Battle for parliamentary seats in Delhi high on symbolism

The battle for seven parliamentary seats in India’s capital Delhi, where voting will be held on Sunday 52 seats in other parts of the country in the penultimate phase of polling, has always high in symbolism and prestige rather than in terms of number in the scramble for majority in parliament. The seven seats in Delhi is much less compared to many bigger states where the stakes for political parties are higher because of the much higher number of seats. But this year’s parliamentary polls is a little different because it appears to be a closely-contested fight in which every seat matters. That has sharpened the competition in Delhi too.     

It is because of the symbolism of Delhi, the electioneering for the seven seats saw rallies addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra Gandhi and of course Kejriwal. Rahul held two rallies and Priyanka two road shows in Delhi, reflecting the Congress’ desperation to reclaim its lost ground in the capital city.

The contest in Delhi is largely triangular between the Bharatiya Janata Party, which won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi five years ago, the Congress party, which is trying to regain its lost ground in the national capital after being voted out in the Delhi assembly polls in 2013, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which won a resounding mandate in the Delhi assembly polls four years ago and assumed power riding on the back of popular anger against corruption.

 The BJP hopes a three-way contest in Delhi will work to its advantage because of the split in anti-BJP votes and the fact that the Congress and the AAP share largely the same voters base of Dalits, Muslims, economically poorer sections living in slums and in houses in innumerable unauthorized colonies of Delhi and a floating section in the middle class. An alliance between the Congress (15.2 per cent) and the AAP (33.1 per cent) made sense because their combined vote share was more than that of the BJP (46.6 per cent) in the 2014 national poll in Delhi. But the tie-up talks between the Congress and the AAP collapsed on the issue of extending the alliance to neighbouring Haryana state ruled by the BJP. The Congress rejected the AAP’s condition of alliance in Delhi to the same in Haryana.

The BJP hopes a three-way contest 

in Delhi will work to its advantage

 because of the split in anti-BJP 

votes and the fact that the Congress

 and the AAP share largely the same

 voters base of Dalits, Muslims, 

economically poorer sections

 The BJP and the Congress have fielded their veteran leaders in Sunday’s election in Delhi. The Congress has put up its veteran leaders Sheila Dikshit, a former Chief Minister of Delhi, Ajay Maken, former federal minister, and Mahabal Mishra while the BJP has retained five sitting lawmakers including India’s Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan and its Delhi unit chief Manoj Tiwari. The BJP used Modi’s popularity and nationalism after India’s air strike on a terror camp in Balakot, Pakistan, as its main plank. In view of the large number of Sikh voters in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his campaign rally in Delhi, raked up the issue of anti-Sikh riots that killed hundreds of people immediately after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. Modi accused the Congress of being responsible for the riots and brought Rajiv Gandhi into the line of attack. Rajiv succeeded Indira as the PM.

 But the BJP is also facing the heat of small and middle-level traders, which have for long been the core support base of the BJP, on the issue of citywide sealing of commercial setups ordered by the Supreme Court. Another headache for the BJP is the resentment created among the trading community by demonetisation and implementation of Goods and Services Tax.

 On the other hand, the Congress is flagging developmental issues, including civic facilities and road infrastructure  of Delhi and asked the voters to recall the spate of development that had taken place when their senior leader Sheila Dikshit was Delhi Chief Minister for 15 years before being voted out in 2013. The AAP led by its chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has made full statehood for Delhi as its main poll theme and is banking on local issues like improvement in government schools and subsidised health dispensaries and subsidized food for the poorest.

The two most important constituencies in Delhi are North East Delhi where Dikshit is pitted against Tiwari and New Delhi constituency where Maken is in fray against the BJP nominee Meenakshi Lekhi. North East Delhi is dominated by Muslims and poor migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The previous time Dikshit had contested parliamentary poll in Delhi was in 1998 when she lost to the BJP’s Lal Bihari Tiwari.

 There is a sporty touch to the list of candidates in Delhi. The BJP has fielded former Indian test cricketer Gautam Gambhir in East Delhi constituency, the Congress candidate in South Delhi constituency is Olympic medallist Vijender Singh. 

The writer is an analyst 

based in India