NEW DELHI :
It was sometime in 2011 that S.A. Mirza began to wonder if there was an option other than the Congress, a party that has long enjoyed the support of minorities here. Mirza, a 51-year-old painter from Seelampur, says he was disenchanted with the Congress, which never went beyond its rhetoric of being “the party that cared" about minorities. “They reeked of arrogance," said Mirza, who will vote in North-East Delhi constituency on 12 May.
The Congress had won the state elections for three consecutive terms and a majority of the Lok Sabha seats in the 2004 and 2009 polls. However, the support base, which was in many ways taken for granted, consolidated behind the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), formed in 2012 after the anti-corruption movement. The Congress lost in the state and general elections that followed.
Since Sheila Dikshit was defeated in 2013, the AAP has been the sole challenger to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) here. In the 2014 general elections, the Congress was pushed to a distant third with 16% of the vote share in Delhi, against AAP’s 33% and the BJP’s 46.6%.
This time, the party has brought back veterans such as the 81-year-old Dikshit to shore up its fortunes. However, on the ground, there is little belief that Dikshit will revive the Congress. Her sphere of influence is likely to be limited to winning her own constituency of North-East Delhi, where she will take on Manoj Tiwari of the BJP and Dilip Pandey of AAP.
“They bring back the person who destroyed the Congress in Delhi to revive its fortunes," Mirza says.
The Congress does not hold even one of the 70 assembly seats or the seven parliamentary constituencies. The party’s seat share in the assembly was reduced from 48 in 2008 to 8 in 2013 and zero in 2015. It fared no better in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 not being able to win even one of the seven parliamentary seats, which it had bagged in 2009 with a 57% vote share.
AAP has since earned the backing of minorities and migrants with its provision of tangible benefits such as free electricity and water and improved schools and healthcare. In contrast, voters feel that the sole goal of the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress is to bring down Prime Minister Narendra Modi and feel it is a more abstract concept that doesn’t really affect them.
A few feet from Mirza’s tiny paint shop, 65-year-old tailor Sharafat Hussain is busy measuring a length of white cloth. He says he will probably vote for the Congress as AAP may not be able to achieve much with just one or two seats in Parliament. The fact that AAP is seen as a local party as opposed to the national image of the Congress is possibly the latter’s only chance to win back voters it had ceded to the newer party.
The Congress hopes to remind people about Dikshit’s 15 years as chief minister when she spearheaded much of the infrastructure work and regularized illegal colonies around Delhi. The criticism, however, is that Delhi’s infrastructure has been focused on the central parts of the capital, which appear a world apart from the other parts of the city where a majority of the people live and where it’s a scramble for space and resources.
North-East Delhi, though a relatively new constituency that was formed in 2008 after delimitation when parts of the earlier Delhi Sadar were included in it, was once a considered a bastion that voted en masse for Congress. The voters have split into smaller groups that have swung to the BJP or AAP, as these parties have targeted them with schemes and programmes. The turnout in North-East Delhi constituency has always been far higher than the more urbanized or developed parts.
Much like its fight on the national stage, the Congress in Delhi is crumbling under the weight of its own differences and has not listened to its alliance partners, which wanted it to join hands with AAP, say analysts and party leaders. “Its reluctance to form an alliance has condemned the Congress to a distant third place," says Abhay Kumar Dubey, political analyst and faculty member at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
The Congress is allying with regional parties to regain lost ground after seeing its dominant position slip over the decades, a route that could have given it some hope in Delhi, Dubey says.
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