Elections: Delhi wants more

Published: February 6, 2015 - 17:48 Updated: June 16, 2015 - 15:17

“When Kejriwal was the Chief Minister, the police stopped harassing and extorting money from us. We had to pay less for water and electricity. Why should we vote for any other party?”

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi 

“Kiran bedi will end up like TN Seshan. Remember how he built a strongman image during his stint as the Chief Election Commissioner and how his fortunes plummetted as soon as he entered politics?” says Ramesh Kumar, an autorickshaw driver from Janakpuri in West Delhi. “Being an upright bureaucrat is one thing, doing politics is totally different,” he explains. “I have been a supporter of the BJP but it is Arvind Kejriwal and AAP who are more popular.”

Mohan, who lives in a jhuggi behind the government quarters in Andrews Ganj in South Delhi, says, “Even in my slum, a large number of people want to vote for AAP again. When Arvind Kejriwal was the Chief Minister, the police stopped harassing and extorting money from hawkers and rickshawpullers. Moreover, we had to pay less for water and electricity. Why should we vote for any other party?”

After Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s discussions with Bedi culminated in her projection as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, many perceived it as a coup by the party. After all, Bedi and Kejriwal had been comrades during the anti-corruption agitation led by Anna Hazare. The BJP, which was facing plummetting fortunes as the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi nosedived once he started the difficult business of governance, believed that a face like Bedi, with her reputed background as an upright police officer, could give tough competition to Kejriwal and turn it into a Kejriwal versus Bedi contest instead of projecting it as a Modi versus Kejriwal election. The leadership went ahead with Bedi’s candidature despite stout opposition from the state unit which was unhappy at an outsider being forced on it.

The move, however, seems to be backfiring. It first became apparent when Bedi was fielded from the relatively safer Krishna Nagar constituency and a newcomer, Nupur Sharma, was put up against Kejriwal in the New Delhi constituency. It also manifests in the way Modi and the BJP have been crudely targetting AAP and Kejriwal. The advertorials in national newspapers are just one example.   

“All we need is Bedi talking to the media and the BJP giving out those advertisements. We need not even campaign,” chuckles Yogendra Yadav, senior leader and spokesperson of AAP, referring to her interviews to several television channels where it appeared that she didn’t have a clue to what politics is all about.

“Kiran Bedi was never an important part of AAP as is being said,” another senior AAP leader told Hardnews. “Even during her days with us, it seemed that she was always speaking on behalf of the BJP. She would always say that, to take on a bigger thief, we must work with the smaller thief (read BJP).” Bedi and Kejriwal fell out after she refused to protest outside then BJP President Nitin Gadkari’s house when Kejriwal gave a call to gherao the residences of top political leaders, including former PM Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

“Even on an earlier occasion, when all of us wanted to protest and campaign against all the parties in UP right before the Assembly elections in 2012, Bedi put her foot down and said that we must target only the Congress,” another AAP insider told Hardnews.

“She was the one talking to Jaitley on our behalf when the Lokpal Bill was stalled in Parliament after the BJP moved several amendments. She and Sri Sri Ravishankar were the ones talking on our behalf,” the insider added. At that point, even Kejriwal did not really have a problem working with the BJP. In fact, as Hardnews had documented, the RSS played a key role in the anti-corruption agitation.   

Meanwhile, AAP held a survey in eight random constituencies to gauge the political temperature and Bedi’s popularity soon after her candidature was announced. “We found that it hasn’t made any dent in our support,” an AAP leader says.

AAP did face some flak after reports emerged about how it had been unable to act on complaints by its leader and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, who had a problem with 12 candidates. After the matter was referred to the Lokpal, two of the candidates were replaced. When a complaint about Amanatullah, candidate from the Okhla Assembly constituency who is allegedly mixed up with the builder mafia in the area, was taken up with Kejriwal, he is learnt to have replied that Amanatullah had nuisance value. Another leader called him a Robin Hood figure. The party was also left red-faced when another senior leader, Shanti Bhushan, gave out a statement in favour of Bedi. “He has been expressing reservations with the way the party is going about doing things for a very long time now. But he needs to understand that things can’t change overnight,” an AAP
leader explained.   

“We are sweeping the polls,” Yadav says. The only problem the party seems to be facing is the middle classes, who moved away from AAP towards the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. This also happened because, during the last Assembly elections, which were fought against the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government, the message from a section of the AAP cadre suggested that people should vote for Kejriwal in Delhi while supporting Modi for the Lok Sabha. At that point, even BJP insiders admit, many from the party worked in favour of Kejriwal to ensure Dikshit’s loss in New Delhi constituency.

AAP’s political fortunes seemed to fall dramatically in the national capital when it was swept away by the Modi wave in the Lok Sabha elections and couldn’t manage even one seat. However, it consolidated its presence among the lower strata, the working class, slumdwellers, daily wagers et al and the percentage of votes also increased by four after it made a dent in the Congress’ traditional vote-bank. “The middle class in Delhi is anyway an euphemism for the upper middle class. They account for just a quarter of the population and a section of them is coming back to us,” Yadav told Hardnews, suggesting that this section doesn’t factor as a top priority.

“We are trying to reconnect with this section. Look at our idea of hosting fundraisers. This is not just to get funds but also to connect with this section of people. They feel good when they are invited to meet Kejriwal, talk and eat with him and then give money,” Neeraj, an office-bearer, commented as he made arrangements for one such event where 150 businessmen converged at the Constitution Club an hour
after the AAP released its manifesto to donate a minimum of `20,000 to the party fund. “Every candidate was
told to organise these fundraisers with the help of the party leadership,” he added.

“If you look at the effort AAP has put in, the way they are going around campaigning, it doesn’t seem that they will lose,” a New Delhi police officer says, pointing out that the requests for permission to hold door-to-door campaigning by AAP was many times more than any other party. On that given day, AAP had some 15 such requests while the Congress had put up just one.

This story is from print issue of HardNews