Thursday, November 21, 2013

Delhi Polls: Sheila Vs Kejriwal And The Fight For New Delhi

By Kajol Singh | Delhi

With Arvind Kejriwal standing up against Sheila Dikshit in the latter’s bastion, is there cause to worry for the chief minister? 

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Arvind Kejriwal’s plan to sweep the political system clean seems to have grabbed Delhi’s attention, as a large number of voters, especially those fed up of the BJP and Congress, believe he is doing some good work and must be given a chance to prove himself. But the New Delhi Assembly Constituency that Kejriwal is contesting for is a tough seat in many ways.
After the Jan Lokpal movement with Anna Hazare in 2011, Kejriwal decided to enter politics – to fight the system by being a part of it. When he chose Delhi for his political debut, he was labelled a Congress agent, hired to divide anti-Congress votes and ensure its victory. But Kejriwal levelled several charges of corruption against Sheila Dikshit and also announced his candidature from Dikshit’s stronghold for 15 years, the New Delhi Assembly Constituency, six months ahead of the elections.

In 1998, Sheila Dikshit defeated BJP candidate Kirti Azad in the Gole Market constituency by a margin of 5,667 votes. Then in 2003, Dikshit again defeated BJP candidate Poonam Azad by 12,935. After delimitation, Gole Market was changed to New Delhi and in the first post-delimitation elections that took place in 2008, BJP’s Vijay Jolly lost to Dikshit by 13,982 votes. Now, Kejriwal will contest from the same constituency where Sheila Dikshit is filing her nomination for the fourth time.

The total number of voters in the New Delhi Assembly Constituency is 1.18 lakhs, out of which 60 percent are government servants or their relatives. The area has around 15 percent dalit voters, about 5,000 or a little over 4 percent voters from the minority and as many slum dwellers. A chat with locals in the area reveals an erratic pattern. Kejriwal may have drawn a substantial number of supporters, but the figures that emerge are not consistent.

Basu Singh Rawat is a long time resident in the area. He works for a private company while his wife is a government servant. His nephew, Mahesh Kumar who also lives with them, works in the private sector. When the family is asked who they will vote for, the answer is surprisingly varied. According to Basu, “Kejriwal has certainly got the upper hand but it is difficult to predict who will win. There are a lot of BJP supporters as well. 

It is true people are fed up because of rising prices, but Sheila Dikshit has worked a lot for her constituency too.” His wife Sarla feels that while there is no doubt about Kejriwal’s honesty, what he is proposing is impractical. “He says that Jan Lokpal is the solution for all problems. Surely he must know that it is no magic wand. Also, he does not speak of the problems faced by government servants. I am quite sure either BJP or Congress will win,” she says. Mahesh, on the other hand, is an ardent Kejriwal supporter. He says, “Both BJP and Congress have looted Delhi. Kejriwal must be given a chance as he has brought some hope.”

These three members of a family clearly represent the three sections of voters in the area. One thing is quite clear. The government sector is still sceptical about Arvind Kejriwal. The radical reforms in different sectors that Kejriwal proposes, if elected as chief minister, have left government employees wary of him. The private sector and the youth, on the other hand, see a ray of hope in Kejriwal.

However, some recent developments have added to Kejriwal’s worries. So far, the competition for the New Delhi Assembly Constituency was predicted to be between Kejriwal and Dikshit. With BJP fielding its candidate Vijendra Gupta, it has now turned into a three-cornered contest. Gupta, a former Delhi unit president, is a strong candidate and cannot be taken lightly. There have been claims that the BJP has been forced to pit a strong candidate against Dikshit since Kejriwal accuses the party of deliberately fielding weak candidates. The same allegation made against Kejriwal of conspiring to split votes for Congress can now be made against Vijendra Gupta. By splitting the AAP votes, he might end up helping Sheila Dikshit.

Meanwhile, the slum households in the area have a strong wave in favour of AAP. “AAP has a lot of support here,” claims Surinder Singh who is campaigning for the party in the area. “We hope that Arvind will win the elections. We also hope to get a lot of votes from the dalit areas,” he says.

These slums however, form an inadequate vote percentage. Congress bags its own dalit vote-bank. Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee Vice-president Chattar Singh says, “Sheila Dikshit started a number of schemes for the common man including the Annshree Yojna and Pension Yojna and people are benefitting from them. They know the government has done a lot for them and will obviously stand by someone who works for them.”

During her electoral campaign, Sheila Dikshit can be seen emphasising upon the work done by her government in Delhi as a whole, instead of focussing on her work in this particular constituency. In a rally at Sarojini Nagar, Sheila Dikshit enumerated the steps her government had taken to raise the standard of education and health facilities in Delhi. She also raised the issue of the seventh pay commission to lure government employees.

For now, AAP is the only party that can be seen actively campaigning in the area with a clear and fresh plan of action. Elaborating upon the preparedness of AAP, Surinder Singh says, “The party has tasked one ‘prabhari’ with overseeing 15-20 families each. We plan to deploy a large number of such ‘prabharis’. They will act as mediators to help the party reach out to people.” He adds that boards will be put up outside their houses in case any local resident has any query related to the party. “The prabharis are doing a door-to-door campaign by visiting locals. Their duties also include cooperating with AAP’s Women Security Force and providing it with necessary assistance.”

Meanwhile, BJP candidate Vijendra Gupta is unfazed with AAP or Arvind Kejriwal’s presence. He says, “Kejriwal is not a factor in New Delhi. Here, the competition has always been between the BJP and Congress. It is the same this time.” Gupta is positive about the outcome of the elections as he says, “People are not ready to experiment. They are frustrated with Sheila Dikshit’s work. They see what the chief minister has turned Connaught Place into. The heart of Delhi is now filled with potholes. Inflation and costlier electricity has left people distraught. I strongly believe that in such a scenario, people will vote for our party.”

In the last four assembly elections, the BJP fielded four different candidates for the New Delhi Assembly Constituency. None of them belonged to the constituency. Vijendra Gupta has also been called an ‘outsider’ by his opponents. Gupta is a resident of Rohini and hoped for a ticket from there, but the party decided to pit him against Sheila Dikshit. Dismissing the tag given to him, Gupta says, “I am not an ‘outsider’. People here have seen how I brought to light the scams of Sheila Dikshit’s government while I was the state BJP President.”

All the three parties contesting for the New Delhi Assembly Constituency may confidently claim that they are destined to win, but this seat is particularly significant for Sheila Dikshit and Arvind Kejriwal. It is widely believed that if Sheila Dikshit loses for any reason, it will mark the end of her political career. For Arvind Kejriwal and AAP, it is an opportunity to defeat Dikshit in her backyard and establish itself as a strong party. A loss would be a setback for its ambitions. 

“Some people say that Kejriwal’s defeat will be a setback for the entire movement. But I don’t agree,” says Kumar Sanjay Singh, a senior journalist who has observed Delhi’s politics for a long time. “Kejriwal could have opted to contest from a seat which ensured an easy win. But his decision to be a rival against Dikshit shows courage. Even if he loses to her, it will be a graceful defeat,” he says.

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