New Delhi: The byzantine back alleys of West Vinod Nagar in Delhi hold a secret. Santoshi, whose home lies here among low-income families, lets it out: She loves to hear her seven-year-old daughter speak in English.

That’s not all. There’s a swimming pool in the government school the 38-year-old homemaker’s daughter attends.

It’s not without reason that the neighbourhood—home to a large community of Garhwalis—is proud to have elected the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate in the municipal elections of 2017.

For the Lok Sabha election they are backing AAP’s Atishi from the East Delhi constituency, which includes West Vinod Nagar.

Santoshi isn’t shy of making her preference clear: She is all praise for the Arvind Kejriwal-led government for revamping state schools.

“My daughter looks forward to going to school every morning. She says the washrooms are clean and there’s a hand-wash there, too," says Santoshi, whose husband is a driver with a private sector company.

For the last two years, English classes in the school are being taken by teachers from the non-profit organization Teach For India, which employs young college graduates to teach in low-income category schools.

Santoshi is not alone in eulogizing the Delhi government. Lakshmi Rawat, whose college-going daughter studied in the same government school, praises the mohalla health clinic, an AAP innovation that is great for treating minor ailments. “The medicines are free of cost and they are in stock. Besides, all the tests are free," she says.

Residents have also seen their electricity bills go down and they get no water bills.

The failure of the Congress and AAP to enter into an alliance may give BJP an advantage in Delhi
The failure of the Congress and AAP to enter into an alliance may give BJP an advantage in Delhi (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

East Delhi is a massive constituency and one of the most thickly populated not just in Delhi but also in India, with no fewer than 40 municipal wards and 1.6 million voters.

It not only includes the upper middle-class apartment buildings of IP Extension but also extends to Jangpura, Okhla, Trilokpuri and Shahdara, among other areas.

A sizeable section of the residents of IP Extension had supported the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Maheish Girri in the last Lok Sabha polls. Although many appreciate the Kejriwal government’s efforts to reduce power and water bills as well as the easy access to his ministers, they are not sure if they will vote for AAP in the Lok Sabha elections.

“You need stability at the centre. What is the alternative to the BJP," asks a woman, a former BSNL employee, declining to be named.

“This election is complicated," says 35-year-old Toshik Anand, who runs a jewellery business and lives in Jangpura. Anand comes from a family of hardcore BJP supporters. “But I am not a bhakt," he is quick to add. “I personally think Atishi is a very good candidate and has done excellent work. But I don’t want to vote for Kejriwal, as he keeps using Delhi’s lack of full statehood as an excuse."

Having lived in the US for 10 years working with startups, Anand says the Modi government was action-oriented and took some hard decisions such as demonetization and implementation of the goods and services tax (GST). “Of course, these have had both positive and negative impact."

For him the 2019 general election is both dull and complex. “From what I see, there is no ‘wave’ of either kind. It is a confused election."

Former AAP member and political commentator Ashutosh agrees: “AAP has a good candidate in Atishi and she’s popular among the social elite. But whether that will translate into votes remains to be seen."

He believes that in the absence of an alliance between the Congress and AAP, it is advantage BJP in Delhi. Neither is he convinced about “full statehood" as a viable election plank for AAP. Organizationally, too, the party is weak, he says. Besides, the Congress has some strong candidates in former chief minister Sheila Dixit, J.P. Agarwal and Ajay Maken. “But you cannot dismiss the BJP’s organizational muscle and killer instinct," he adds.

In north Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, Rajeev Mehra, who is in the paints and varnish trade, is unhappy. “The BJP is banking on the Modi appeal only," he says. “Harsh Vardhan, our BJP candidate, may get some votes because of Modi. Otherwise, at least Chandni Chowk traders are hugely disappointed in him."

In his view, the Muslim voter this time is inclined towards the Congress. “Traders like us feel that at least (the Congress’) J.P. Agarwal has been our representative before and understands our problems. The BJP has done nothing for traders." First, they faced the double whammy of demonetization and GST. Then came a sealing drive on alleged encroachments. “The entire chemicals market of Tilak Bazaar in Chandni Chowk was sealed, causing untold misery to the business. Our appeals to the BJP representative elicited no response," he says.

Sanjeev Sharma, a dealer in computers and IT products, echoes Mehra’s views even though he comes from the New Delhi constituency, where, he says, Maken stands a good chance. “People feel that it’s okay if the BJP comes back to power with diminished numbers. Then they won’t take such authoritarian decisions. Yes, we want a clean system. But these things can’t be done in one sweep," he says.

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