take a Rs 500 ticket to the capital, get free treatment in our hospitals and return happily. It is a matter of great pride and happiness that the people from across the country are confident about Delhi government hospitals," said the CM.
Calling the statement shameful, Tiwari said Kejriwal has been targeting the Puvanchalis.
The politics over the Puvanchalis intensified as AAP leaders attacked the BJP saying the BJP-ruled states have been "throwing out" people from UP and Bihar. Sanjay Singh stepped in to claim that in Gujarat and Maharastra, the BJP has "upset" the lives of people from Bihar and UP.
He also said that AAP's state president Gopal Rai is from Purvanchal and that the party has 13 MLAs from Purvanchal.
In fact the AAP-BJP slugfest over unauthorised colonies stems largely from the fact that most of the people living in these localities are from Puvanchal.
In July last year, the Delhi government announced that government schools in Delhi would offer Maithili language as an optional subject for students from Class 8 to 12 and that the Delhi government would arrange free coaching for students taking Maithili as an optional subject in IAS/civil service exams.
Also last year, the Kejriwal government announced a five-day Maithili-Bhojpuri -- the two prominent languages of Bihar -- festival in Connaught Place. The government also announced that it would soon introduce a typeface for Maithili and that it was in touch with Pune based C-DAC for it.
Also, the government decided to felicitate people from the field of Maithili and Bhojpuri. "Now, there would be awards for those who work for Maithili - Bhojpuri arts, culture, journalism, theatre etc," said Art and Culture Minister Manish Sisodia.
The AAP is making special arrangements for the celebration of Chhath Puja in the national capital. Since assuming office in 2014, the Aam Aadmi Party has declared a public holiday on Chhat Puja.
The constituencies where Purvanchalis are likely to play a decisive role in the Assembly election include Uttam Nagar, Vikaspuri, Adarsh Nagar, Badarpur, Badli, Burari and Kundali. They are also settled in Karawal Nagar, Kirari, Laxmi Nagar, Krishna Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, Shahdara, Seemapuri, Mustafabad, Patparganj, Palam, Rithala, Trilokpuri and Sangam Vihar.
Various local parties from Bihar are also eyeing votes of the people of Purvanchal in Delhi and are ready to enter the electoral fray in the national capital. This includes the Bihar's ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
According to JD-U General Secretary K.C. Tyagi, the party is preparing to fight in at least 30 seats. Recently, party president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar held a rally in Delhi's Badarpur area -- a Purvanchalis-dominated area.
The main opposition party in Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, too, has said that it will contest elections in Delhi. It, however, is hoping to fight in alliance with the Congress on the lines of Jharkhand. The RJD has said it will field its candidates in at least a dozen seats.