NEW DELHI: All the three main political parties — the AAP, the BJP and the Congress — will be vying for the seven Parliamentary seats in Delhi, albeit with their own agendas. This as 1.43 crore voters prepare to cast their ballots on Sunday.
For the BJP, it is a matter of prestige. In 2014, the Modi wave had handed it all seven seats. The saffron party is expecting to repeat the performance given the continuing popularity of the Prime Minister.
For the AAP, it is a question of survival. Since the 2015 Delhi assembly elections when the Arvind Kejriwal-led party wrested 67 seats out of the total 70 seats with over 54% vote share, the party has seen a steep reversal of fortunes. In the 2017 municipal elections, it finished second to the BJP with 26% of the vote. Any further slip-up would mean a relegation to the margins.
With nothing to lose, the Congress is fighting to regain lost ground. It had lost all the seven seats in 2014. The challenge will be winning over its traditional votes—Muslims and residents of unauthorized colonies— that almost entirely shifted to the AAP.
To beat anti-incumbency, the BJP has dropped two MPs — Dalit leader Udit Raj (Northwest Delhi) and Maheish Girri (East Delhi) and replaced them with celebrity candidates in Punjabi Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans and former India cricketer Gautam Gambhir.
Hans faces Congress’ Rajesh Lilothia and Guggan Singh of the AAP. Singh was a BJP MLA and joined the AAP in 2017. Lilothia, a Delhi Congress working president, was elected as MLA from Rajinder Nagar. While Hans contested unsuccessfully on an Akali ticket in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, this is the first general election for Singh and Lilothia.
In East Delhi, the Congress has fielded former Delhi Congress president Arvinder Singh Lovely. Atishi is AAP’s star candidate from the seat.
Despite initial uncertainty, Meenakshi Lekhi was renominated from the prestigious New Delhi parliamentary constituency against former union minister Ajay Maken of the Congress. The AAP has fielded Brijesh Goel. Maken had won the seat in 2004 and 2009.
Northeast Delhi will see an interesting contest as the BJP has again nominated Bhojpuri actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari against DPCC chief and three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit. The AAP’s candidate is its former Delhi convener and Poorvanchali leader Dilip Pandey.
The AAP was first off the blocks in declaring as many as four candidates — Atishi, Dilip Pandey, Raghav Chadha and Pankaj Gupta — in March. On the other hand, the Congress and the BJP waited until the last minute. The candidature of Hans was announced just a few hours before the deadline for filing nominations on the last day.
Ramesh Bidhuri is the BJP candidate in South Delhi, where he is fighting against ace boxer Vijender Singh of the Congress and Raghav Chadha of the AAP. In West Delhi, the BJP and the Congress have renominated Parvesh Verma and Mahabal Mishra. Verma had defeated Mishra in 2014. Balbir Singh Jhakar, a lawyer by profession, is the AAP’s nominee.
From Chandni Chowk, the BJP’s Harsh Vardhan is taking on Congress veteran Jai Prakash Agarwal, who had won the seat in 1984, 1996, and 1999. He was shifted to the Northeast Delhi seat when his party fielded Kapil Sibal from Chandni Chowk in 2004. Vardhan beat Sibal in 2014. Pankaj Gupta is the AAP candidate.
The almost three-week-long electioneering saw bigwigs of all political parties extensively campaign for their candidates. BJP president Amit Shah held two rallies in Vasant Kunj and Rohini. PM Modi addressed a large gathering at Ramlila Maidan. Several union ministers and BJP chief ministers also pitched in to seek votes for the party candidates.
Not to be left behind, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, former MP Azharuddin, actor Urmila Matondkar and several others held public rallies and roadshows in the city. On Friday, the last day of campaigning, BSP supremo Mayawati attended a public meeting in East Delhi.