In November, Delhi votes in its fifth legislative assembly election. While this is one of five state elections that are taking place simultaneously – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram being the others – the Delhi contest is attracting extraordinary attention.
This is not surprising. As the national capital, as a top-drawer urban centre, home to India’s power and media elite, and as a small city-state with a bitterly contested polity, Delhi is set for a riveting election. Since it is the seat of the Union government, the verdict here will at least partially reflect on the popularity of or hostility towards the UPA government. On their part, other states will see local issues dominating.
In the past, the Delhi assembly election has been a two-way battle between the Congress and the BJP. Clean majorities have been the norm, for the BJP in 1993 and for the Congress in three successive elections following that. This time things could be different. The Aam Aadmi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, is running a high-profile campaign. Opinion polls say it could get 15-20 per cent of the vote, though some consider that figure too high. The Aam Aadmi Party is believed to be getting generous financial support from the Congress, which wants Kejriwal to split the opposition vote and hurt the BJP.
However, political watchers say the trajectory of the Aam Aadmi Party is unpredictable. It seems to be getting more traction in slum and poorer areas than in middle-class neighbourhoods. If this trend continues, Kejriwal could take away a slice of Congress votes.
Both national parties are troubled by bruising internal battles. For Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of Delhi for three terms now, this is her toughest election. It comes after a series of scandals, including the Commonwealth Games fiasco, and charges of wrongdoing against her extended family. She is carrying the can but not many in her party expect her to complete a fourth term, even if she makes it to the chief minister’s office this time. Her internal rival, Ajay Maken, is hoping for a hung assembly or a narrow majority for the Congress, so that Dikshit can be asked to step aside. That would make Maken, who has steered clear of the election so far, the front-runner for the top job.
The BJP is even more confused. Realising the pro-Narendra Modi wing wanted to propose Harsh Vardhan, a well-regarded but zero-charisma doctor, or Ravishankar Prasad – whose Bihari background would appeal to the migrant communities from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – L.K. Advani jumped the gun and insisted on Vijay Goel becoming the local BJP unit president. Goel began promoting himself as chief ministerial candidate, backed by a dubious businessman cum political fixer cum real estate tycoon.
This leaves the election interestingly poised. Sheila Dikshit’s image is still fairly good in middle-class Delhi, though the mood is certainly against her party. The BJP has the momentum and could capitalise on the anti-incumbency sentiment, but Vijay Goel is hardly a popular choice for chief minister. Finally, there is the Kejriwal group, noisy and visible, expected to be a spoiler and with luck a factor in a hung assembly.
Poor Delhi; it is learning to cope with messy democracy.
Till next time, meow!