Monday, November 11, 2013

Despite AAP’s tall talk, Kejriwal on a slippery slope against Sheila

In his promotional campaigns, Arvind Kejriwal says that by 15 December, his Aam Admi Party would have catapulted to power in Delhi and by 29 December he will have a special session of the Assembly convened at Ramlila Maidan and will pass Anna Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill. Behind the unusual buoyancy is perhaps another advertisement, which states that Yogendra Yadav has predicted that his party will win 47 seats, a landslide victory with a three-fourth majority. By that implication, Delhiites will now queue up at polling stations on 4 December to simply fulfill a formality and then await the inevitable. This is tall talk. Arvind Kejriwal. AP If it were true, the easiest of all 70 Assembly seats should be the one Arvind Kejriwal, his party's obvious chief ministerial candidate, is contesting for his own election to Delhi Vidhan Sabha — from Gole Market constituency, now known as New Delhi. He has by choice pitted himself against Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. The BJP has entered the fray by nominating Vijendra Gupta, a weighty former Delhi unit party chief who steadily rose in the party ranks after first getting elected to the Delhi University Students Union. The contest in Gole Market should thus be the most interesting to understand the prospects of the AAP, unless Kejriwal springs a surprise and files his nomination from some other constituency or from more than one constituency. While various opinion polls offer somewhat contradictory pictures, ranging from Kejriwal's own prediction of 47 seats to 18 seats for the AAP as predicted by the latest C-Voter survey and a whopping 19-25 seats in the CNN-IBN/CSDS count to a low of 8 seats by the India Today-ORG opinion polls, no one has, however, reflected on the personal fate of Kejriwal and other prominent AAP leaders. While Sheila Dikshit may not be in a position to form a government for a historic fourth term, she almost certainly is winning her seat from Gole Market constituency. This means that both Vijendra Gupta and Arvind Kejirwal face real prospects of losing from there. Vijendra's entry has made the battle highly interesting. Vijendra too has a strong reputation of taking on Sheila's government, both as former party president and as former Standing Committee Chairman of the Delhi Municipal Corporation (MCD). It was by a smart strategy that the BJP made a surprise announcement last week to make him a candidate from Gole Market after a meeting. The decision to this effect was taken after some brainstorming by four top BJP leaders, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari. In the last Assembly elections, BJP candidate Vijay Jolly had lost from here but had not fared too badly. The BJP hopes Vijendra does better. The idea was two-fold, to not allow a cakewalk to Sheila and also, more than the first, to make things difficult for Kejriwal. Should Kejriwal slip to third position in his own seat, the BJP would then jump in to puncture his hype in the subsequent Parliamentary elections. The AAP chief faces tough prospects and is on a real slippery wicket in a constituency that is heavily dominated by the government servants of all categories and classes. There is also a substantive presence of Balmiki community voters here. Congress and Sheila supporters are sure of her victory. The BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, whose first rally in Delhi was a huge success, has so far agreed to spare one more day for campaigning in Delhi but Delhi unit leaders believe that they will make him agree to give more time for Delhi so that he could influence some additional votes in the last leg of campaigning. While the NCT of Delhi does not have full statehood and has only 70 seats, it gets disproportionate political attention for several reasons – a government in the national capital has too much symbolic value attached to it; the elections here are being held along with those in three other states namely Chhattisgarh, Madhjya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the Congress is pitted head to head against the BJP, and then these are the last Assembly polls before Parliamentary polls so the score would matter to build a public perception. And besides, Delhi has a mixed population, which many believe would reflect that national mood. The Congress and BJP have their own reasons to take Delhi seriously but for AAP the Delhi results mean much more than that. To stay in the reckoning for expanding itself nationally in the coming Parliamentary elections and beyond, Delhi is critical. Ironically, Kejriwal's singular anti-corruption agenda could prove to be his undoing here. An official who lives in Gole Market area but does not want to identified said, "Why should government employees vote for him when he has painted them with a black brush? If he is going to target government employees in the name of anti-corruption measures, it is better that he does not find his name in the winners' list on Dec 8, when results are announced." The other supposed strength of the AAP – excessive dependence on Arvind Kejriwal's name — has slowly started to hurt the party's prospects. The party in its wisdom had announced its candidates well in advance, to give more time to their candidates to run their campaign but since most candidates have not been known political workers they still don't have much of retention value in their constituency. AAP's volunteers are reaching out but how far individual candidates are registering is still not clear. The BJP and the Congress have now announced their candidates. It's a known fact that apart from top leader's name and weight, it is individual candidate's merits and accessibility in the respective constituencies that matter more in Assembly elections. AAP has a slight handicap there. The BJP's belated move of announcing Dr Harshvardhan's name as chief ministerial candidate too has robbed some of AAP's sheen. More so, Vijay Goel's quiet acceptance of the party leadership's decision, even if that is meant for public posturing, has made the AAP script far more complicated than it appeared to be about a fortnight or a month ago. It should be to the credit of the AAP that its upward swing vis-a-vis Vijay Goel forced the BJP to name Dr Harshvadhan, a practising doctor with a clean image, as their chief ministerial candidate. But by doing so the BJP may have somewhat succeeded in halting AAP's onward climb. AAP has no doubt has gained good traction among a section of the electorate and as a newcomer on the scene it does not have any negative baggage attached to it, but whether that will translate into actual votes is a big question. There are various instances when those talking nice things about the AAP are not sure of the party's victory in their own constituency but think it could win in other constituencies. That may not prove to be very healthy for the party on the polling day.

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