Nothing Aam about city polls

Nothing Aam about city polls

The December 4 Assembly election in Delhi promises to be ‘different' than the past few ones. Voters will have the right to reject candidates. Political parties have made a bigger fuss this time than ever before about their ‘internal polls’. And then there is untested Aam Aadmi Party which threatens to upset the big two's electoral calculations.

Right to reject

The elections for 70 new legislators in Delhi will be the first in which city voters have been given an option to press the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) button on electronic voting machines (EVMs).

The button, at the bottom of the list of candidates, will give 1.16 crore voters the right to reject all of them.

Till now, the option was not available on ballot papers and EVMs. So if you wanted to exercise the option, you compromised on secrecy. 

“The new rule gives complete secrecy to people who wish to use the NOTA button. I am sure this will make a difference in voting percentage,” says actor Soha Ali Khan, ambassador for Delhi elections.

The Election Commission of India decided to provide the NOTA option, starting with the November-December Assembly polls in five states, following the Supreme Court’s September 27 direction.

“Till now those who wanted to exercise this option were forced to reveal their identity as they had to fill a form for it. But now with the option available on the EVM, the principle of secret ballot will be available even for such voters,” says Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev.

But there are mixed feelings on the issue.“If I opt for NOTA, my vote will go in absolute vain if any of the candidate is selected,” says Pratham Rajan, an IT
professional.

“In any case, they will hold another election and someone from the same two-three parties will contest. So I would prefer to choose the best among the worst.”
Others think that the Election Commission should in fact give a ‘none of these political parties’ option to make sure the parties do not field their candidates in a re-election from the constituency concerned.

“After all, the parties will again field another candidate who may not necessarily be of clean image, and not to my liking. But under the given conditions, I would be choosing a candidate only if he or she is truly to my liking,” says Prasanna Tiwari, a banker.

“Otherwise, I will reject all of them, even if it may not have a bearing on the election result,” he adds.

AAP: An untested force

The Aam Aadmi Party’s maiden electoral foray promises to change the political landscape of a city that has predominantly seen two-way contests between Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.

The third and the youngest political party, led by transparency activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal, 45, carries the advantage of being an outfit without a track record.

“AAP leaders have never held public posts or performed in government, so there is not much fault that we can find with their working,” says a Congress leader, who did not want to be named.

They have an open field before them, and can train their guns on Congress and BJP performance almost at will, he says.

Although Congress and BJP claim that it is impossible for Kejriwal’s party to win a majority in the elections, they admit that AAP is a factor that will influence the final outcome on December 8.

“A section of Congress’ traditional vote bank in the slums and BJP’s middle class electorate base are within AAP’s strike range. How much vote share both these parties lose to AAP will determine the face of the new 70-member Assembly,” says a BJP leader.

Kejriwal, a Magsaysay Award winner, claims, “These elections are being fought on the issue of the parties’ conscience and commitment to rid politics of corruption.”
“Both Congress and BJP are power hungry, but we are committed to improving the lives of people by tackling corruption,” says Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and a former Indian Revenue Service officer.

He has set up a high-voltage clash by challenging Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit of the ruling Congress in her New Delhi constituency.

The party, which has within its ranks seasoned psephologist Yogendra Yadav, has conducted several opinion polls and claimed a surge in its vote share.

AAP claims that the biggest civic issue that people want it to address on coming to power is improvement in the water supply situation.

“We will also bring down electricity rates by 30 per cent,” says AAP leader Manish Sisodia.

Surveys galore

There has been a near flood of opinion polls and surveys conducted by the parties, and the results being shared with the
public.

BJP and AAP have been very prompt in conducting surveys and sharing the findings, which indicate gains for them. The ruling Congress has, however, been reticent.
Both BJP and AAP claim to be inching towards a 40-plus seats mark.

Political observers say that the purpose behind making public their surveys was to influence floating votes or fence sitters, who tend to go with the party that they expect to be heading for victory.

Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev says opinion polls and survey can be conducted till the end of campaigning on December 2.

“Nothing is allowed beyond that period,” he says.

‘Biased’ polls

Delhi food and supplies minister Haroon Yusuf has junked the findings of the rival parties. “How does one believe in the findings of the surveys?” he says, hinting at bias in the findings.

“They have made a mockery of the purpose of conducting a survey,” he says. “I sympathise with poor voters who will be left confused after such bombardment of data and figures.”

Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president J P Agarwal too questioned their authenticity. In an  indirect reference to BJP and AAP, Agarwal says, “They are conducting their own surveys and claiming to win. How can two separate surveys claim that two separate parties are heading for a majority?”

Congress too has conducted its internal surveys, but is not keen to share the findings. A source in the party says that till September the party was considering 25 seats as safe — ones it was confident of retaining — but after the BJP’s muddle over its chief ministerial candidate, Congress has now found that it could ‘easily’ cross the halfway mark.

Delhi Congress spokesperson Jitender Kochar explains the Congress reticence on surveys: “The real survey will be done by people (through voting). We believe people’s survey is supreme.”

BJP has made public its findings of two surveys — one conducted in September and another in October. Party sources claim there was increase of five per cent vote swing in its favour between September and October, ostensibly due to the rally in Delhi by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

“The survey in September was conducted before Modi’s rally and the October survey was done after it. The latter showed a five per cent swing in the party’s favour,” says BJP national general secretary Arti Mehra. On why BJP was bringing survey findings in the public domain, a party leader who does not want to be named, says, “There is so much competition on the survey front. Rival parties are doing it so frequently, so we too are forced to keep people informed about our own surveys.”
AAP has been the most prolific. The party has held three opinion polls and has promised another before December 4.

BJP leader Yogendra Yadav, a psephologist, claims that AAP’s surveys are authentic, and dares anyone to challenge the finding.

Some voters, however, say they cause. “We do not know who is saying the truth,” says businessman Birender Wadhera, a resident of Greater Kailash.

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