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Delhi polls – Kejriwal’s dilemma and Modi’s dole dominate campaign narrative

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By Sidharth Mishra

With nomination process having been completed, the roadmap of the ensuing polls for Delhi assembly has been unveiled. If someone thought that the rivals BJP and even the Congress were in any mood to give a walkover to the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the battle at its start point suggest differently.

In their selection of candidates, both the BJP and the Congress have reposed confidence in the ability of the soldier at the ground level, that’s the party candidate. On a close scanning of the list of the ticket allottees, it becomes quite evident that there aren’t any seats where the two older parties have fielded a reluctant person.

The best case in point is the fielding of Delhi BJP Yuva Morcha president Sunil Yadav and former Delhi NSUI president Romesh Sabharwal from the New Delhi seat against chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. The selection of the two has stolen from the Chief Minister the opportunity of turning his personal battle with a prominent face into a ‘Battle for Delhi’, which he himself converted the 2013 polls into by taking on then chief minister Sheila Dikshit.

Second both Yadav and Sabharwal have come up through the traditional path of political progress, graduating from students’ politics. Both belong to the New Delhi constituency and have their respective pockets of influence, which could put Kejriwal’s personal battle to some test.

The actual battle of Delhi would be contested in the hinterlands of the unauthorized colonies, where Kejriwal’s strategy of power subsidy is pitted against BJP’s dole of the regularization of the unauthorized colonies. While Kejriwal has issued a ‘guarantee card’ assuring that his government would continue to subside living in Delhi, BJP’s push for a three-tier (municipal, state and centre) government is a clear indication that the process of regularization would stop if the party failed to occupy the seat of governance at the Players’Building -- Delhi Secretariat.

Of the 1.46 crore voters, 33.5 percent are Purvanchlais and a recognizable percentage of Uttarakhandis spread largely across the areas that comprises of unauthorised colonies of Delhi. For long BJP had ignored these voters depending on its traditional Punjabi-Vaishya votebanks. However, since the drubbing in 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls, there is a perceptible change in its outlook with a known Bhojpuri matinee idol -- Manoj Tiwari -- as the party boss in Delhi.

Purvanchali community is today spread over 30 assembly seats living in the unauthorised colonies. In 2015 Arvind Kejriwal decided to cross the Rubicon and fielded Purvanchalis in large numbers. As known, in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha, there are 13 MLAs from among the migrants from eastern UP and Bihar with Gopal Rai, a minister in the Kejriwal government; Sanjay Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP; and Dilip Pandey and Somnath Bharti, prominent faces of the party.

The BJP too this time, in alliance with its Bihar allies, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, has fielded 10 candidates from the migrant communities, eight from Purvanchal and two from Uttarakhand. With a Manoj Tiwari at helm, the distribution of tickets should effectively counter the charge against the BJP being a Punjabi-Vaishya party.

Almost, a similar strategy has been followed by the Congress in the alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to woo the migrant voters. The difference being that the Congress list also features a few Muslims, whereas none from the Muslim community have found place in the BJP list.

There also is a ‘Shaheen Bagh’ sub plot to the Delhi poll story. The continued protests by the members of the minority community is somewhat helping the BJP in keeping its Hunduvta agenda alive and also polarization of the votes. Arvind Kejriwal’s reluctance to stand up firmly for the protestors at Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University may benefit the Congress on the Muslim dominated seats. There are around eight to 10 such seats in the city.

The dilemma for Kejriwal is immense on the matter, as sitting on a dharna with the Muslims could prove counter-productive vis-à-vis his Hindu support base. The Congress can take the chance of going whole hogg as it has nothing much at stake, whereas Kejriwal has a throne to lose. A loss which the AAP cannot afford as it would mean fall from the precipice to a bottomless pit.

To counter such situations, Kejriwal has over the past five years has tried to develop a dedicated cadre benefitting them financially through ‘volunteer’ jobs in the schemes like the Odd-Even plan, bus marshals and Mohallah clinics among others. He has taken this ‘benefit politics’ to a larger section of voters through subsidies in power, water and bus travel charges. His government has done this by mostly diverting funds meant for the civic maintenance and infrastructure development.

While BJP’s detractors are citing party’s defeat in Jharkhand and comparatively poor performance in the assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra to predict doom for it in the assembly polls in the national Capital, a repeat of 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls, when Modi charisma failed to charm Delhi voters.

Today more than the Prime Minister’s charisma, as mentioned earlier, it’s his dole of regularizing the unauthorised colonies which could act as a counter to AAP’s politics of subsidy. And not to forget, BJP did not do really badly in Maharashtra and Haryana given five years of anti-incumbency against their state governments.

The same poll machinery is at work in Delhi too, and they do not have an anti-incumbency factor to counter and the motivation to push the Hindu agenda in the national’s capital.

(First published in www.News18.com)

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