The city of Gurgaon, mythically believed to have been gifted by the Pandava brothers to their teacher Dronacharya, has now entrusted its development to former businessman, Umesh Aggarwal, who feels Haryanas’ infamous Khap Panchayats have no influence and place in Gurgaon.
Having dealt with the media extensively during his previous avatar as BJP spokesperson, Gurgao MLA Umesh Aggarwal seems wary of the power of the media. He is a highly private person who does not like to be questioned much. Before the interview began, he wished to know how many questions he would be asked. Requests for reaching out to his family members were turned down by his media manager. Aggarwal’s personal secretary was also hesitant in revealing much about his boss.
Even though the newly elected Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, supports Khap Panchayats, infamous nationwide for passing sexist and extra-judicial diktats, Umesh Aggarwal doesn’t seem to be on the same page as the former RSS man on this issue. “Khap Panchayats have no influence and no place in Gurgaon,” he says.
As Aggarwal undertakes his first stint in the Haryana Assembly, he is set on charting a clear roadmap for Gurgaon’s growth in the next five years.
Vishnu Rathi, resident of Sector 45, says Gurgaon does not expect much from Aggarwal as he has been denied a ministerial position. However, Aggarwal who is known for his trademark made-for-media comments believes he can make a difference.
The 44-year old registered a record breaking victory margin of over 80,000 votes in the Haryana state elections in October. While BJP candidate Aggarwal bagged 1,06,106 votes in Gurgaon, his nearest competitor Gopi Chand Gahlot could only manage 22,011 votes.
Before entering active politics, Aggarwal was involved in advertising and real estate business. A Master’s degree holder from Hyderabad’s Osmania University, Aggarwal hails from the bania community of traders. In 2006, he formally joined the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and rose to head the party’s state media cell. He unsuccessfully contested from Gurgaon in the 2009 Haryana elections where he only won 23,864 votes.
“In 2009, I did not have sufficient political experience,” he said and alleged that his opponent Sukhbir Kataria had committed a vote fraud in the previous elections. He added, “I won the elections this time around by gaining more experience, spending time with people in the constituency and ensuring that there was no voting fraud.”
Aggarwal attributed his victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose relentless campaigning in the state set the tone for BJP’s rise.
Matdata Jagrook Manch, an NGO, had highlighted the fake voter ID scam which involved former Haryana Sports Minister Sukhbir Kataria. Shortly after winning the elections, Aggarwal stated that the law would catch up with Kataria whom he reasoned was being protected from the police by the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government.
“The Congress government in the state was responsible for the sarvanaash (destruction) of Gurgaon. Development in the city has come to a standstill. I intend to reignite growth in this region by laying emphasis on education and health besides bringing metro facility to the old city,” Aggarwal said.
The extension of metro service in Gurgaon is a must considering the fact that autos in the city do not come with pre-installed fare meters. This leads to commuters being overcharged by auto-wallahs.
After having listened to the grievances of slum dwellers from Sector 56 whose homes had been cleared to make way for the Safai Abhiyaan (cleanliness drive), Aggarwal said, “There are problems with land acquisition. The Congress government acted like land grabbers. We need to give people fair compensation.” On how the government plans to hand out appropriate compensation, Aggarwal hinted at bringing about new legislation.
However, he told slum dwellers that their makeshift homes would have to be destroyed to clean up the city as they were defecating in the open. Following their repeated pleas for mercy, he agreed to build homes for those people who had a voter ID card. To those who do not hold a voter ID card, he said, “baaki ko bhaga denge” (would be made to flee).
Popularly known as the Millennium City, Gurgaon has developed into a thriving business centre with over 250 Fortune 500 companies. This has led to an influx of migrants and traffic congestion evident from 73.9 per cent increase in the city’s population over the last decade. Aggarwal’s election manifesto vowed to solve traffic problems by installing more red lights at busy streets. He also promised to clampdown on the parking mafia outside shopping complexes, markets, private and public offices.
The only other satellite city in the National Capital Territory that charts similar exponential growth to Gurgaon is Noida. But Aggarwal insists that Gurgaon is not competing with Noida. “Every Indian city has the right to progress and feed its people. We are not competing with Noida in terms of wooing industries or foreign investors.”
Dismissing concerns of communal tension despite the disturbance in Mewat village, located 35 kilometres from mainland Gurgaon, where two mosques were burnt during sectarian clashes in June, Aggarwal stresses that the region is peaceful. “All the people living in Mewat are our brothers. We will not tolerate anti-social elements who try to destabilize the peace prevailing in the area,” he said.
(This article was originally published in The News Minute.)