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Refrigerator mechanic, retd teacher, YouTuber: Independents in Delhi poll fray | Latest News Delhi


Dilip Singh lives in a rented flat at Naraina with his wife and son. The 65-year-old moved to his current residence around five years ago, after he retired as the principal of a private school in Ajmer, Rajasthan.

Virender, 27, is one of the youngest candidates in the fray and his affidavit says he’s unemployed. (HT Photo)

However, Singh says that he has left that life far behind. The former mathematics teacher has now traded the exactness of trigonometry and calculus for the permutations and vagaries of politics, and has filed his nomination papers to contest the ongoing general elections as an independent candidate from the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency.

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“I think nobody is serious about education. That is my concern… Also, what are we doing to keep our streets clean and ensure everyone gets clean water? All the mainstream parties are only focusing on caste and religion-based issues, neglecting the real concerns of people,” he said.

Singh is among 162 candidates across seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi who are contesting the polls, of whom 49 are independents.

Also read: Kejriwal’s guarantee visible in Delhi’s every house: AAP’s Mahabal Mishra

These independents are an eclectic bunch — a former Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) employee, a motivational speaker, a former MP’s wife, a YouTuber, a tuition teacher — and almost all have limited funds, resources, and manpower. However, all 49 have one thing in common — they feel that they offer voters something more than what candidates from mainstream political parties can provide to the people.

An alternative to the mainstream

Hira Lal, 61, who retired as an Indian Revenue Services (IRS) officer last year, said he is contesting the elections to give voters a “credible alternative”. He said leaders from mainstream parties are only elected because voters are unable to look beyond the pomp and show put up by these larger institutions, which come with big funding.

“We often hear people complaining that all these big leaders are not performing, have criminal histories, or are uneducated. The educated middle-class people want to stay away from politics. My motive here is to bridge that gap and give people a credible alternative of an educated person. I also think I’m an able administrator and can handle the responsibility of managing the constituency,” said Lal, who is contesting from the New Delhi seat.

Ravi Kiran Thilak Thatikonda, an independent candidate from North East Delhi, said that he wants to “improve the system”.

“In several constituencies, more than 50% of the people don’t even turn up to vote. This is because there are multiple flaws in the whole electoral process, and the Election Commission of India needs to introduce many systemic changes. The nomination to contest elections has helped me research and know first-hand about the problems with the system,” the 31-year-old said.

Originally from Hyderabad, Thatikonda moved to Mukherjee Nagar in Delhi to prepare for the civil services, but got stranded in the Capital in 2020 due to the Covid-induced lockdowns. This is when he started volunteering to help people and started giving private tuition classes to make ends meet.

“As soon as the elections are over and the model code of conduct is lifted, I will be filing a series of PILs that I’m working on to improve the functioning of the Election Commission,” he said.

Getting around the problem of funding

Hari Kishan, 47, a refrigerator mechanic in Rithala, said that it isn’t very difficult to contest against political bigwigs as his personal connection matters more than their resources.

“I have been repairing people’s refrigerators for the past 22 years and there is not a single person who has complained about my work. There are at least 5,000 homes where I have repaired refrigerators — they will all definitely vote for me, and may even ask at least 4-5 others to do so,” said Kishan, who has signed his nomination papers for the North West Delhi constituency.

He said he had limited means, but campaigning was not a big problem as he had help from his joint family of three brothers, his wife and elderly mother and nephews.

Virender (goes by a single name), 27, is one of the youngest candidates in the fray and is the only one who is “unemployed”, according to his affidavit filed during the nomination. He said that with no funds or vehicles to contest the elections, he has been going door-to-door in the South Delhi constituency, seeking votes on a bullock cart. Messages on WhatsApp groups are also part of his daily campaign process.

Lal, meanwhile, said that people need to start making an informed decision about who they are voting for.

Also read: After schools and hospitals, Delhi’s Tihar Jail gets bomb threat email

“People have all the power in their hands to choose and they need to start making an informed decision, even if there is a large party or leader in the fray. The election commission has started the Know Your Candidate (KYC) app where anyone can see all the details of their candidates including their history, qualification and promises in their manifesto, on their phone,” he said.

On the other hand, former MCD employee Ashok Kumar Gupta said that an insider will be best suited to resolve Delhi’s civic issues. The 64-year-old, who retired as an accounts officer at the corporation and now lives with his family in Karala, filed his nomination papers for the Chandani Chowk seat.

“I am not like big parties and their candidates. I don’t believe in being loud and showing off. I am not going to hold any rally. I would rather have small public meetings and interact personally. This is what people also appreciate,” he said.

What motivated people to contest the polls

Arunima Gautam, 35, said she wants to raise her voice for a “debt-free India”.

“The country is drowning in debt. For the first time, more traders are dying by suicide than farmers… This is a big issue and needs to be addressed by Parliament,” the social worker said.

Kishan said helping people has been a passion of his for several years, and recalled one incident that finally made him decide to enter the electoral fray.

“There is a sewer close to where I live, and its cover broke… We contacted our local MLA and he got it repaired within a month. We were all very happy and thanked him. About two months later, the lid broke again. It was irking to see the quality of work that was getting done,” he said.

Manoj Kumar Gupta alias “Swaraji”, 47, a YouTuber who is contesting from East Delhi, said his followers motivated him to throw his hat into the ring. Gupta operates two channels on the social media site where he raises civic issues plaguing Delhi, and has a combined following of 50,000 subscribers.

“When I go to people asking if they are looking for a change, I only get support. People want a new face, unbiased leaders. I have raised many social issues and covered protests at Jantar Mantar on many problems that people face, but the pain of the elderly regarding their pensions got to me. There are over 73,000 people in the country who are struggling with their pensions. Many are not getting it regularly, and for others it is as low as 800, which needs to be regularised,” said Gupta.

Repeat candidates

There are some among the 49 independents for whom the current polls are not their first rodeo.

Singh, the retired teacher, contested the 2019 polls as well, managing to garner 255 votes in the New Delhi constituency, which was over 500,000 votes fewer than the winner from the seat, Meenakshi Lekhi. However, the 65-year-old says his poor performance has only made him work harder for the current polls.

“This time I am going to make videos to spread my message and educate voters,” he said.



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