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Elections 2019: It’s state vs nation in contest for the capital

This election, the stakes are high for the BJP, which displaced Congress, which had won all seven seats in the 2009 general election. (PTI)
This election, the stakes are high for the BJP, which displaced Congress, which had won all seven seats in the 2009 general election. (PTI)

  • With just two phases left in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, all eyes are on the national capital, which goes to the polls in the sixth phase
  • Delhi, which has seven Lok Sabha seats, has an electorate of approximately 1.37 million who will vote on Sunday

NEW DELHI : With a couple of days to go before Delhi votes on 12 May, 32-year old Shikha Sahu, a beautician from Sarita Vihar in the South Delhi constituency, is confused. It’s a three-way battle in each of the seven seats in the National Capital Region this time, as it was in 2014, though then the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was the surprise challenger.

This time, it’s less certain whether AAP will play as large a role as spoiler for the Congress as it did five years ago. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it will be a battle to retain all the seven seats that it won in 2014 with a vote share of 46.6%.

“The BJP and the Prime Minister have done good work when it comes to national security and showing strong leadership, but AAP has focused on finding solutions to problems that affect our small settlements, including water, electricity and healthcare. The Congress also has a history of working for us. It is confusing with so many options," Sahu said.

With just two phases left in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, all eyes are on the national capital, which goes to the polls in the sixth phase. Delhi, which has seven Lok Sabha seats, has an electorate of approximately 1.37 million who will vote on Sunday. Voters in this city-state represent every part and shade of the country, from industrialists and small traders to migrants and long-time residents, from slum dwellers and residents of unauthorized colonies to occupants of opulent and sprawling farmhouses. Since 1999, the party that has gained a majority in the seven seats in Delhi has gone on to stake a claim to form the government at the centre.

Analysts also believe NCT-Delhi reflects the mood of the country. “The elections in Delhi are keenly watched. People feel it reflects the general mood in the country as it is the national capital. The politics here gives direction to the election," said Praveen Rai, a political analyst at Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

This election, the stakes are high for the BJP, which displaced Congress, which had won all seven seats in the 2009 general election. AAP, which was contesting its first Lok Sabha polls, pushed the Congress to the third position. In 2015, AAP stopped the BJP wave by pulling off a victory in the assembly elections. The party is once again putting the BJP to the test. The Congress also hopes to make a return in Delhi.

The opposition parties are targeting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the government’s policy decisions, including the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) and demonetization, which they say have led to a slowdown in the economy. In the past year, property sealing drives ordered by the Supreme Court have affected business.

The BJP is talking up national issues, while both the AAP and the Congress are banking on their work in the state government. The record of the Congress dates back to the 15 years Sheila Dikshit, now contesting from North-East Delhi, was chief minister from 1998 to 2013. AAP’s additional promise is full statehood for Delhi.

The contest comes against the backdrop of heightened discussion on national security given the recent Balakot air strikes, the ground-level work of the AAP-led state government, and the failure of alliance talks between the AAP and the Congress, which has led to a three-cornered contest. Voters in Delhi are torn between the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a strong decision maker and the development work of the AAP government.

“There is no leader who can be compared with Modi. If anyone else becomes prime minister, there will be more attacks on our borders. We need a powerful leader, which the opposition does not have right now. AAP is not an alternative at the national level. They would not have initiated alliance talks with Congress if they were confident of a win on their own," said Nicky (50), a jeweller in Burari village.

Unlike the previous election, AAP has its performance of the last four years to showcase. The party has been reaching out to residents of unauthorized colonies and traders, a support base of BJP who were affected by GST, demonetization and sealing drives.

“The last few days have seen massive upsurge in favour of AAP in Delhi. Something extraordinary is happening. God bless our Delhi," AAP national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said at a recent rally. AAP has also held bike rallies and padyatras with several star campaigners, including actor Swara Bhaskar and independent Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani.

The last week of campaigning has seen Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hold public meetings and roadshows in Delhi. Kejriwal has held public meetings and roadshows across the state. As always in Delhi, the candidates are a mix of well-known faces, from veteran politicians and professional educationists to former cricketers and financial experts.

The BJP has not nominated two sitting members of Parliament from East Delhi and North-West Delhi, a reserved constituency, and has instead opted for former cricketer Gautam Gambhir and singer Hans Raj Hans, respectively. The Congress has fielded boxer Vijender Singh from South Delhi constituency.

This election will also see political heavyweights, including former CM Sheila Dikshit, former Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken and five sitting BJP MPs fight for a seat. AAP has fielded senior party leaders Atishi and Raghav Chadha, who are known for their work in education and finance, from East Delhi and South Delhi, respectively.

At a rally at Ramlila Maidan on Wednesday, his first in Delhi for this election, Modi hit out at the AAP government. “Delhi has been fooled by a bunch of jobless people who promised to bring a new kind of politics but have become synonymous with anarchy and obstructionism. Foul language and taking U-turns have become their identity," he said. Targeting the Congress, Modi said “the flag of dynastic politics" was being carried forward by those who were close to the family.

Priyanka Gandhi also held roadshows in North-East and South Delhi constituencies on Wednesday. While campaigning for Singh and Dikshit, she threw a challenge at Modi, saying, “A Delhi girl is openly challenging you. Contest the last two phases on notebandi, GST, women’s safety and unfulfilled promises to youth."

Though AAP announced its candidates more than a year ago, in the run-up to the election, AAP and Congress—whose support bases overlap—attempted to stitch together an alliance to draw the anti-BJP votes. However, they failed to reach a consensus on seat-sharing.

Addressing his first public meeting in Delhi earlier this week, Rahul Gandhi said AAP was responsible for the alliance not working out. He said his party was ready for an alliance in Delhi but AAP had wanted to extend it to other states as well. “I clearly told Kejriwalji that we have to win all seven seats in Delhi. You contest on four seats and we will contest on three. First, he agreed. Even I concurred with the proposal. But then he brought in talks on Haryana and Punjab. Then he took a U-turn," PTI quoted Gandhi as saying at the rally.

Kejriwal, meanwhile, has blamed the Congress for the failure of the talks, saying the party wanted the BJP to win in Delhi.

“If an alliance had worked out, then votes for Congress and AAP would not be getting divided. This gives BJP a clear advantage in this election. Given the current trend, BJP would not have had the same result as 2014 but now it is difficult to say," said 59-year-old Mohammed Yamin Alvi, a government employee from East Delhi constituency.

Analysts concur that a three-cornered contest may prove to a disadvantage to AAP and Congress. “It is a likely situation that AAP will lose all seven seats. Congress is a national party; they can have a larger view (on an alliance). AAP may have overplayed during negotiations. They wanted to extend the alliance beyond Delhi which may have been a wrong calculation," Subrata Mukherjee, a New Delhi based political analyst said. “While this may not have a big impact on AAP’s performance in the assembly elections, it will make a dent in their support base."

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