Delhi civic polls crucial for AAP, Congress and BJP

Next Sunday (April 23), Delhiites will once again queue-up in front of polling booths. This time, they will be choosing 272 councillors for three civic bodies — East, South and North Delhi Municipal Corporations.

All the three principal political players in the capital — the AAP, the BJP and the Congress — are sharpening their knives for a fight-to-finish and cement their place of prominence. The civic election also comes at a crucial time in national politics when the BJP is on an ascendance while opposition parties appear to be in disarray.

If the BJP is sensing victory in all the three corporations riding on its resounding bypoll win in Rajouri Garden last week, the Congress and the AAP are not willing to concede it that easily. Will it be a “sweep” for the BJP, which has been ruling the three councils, or a “comeback” for the earlier rulers Congress or a “rout” for the AAP which wants to make a mark in the councils. Will the results be a boost to the non-BJP parties and uplift their morale to take on the Narendra Modi-led regime? Only the counting of votes on April 26 will reveal what is in Delhiites’ minds.

For Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP, it will be an opportunity to prove that the electoral victory in the past two Assembly elections were not a one-off incident while for the BJP and the Congress, which once ruled the capital, the question is of resurgence. The BJP had won just three seats out of 70 in the 2015 Assembly polls while the Congress lost all it contested. It lost the bypoll earlier this month.

The AAP believes that it will win the three municipal bodies on Kejriwal government’s performance and anti-incumbency against the BJP, which is currently ruling the three corporations. But the Rajouri Garden result where its candidate was relegated to third position and forfeiting deposit has come as wake-up call for the party. The result, even some in the AAP believe, is possibly a holding of mirror to the party’s confrontationist politics.

But AAP leaders say the going had never been easy for them with the Modi-led Centre and the BJP always putting spanner in its efforts to develop Delhi. It accuses the BJP of playing dirty politics as one of the MLAs resigning and joining the saffron party.

The party, which rode to power on anti-corruption plank, faces allegation of nepotism and graft with recently publicised Shunglu Committee finding irregularities in decisions taken by it.

Its leaders and MLAs are facing a host of cases investigated by the CBI while it is on a collision course with the Lieutenant Governor, whom they accuse of obstructing its work. Reports also suggest there is widespread discontentment among MLAs on the functioning of Kejriwal and the AAP.

Though it is battling the negative image, the AAP has not left the battle ground. It is putting up a brave face despite the Rajouri Garden drubbing. Its political think tanks are working overnight to woo voters. Whether its promise of abolition of property tax hit a chord with voters would be known only after the counting, but it did have an effect on the BJP which promised in its manifesto that there would be no tax proposals for the next five years.

Boost from UP?

If Kejriwal drives the AAP bandwagon, the BJP is trying to leverage on the recent Assembly results, particularly the Uttar Pradesh win. The bypoll victory is a morale booster for the party, which is facing anti-incumbency in three corporations. The saffron party is experimenting with new faces. BJP chief Amit Shah has not left the election management to local leaders and his decision not to give tickets to sitting councillors did touch a raw nerve but the party has managed to nip any rebellion in the bud.

The saffron party is also fielding top leaders in the campaign. For the BJP, it is not distinguishing civic polls with Assembly or Lok Sabha elections. All elections are fought to win. The recent victories in Mumbai and Odisha civic polls have enthused the cadre and a win now, they believe, would be a stepping stone to the next Assembly elections. They also have to be battle ready as the Election Commission is yet to decide on the petition to disqualify 21 AAP MLAs on office of profit charges.

The biggest challenge is for the Congress, as a victory or at least an impressive show is needed for it to regain its confidence in the capital and sent a positive signal to its workers that all has not been lost after the electoral setback in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress is batting on a difficult pitch but hopes are high this time after they smell a return to the Delhi mainstream. They have won five of the 10 wards in bypolls last year while the AAP could win three and the BJP two.

The Congress did dramatically improve its vote share in Rajouri Garden though it lost to the BJP. The silver lining for the Congress was that it managed to get the better of the AAP. It has fielded its central leaders from P Chidambaram to Jairam Ramesh to campaign and prepare a vision document for the city that addresses chronic civic issues.

However, Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken’s style of functioning has become a bone of contention among senior leaders in the capital like former Minister A K Walia who came out in the open against him for ignoring his choices.

Whatever be the political outcome and its consequences, Delhiites would expect better civic amenities from the victorious team. Sanitation is one big issue that is yet to be seeing a resolution. Big talks are there but nothing happens.

The BJP has been ruling the civic body for past two terms while the Congress and the AAP have been at the helm of state government during this period. Routinely, they pass the buck. What Delhiites need is not shifting responsibility but a responsive civic body that deals with their basic needs.

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