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Pehle AAP? Delhi poll says AAP is eating into both Cong, BJP votes

Pehle AAP? Well, not quite.

A CNN-IBN survey conducted by Delhi-based research organisation CSDS and Lokniti predicts a tight three-way race between the Congress, BJP and Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. They are pretty much tied neck and neck with BJP at 29 percent, AAP at 28 percent and Congress at 27 percent.

Of course, overall citywide voting preferences do not mean the eventual seat breakdown will follow the same proportions. Whether AAP can become king instead of kingmaker remains to be seen.

But the poll does bust some common myths about the Delhi electoral map.

If Arvind Kejirwal’s campaigning helped ratchet up the anti-incumbency fever, it stands to reason he should be its biggest beneficiary. AFP

If Arvind Kejirwal’s campaigning helped ratchet up the anti-incumbency fever, it stands to reason he should be its biggest beneficiary. AFP

Aam Aadmi is just a spoiler for the BJP: Ever since the Aam Aadmi party came on the scene it’s been dismissed as a B-team of the Congress, part of a nefarious backroom deal to split the BJP vote and allow Sheila Dikshit to romp home. “I think (AAP members) are not just misguided but perhaps funded by the Congress to split the middle-class votes,” alleges Atanu Dey on the blog deesha.org. Even a disgruntled former AAP member Surendra Sharma complained about conspiracy to the media “AAP ka deal lagta hai Congress ke saath, ek do seat se matlab hai aur kuch nahi (I feel, they have a deal with Congress to cut BJP’s votes, they are only concerned about a few seats),” he said. Sharma had been asked to withdraw his candidature because AAP sources claimed he had not revealed that FIRs had been filed against him.

This poll shows the Congress can wipe the smirk off its face. AAP is eating into the Congress vote with as much gusto than it is eating into the BJP vote. BJP is losing 30 percent of its vote to AAP while the Congress is losing 29%. According to the poll the BJP’s vote share has dropped by 7% since 2008 while the Congress’ share has plummeted by 13%.

What is sticking in the BJP's craw is something else. In 2008 the level of dissatisfaction with the Delhi government was at 28%. Now it is at 53%. And the BJP cannot take full advantage of that anti-incumbency fervor because of AAP. But that is the BJP’s failure, not AAP’s problem.

In fact, what the poll cannot measure is whether the anti-incumbency feeling would have been as strong as it is if AAP had not been on the scene. If Arvind Kejirwal’s relentless campaigning and complaining helped ratchet up the anti-incumbency fever, it stands to reason he should be its biggest beneficiary. Had he not been there, a divided-house BJP might have still allowed a Sheila Dikshit to win out of sheer voter inertia.

Sheila Dikshit is the magic bullet. The Congress might be in the doldrums but Sheila Dikshit has always been its trump card. “Mrs Sheila Dikshit is far more difficult to defeat than her party, Congress, because she is still the person every Delhiwallah would be happy to welcome home as a guest, and then brag about it,” writes MJ Akbar in The Times of India. “You don’t want a chap coming over for dinner with a broom in his pocket, do you?”

But Sheila Dikshit’s Teflon coating is getting quite dented according to the poll. If 66% of respondents were satisfied with her performance in 2008, that is down to 47% now. What should be even more sobering for her is that Congress MLAs’ job ratings are not too bad. Their satisfaction numbers are at about 63%. It’s Dikshit’s government that is getting a thumbs down from 53% of the respondents. Only 29% believe the current state government should be given another shot at office, down from 60% five years ago. Dikshit’s own popularity (16%) is at its lowest since she became the Chief Minister. People are slightly more dissatisfied with her as CM than they are with Manmohan Singh as the PM. She gets kudos for the Delhi Metro but not the votes of the majority of Metro riders.

Her only consolation is that even AAP voters think she has been Delhi’s best chief minister to date. But that’s about history. That is cold comfort for the formidable Sheila Dikhsit as she heads into the polls this December.

Women’s safety is on the top of people’s minds. The media uproar after last December’s gang-rape and Sheila Dikshit’s initial flat-footed unempathetic response raised women’s safety to what DNA described as the “talking point in the national capital”. When Dikshit went on Zee Media’s Nishane Pe show, Dikshit was grilled about women’s safety and law and order. Dikshit admitted “I used to travel in my car alone during my college days, but not I fear doing so" but touted steps her government was taking even though the police were not under her control.

The poll shows that 59% of women in Delhi still do not feel safe. But when it comes to voting it’s the bread-and-butter issues that drive people. Price rise or mehengai was the hands down winner as the most important. 39% listed price rise as their most important issue. Crimes against women was way down the list at 3%. Even corruption, the other headline-stealer since Anna Hazare went on his fast, was a distant second at 14%.

It proves that while the news cycle drives the conversation in the media which is always on the lookout for the new hot button issue du jour, in the end the voter is most concerned with putting food on the table. And Dikshit claiming she has not had onions with her bhindis for weeks is not going to score her any points for feeling the pain especially because rightly or wrongly 56% of the respondents feels that the state alone or in collusion with the Centre is to blame for inflation.

As Delhi heads into one of its most nail-biting elections, AAP is trying to change its image from spoiler to contender. In that respect the biggest takeaway for them from this poll is that 40% of BJP voters think AAP is a strong contender rather than spoiler as do 34% of Congress voters. That’s a mind shift worth noting. It means that AAP is not just a “no vote” — a sort of pox on both the Congress and BJP. It is graduating to a “yes vote” in its own right.