Sunday, December 01, 2013

'Brewing Ballots In A Metro Coach, No Service Plans Yet'

By Kajol Singh | Delhi

DELHI ELECTIONS 2013  While the Delhi Congress is relying on the development plank, the BJP and the AAP offer a more kind of traditional politics.

It is 11:30 p.m. Passengers wait on a train at the Central Secretariat Metro station here, as more people — mostly the late-night-shift workers who live in the outskirts of the national Capital but toil in the heart of it — troop into the coaches. From the metro station, which is located in Lutyens’ Delhi, these people expect to have a safer, hassle-free journey and reach Badarpur, the last stop of the route, almost forty kilometres away on the borders of Delhi and Haryana the neighbouring State.

“Do you realise this was impossible a decade back before the Congress government brought Delhi Metro in the Capital?” says Surinder Singh, sitting in one of the Metro coaches, trying to strike up a conversation with his fellow passengers.
“This is the one achievement of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that has benefited all of Delhi. I used to work in Badarpur. But since the Delhi Metro has minimised distances and connected the far-off areas to the heart of the city, I took up a job in a hotel near New Delhi railway station and I still manage to reach home in a short span of time without facing trouble,” Surinder submits to his co-passengers in a bid to tout the “development” generated by the Dikshit government in the last 15 years.

However, sitting next to Surinder, Shoaib Ahmad, a man in his early forties, is not impressed. He counters Surinder’s arguments with the steady rise in prices and the “exponentially high” cost of living in the national capital.

A tailor by profession, Ahmad is fascinated by the Aam Aadmi Party, the fledgling party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, which has challenged the traditional parties in the national Capital by shifting focus on the idea of “common man”.

Politicians had forgotten the common public and their needs, says Ahmad, but the AAP, which is making its electoral debut in the forthcoming Delhi Assembly elections by promising power at half of its present rates, and 700 litres of water free every day, has forced the Bharatiya Janata Party and the incumbent Congress to give “more concessions to the common man, whom the Congress government’s development plank has somewhere left untouched”.

Balraj Singh, sitting a few seats away, reminds Ahmad of the AAP’s lack of experience — “especially in ruling a complicated city like Delhi” — and argues that the BJP, which has made “somewhat similar promises”, is the “only alternative”.

Echoing AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal’s views, Ahmad insists that “ruling Delhi is not rocket science”. Clearly an AAP supporter, Ahmad adds: “Unlike the rule of both the Congress and the BJP, which ensured that the rich became richer and the poor turned poorer, the AAP seems to have a different vision for Delhi and its people. So, the party deserves a chance.”

The discussion in the metro coach sums up the political narrative, reflecting in some ways, the arguments of the three main players in the elections this time.

The Delhi Chief Minister is seeking a fourth term for herself by touting the “transformation” of Delhi's infrastructure — the Delhi Metro, public transport, flyovers — and a variety of social welfare schemes that focus on distributing pension among every marginalised group as well as the Public Distribution System. The BJP and the AAP proffer a more traditional kind of politics, calling for cheaper electricity, free water, and curbing price-rise and corruption.

Sections of the middle and upper-middle-class electorate appreciate the importance of infrastructure in a modern city. But issues like price-rise, increase in the basic cost of living and “inflated power bills” seem to be the deciding factors in the slum clusters and among the lower-class electorate.

During an interaction with journalist at the Indian Womens’ Press Corps last month, Ms. Dikshit said: “People can see the Delhi Metro; we do not have to advertise it. Women and the elderly are deriving direct benefits from our pension schemes. But unfortunately, only the negative campaign of opposition parties gets noticed.”

Congress leaders privately admit that “it takes much more than just talking about development, to ensure political victory”.

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