Raja Iqbal Singh, mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, who supervised Wednesday’s demolition drive in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, was until last year not part of the BJP. He was the Shriromai Akali Dal’s councillor from GTB Nagar and chairperson of the corporation’s Civil Lines zone. In September 2020, when the Akalis pulled out of the NDA over the farm laws, the party’s Delhi leadership asked Singh to resign from his Civil Lines post. He refused. Nine months later, the BJP elevated him to the post of mayor.
Singh’s sudden elevation – his career in the BJP began with the mayor’s post – left several BJP leaders in the corporation miffed as the party has usually rewarded seniors and long-time karyakartas with the post.
“The situation in the country, especially in Delhi, during the farmer protests was very different. Our party was being painted as anti-Sikh and we wanted to send out a message that we are with the community,” said a senior BJP leader and a former mayor, explaining Singh’s elevation as mayor. “You know how difficult it is to become a mayor… even party veterans do not get that opportunity in their lifetimes,” the leader added.
Singh is known in the corporation as a man of few words – someone who keeps his cards close to his chest and waits to make the right moves.
This was evident during the recent demolition drive in Jahangirpuri. Unlike other BJP leaders, who were vocal about demanding “action against the rioters” after the communal clash during a shobha yatra on April 16, Singh gave out no statements. His statements in the media appeared only after a decision to carry out the demolitions was taken the night before.
And when he did speak, he ensured it was in line with the party’s stand.
On April 20, the morning of the demolition, he was at the spot and later spoke to the media at length supporting the drive. “This is an anti-encroachment drive… It should not be seen through a religious angle. It’s a drive against encroachments of a temporary nature and we have had a lot of complaints from RWAs and locals,” he said.
While Singh sought to play down any link to the April 16 violence, Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta had written to him a day before the demolition demanding identification and demolition of “illegal encroachment” by those arrested in the Jahangirpuri violence.
“As you are aware, on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti, there was a shobha yatra taken out in Jahangirpuri. Some anti-social elements and rioters pelted stones on it… illegal encroachment done by these rioters should be identified and there should be bulldozers run over it,” Gupta wrote.
Singh belongs to a family that has long been associated with the Akali Dal – his father-in-law has represented the Jahangirpuri constituency earlier as councillor and his brother-in-law is actively involved in Akali politics. “Now with Akali politics down in Delhi and most of its leaders joining the BJP, Singh knows his future is more secure in the BJP,” said a BJP leader.