In the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections, an engineer-turned civil servant caused the biggest upset that year by defeating three-time Congress chief minister Sheila Dixit in her bastion New Delhi constituency by more than 25,000 votes. Cut back to 2020, that engineer-turned civil servant is now the incumbent Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and pitched against him are two election debutants — BJP’s Sunil Yadav and Congress’ Romesh Sabharwal.
However, both the candidates are upbeat on defeating the Delhi CM in New Delhi seat — a contest that most people and AAP think is already “decided”. On the challenge against being pitted against a high-profile politician, both the leaders claimed that the AAP convenor was never seen in his constituency these five years and does not have any idea of the issues plaguing New Delhi seat.
“Kejriwal Ji is not a heavyweight candidate. He is not heavyweight because he is not local, but I have been born and brought up in this area (BK Dutt colony). Kejriwalji had said he is against VIP culture but he has become a VIP in the last five years. The fight is between a high-profile person like Kejriwal and a local of this area,” BJP’s Sunil Yadav said.
Echoing this, Congress’ Sabharwal, who is contesting elections for the first time in his 40-year political career, said Kejriwal has now become ‘khaas’ from ‘aam’. “There is no challenge against him. He is very junior in politics. I have been groomed in Congress since my childhood and have held many organisational posts, from NSUI to Youth Congress. Kejriwal has never come here and knows nothing about the constituency,” Sabharwal said.
Both BJP’s Sunil Yadav and Congress’ Sabharwal have come up the organisational ladder of their respective parties and have been student leaders. The 44-year-old Yadav is, in fact, president of the Delhi unit of the BJP’s youth wing, the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJVM).
While BJP’s campaign and rallies have pivoted around Shaheen Bagh, the epicentre of the protests against the new Citizenship law, AAP and Congress have steered away from the topic and harped on local issues like water, electricity and infrastructure.
Distancing himself from the recent provocative statements made by his party colleagues — Minister of State (Finance) Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Verma — Yadav said: “The people who have gathered at Shaheen Bagh won’t enter the houses of the people, but the people who want to divide India have already entered our country.”
Verma, who is an MP from West Delhi, had said Shaheen Bagh protesters could “enter homes and rape our sisters and daughters” while Thakur encouraged the crowd at a BJP election rally this week to chant “desh ke gaddaron ko goli maaro saalon ko”. Days later a youth fired at students protesting near Jamia MIlia Islamia.
“Kejriwal is standing by those who are chanting ‘anti-India slogans’ and asking for ‘Jinnah wali Azadi’. BJP being a nationalist party, is against such people. Those who are chanting “Bharat tere tukde tukde honge, do you think the country will be safe in those hands?” the BJP candidate said.
Congress’ Sabharwal, however, refused to be drawn into the debate. “I don’t believe in Muslims or Hindus. Congress is secular. Indira Gandhi gave her life for secularism. I am concerned about New Delhi and not about national issues,” said Sabharwal, who claimed he had the backing of the Punjabi refugee voters in the area.
An advocate by profession, Yadav said there was considerable resentment among the government employees, who form about 60 per cent of the electorate in New Delhi seat.
“Kejriwal has not done even a single work here. There are 60 per cent government employees here and 25,000 of them are temporary. Kejriwal had promised that he will make them permanent. Five years later, the file has not opened yet,” he said.
“Secondly, there is not a single wifi station in his own constituency. Thirdly, if he has done work in any of the schools in his own constituency, then I will leave politics. No school got renovated here. He is zero percent popular in this area,” claimed Yadav, also an OBC face. New Delhi has a sizeable number of Dalits who live in its many JJ colonies.
Calling Kejriwal a social media man rather than a grassroots person, Congress’ Sabharwal said Kejriwal was a liar who had stabbed people of his constituency in the back. “Electricity in NDMC area was not privatised and the rates were already less than MCD areas. Because he wanted to give subsidy, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission took it under its jurisdiction and rates were increased. Now, our bills here are higher than in Shiela ji’s regime. Even in the dhobi ghat in the area, he is giving water and electricity at commercial rates. The people will teach him a lesson,” he said.
Asserting that there was an anti-AAP wave in Delhi, BJP’s Yadav said the saffron party would win 60 seats on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decisions like regularising unauthorised colonies and “jahan jhuggi wahan makaan” scheme. “Kejriwal’s five years have taken Delhi backward. We want to improve the air and water quality besides public transport,” he said.
On the other hand, Congress’ Sabharwal promised home loans at zero per cent interest for government servants besides NDMC elections like other MCDs in Delhi. Will either of the two lightweight candidates emerge as a giant slayer only time will tell.
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