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May 24, 2019
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Khaleejtimes International

Indian elections 2019: Delhi contests close, personal and very bitter

The BJP, Congress and AAP claim the public mood is in their favour.

Speculation is the favourite game in India’s capital towards the fag end of the electoral race. Seven seats in the state may be a relatively small number in the sixth phase that go to polls on Sunday but these are prestigious constituencies as they are closest to the seat of power at the centre.

Parties and candidates appear unsure about which way poll winds are blowing but they are taking every effort to hide their concerns when you pose tough questions. The BJP, Congress and AAP claim the public mood is in their favour. I’ve been trying to contact AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal for a chat, but his team hasn’t reverted yet. Party sources say his team is in a huddle, exploring options. There has been disquiet over not finding common ground with the Congress to take on the BJP. Now that this is a triangular fight, the BJP holds an edge.

Kejriwal’s AAP still believes they will sweep all seven seats, which I think is an over-the-top prediction. They may have some sympathy coming their way after a smear campaign against Atishi Marlena, AAP’s candidate in East Delhi. The BJP’s Gautam Gambhir, a former cricket and her main opponent, filed defamation charges against her which hasn’t helped his cause among women voters.

There are tears and fears as the battle rages but word on the ground is that Gambhir is playing on a seaming wicket with some bounce and could even come third despite his high-profile campaign. Making it worse for him was a picture purportedly showing the former cricketer sitting in his car while a look-alike seeks votes on his behalf. I could not verify the authenticity of the photograph making the rounds, but it is clear that Gambhir may be getting a dose of his own medicine. In short, this is a negative campaign where the real contest for the seat could be between the Congress’s Arvinder Singh Lovely and Atishi.

What this ‘outsider’ predicts

The media and election pundits have been struggling to make sense of the political carnival in Delhi. And they are finding no joy. Some ask me for my forecast since I am an “outsider” which I find condescending. They want a fresh perspective, they say, and I willingly oblige them with my prediction which I will sum up in numbers.

So here goes: 4-2-1, for the BJP, Congress and AAP, respectively. I would call it a safe prediction because Delhi has a composite culture, Delhi is diverse and Delhi is complicated.
This bustling city deserves winners from different parties for its dynamism and diversity, for bringing together the best from across India, and for giving the country the political clout it deserves.

I can say that a bitter contest awaits on Sunday. It’s getting down and dirty on the streets. The battles will be close, and it’s personal.

Elections in Delhi will also resonate in neighbouring Punjab, UP, Haryana and other states, with millions of migrants living here; some thriving, others struggling, while several others simply making do.

Congress veterans Sheila Dixit and Ajay Maken have a fighting chance in North East Delhi and New Delhi, respectively. Former CM Dixit is seen as a figure who presided over the city’s development for 15 years till 2013 as chief minister.

She’s considered a stable hand and is still fondly remembered as a CM who strived to improve the infrastructure in the city. In the same breath, people still talk of the culture of corruption that the Congress presided over during its years in power, from 2004-2014, at the centre. Many people I spoke to in the city bring up the Commonwealth Games scandal under Suresh Kalmadi when the Congress was in power.

The BJP has made references to those corruption-tainted years at the first opportunity. Those years also saw the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party which now controls the state assembly.

Kejriwal’s outfit is both feared and admired by the both BJP and the Congress. His party has evolved by going back to the basics of administration. His government’s successes in health and education are a major achievement despite the odds he faces. Cheaper medicines and better access to education for the poor and marginalised sections of society have made Delhiites sit up and take notice.

That, however, may not translate into votes as people in this city of 10.5 million voters have shown they could vote along party lines when they step into the booth on Sunday morning.

A fight for Muslim votes

Muslim voters, who comprise 22 per cent, will be an influential voting bloc, and both AAP and Congress, are out in their best secular colours for the big day. For the BJP, it would be asking too much to repeat their 2014 performance when the party swept all seats while riding the Narendra Modi wave. Modi’s persona towers over this polls too, but in smaller measure.
Even sitting MPs like Meenakshi Lekhi from New Delhi and Manoj Tiwari from North East Delhi have a fight on their hands. Tiwari called his battle with Dixit “interesting”, which points to a loss of confidence in the ranks.

Voting begins at 7am and is expected to continue till 6pm in the evening, according to sources. The city is in a silent phase now. The streets are quiet, there’s calm that will be broken at the polling booths in the morning when the fates of the candidates will be sealed. The political storm will come on May 23.



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