Voting in Delhi this week will be a two-horse race

Voting in Delhi this week will be a two-horse race

41New Delhi

After a 49-day AAP government and President’s rule for nearly a year, Delhi will vote later this week to elect a new administration whose control has virtually become a two-horse contest between the BJP and the AAP.

The Congress, which governed Delhi for 15 years and whose tally tumbled from 43 seats to 8 in the 2013 assembly polls, has arguably been out of the running for the 70 assembly seats since the beginning of the poll campaign. A total of 673 candidates from various political parties are in the fray for the February 7 (Saturday) polls. The results will be out on February 10.

For a resurgent BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP), which has been on a winning streak in other states’ assembly polls after it rode to power in the centre in the 2014 LokSabha polls, it is a “battle of prestige”. It has been out of power since 1998 in the national capital.
For the AamAadmi Party (AAP), which resigned following a 49-day stint after it stunned the entire country by toppling the ruling Congress, winning Delhi is a make or break of sorts.

The poll campaigning has already reached its crescendo with the AAP and the BJP pulling out all stops and going hammer and tongs at each other.

On the one hand, the BJP is hard-selling Prime Minister NarendraModi’s model of development to gain power and on the other, it is running a high-decibel campaign to slam the AAP and its chief, ArvindKejriwal.

By issuing advertisements in the print and electronic media, which lampoon Kejriwal, the BJP has made it quite evident that it sees the AAP as its only roadblock in claiming the Delhi throne.

So much so that it roped in Kejriwal’s friend-turned-foe and former police officer KiranBedi and declared her as its chief ministerial candidate. The move was in contradiction to its earler stand of contesting under a collective leadership.

Since women’s security has also become a major poll issue, the step was also seen as crucial to wooing women voters. There are 13.3 million voters, of whom 5.9 million are women.

“We can’t take them (AAP) for granted like we did in the last polls,” said a senior BJP leader. He, however, said “the party will romp home as Kejriwal has been exposed”.

How serious a threat is the AAP to the BJP is clear from the fact the BJP-led central cabinet ministers and other stalwarts like Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to be brought in to campaign.

Modi has already held three poll rallies in the capital and is expected to address two more.

Besides, tackling a powerful and resourceful BJP, the AAP’s other challenge is to convince voters that it won’t quit again.

In all the public meetings across the capital, which will total up to 120 by Feb 5, as an AAP source said, Kejriwal never forgets to make one particular point: “Is bar istifanahindenge.”(Won’t resign this time)”.

Kejriwal quit as Delhi chief minister last Feb 14 after failing to pass the anti-graft Jan Lokpal bill in the assembly. President’s rule was imposed Feb 17. In the 2013 polls, the BJP had bagged 31 seats and the AAP 28.

“The people were upset with us only because we quit the government. But we are driving our point home in every public meeting we hold that we were forced to resign,” AAP leader Manish Sisodia told in an interview.

In an interview to IANS, Kejriwal had admitted that middle class had become disillusioned with the party, but was now returning to the AAP’s fold.

It would be an uphill task for the Congress to regain ground. It seems more to be a battle for survival. The party is banking on former union minister Ajay Maken, who has been appointed as its campaign chief.

Delhi Congress unit chief and former minister Arvinder Singh Lovely not contesting reflects the low morale of the party.

A three-time cabinet minister in Sheila Dikshit’s cabinet, Lovely was one of the eight MLAs who retained their seats in 2013.

In its manifesto, the party eulogizes its achievements during its 15-year rule and offers what largely seems to be promises already made by the AAP – cheap power and water.

“We are reaching out to people and telling that both the AAP and the BJP are two sides of the same coin. AAP made a mess of Delhi in 49 days and BJP failed to do anything for Delhi in the past seven months,” said Maken.

So far, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi have addressed three rallies. The party is trying to woo the voters living in slums – a traditional vote bank which shifted to the AAP in the last poll.

“We are aiming to get at least 12 seats,” said a party insider.

Sanjay Kumar, a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies told in an interview, “Congress retaining its seats might throw another hung assembly in Delhi.”

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