New Delhi: Development issues, a debate over a graveyard and eight Muslims candidates, besides a Gujjar nominee, have all made the sensitive Okhla constituency an exciting electoral battleground where the two-time MLA from Congress is facing a stiff challenge from AAP.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Amanatullah Khan against Congress's Asif Mohammad Khan in the constituency where Muslims comprise 60 percent of the nearly 2,80,000 voters.
Asif posted a formidable victory in the 2013 polls, winning by a margin of 26,000 votes against Irfanullah Khan of AAP. Asif is confident that he enjoys the support of a majority of Muslims, who had rallied behind him in the Batla House encounter case.
Batla House encounter issue has taken a backseat this time. Instead, it is the issue of Batla House graveyard "beautification" which has grabbed centre stage with rival camps exchanging barbs over it.
AAP candidate Amanatullah, who contested on a Lok Janshakti Party ticket in 2013, appears to be making inroads in pockets considered as strongholds of Asif.
BJP has fielded former BSP state chief Brahm Singh Bidhuri, who had joined the party last month. The move angered Dheer Singh Bidhuri, who had unsuccessfully contested the last assembly elections from Okhla on a BJP ticket, and he joined AAP.
BJP has its pockets in the constituency but is unlikely to beat Congress and AAP in the Muslim-majority seat.
Asif had raised the Batla encounter issue vociferously in 2009 bypoll but chose not to harp on it in 2013 as he was contesting from Congress, a party which he had criticised on the encounter issue.
This time he is facing flak from his rivals for spending money on the "beautification" of the graveyard.
Asif reportedly spent Rs 2.8 crore on the works in the graveyard, a Wakf Board property.
"The graveyard is an important issue in the area. There is no need of this beautification of the graveyard. The Batla House graveyard had a 32-inch boundary which was brought down to construct a nine-inch boundary," AAP candidate Amantullah told a news agency.
"Reportedly Rs 2.8 crore have been spent which was not required. Money has been wasted when so many developmental issues are unattended. It is Wakf Board fund and it should be inquired into," Amantullah said.
Asif vehemently denied any wrongdoing and believed that the graveyard project was required and is a big boon for the people of the area.
"There was encroachment on the graveyard. Nobody is talking of development but all other things. If they say money has been spent on the beautification of the graveyard then what is wrong with that. They are then praising us. Don't they beautify their homes. What is wrong with the beautification of the graveyard if they are saying so," he said.
Muslims in the area are divided on the issue. While for some, the boundary wall and the "beautification" of the graveyard comes as a welcome measure, others have slammed spending of money on it when civic issues remain unattended.
"The boundary wall was required. People outside may not understand why the graveyard is such a big issue but for us Muslims, it is very important," Danish Jamshed, a 26-year-old resident of the area, said.
Mohammad Salman, another resident, said, "This beautification is unnecessary. Roads, drains and cleanliness is in bad state and money is being spent on beautification of a graveyard. It is a sad state of affairs."
Another issue that is almost on every party's agenda is the issue of unauthorised colonies. Every party is making a pitch on the issue and rebutting the claims of others.Amanatullah said, "The biggest issue is that it is an unauthorised colony which has to be authorised. We will regularise unauthorised colonies within a year."
Congress candidate Asif rubbishes such promises of AAP and BJP, saying, "Regularisation of colonies depends on the Centre. Laws need to be amended and only then regularisation can be done. Other parties are making false promises. Congress has done the maximum on this issue."
"Out of 1,639 unauthorised colonies in Delhi, 34 are in Okhla. It is Jal Board's policy not to give running water in unauthorised areas but we are trying to solve the problem," he said.
Civic issues are also at the forefront of the electoral battle here with roads and sewage in bad shape.
"Either people are taking up communal issues or the AAP is talking about corruption but no one is talking about development. We have done a lot of development but more needs to be done. Drinking water is a big issue here but nobody is talking about it," Asif said.
"The politicians make promises to improve infrastructure but they never fulfil them," said Rashid Khan, a resident.
Apart from Congress' Asif, AAP's Amanatullah and BJP's Bidhuri, BSP's Ashraf Kamal, Anzarul Haque of the Indian National League, Mohammad Nizamuddin of the Samras Samaj Party and three independent candidates, including a woman, are also in the fray from the seat.