The third corner in the three-way fight for Delhi in the upcoming Assembly election, the Congress, has seemingly gone cold in the weeks leading up to the polls on 8 February even as the party's main rivals — the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a determined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — have only amplified their messages.
While political circles have been gearing up for a fierce fight to attain control of the National Capital, the Congress' top leadership has been conspicuously missing from the campaign trail, which is likely to translate into votes in the AAP's kitty. Meanwhile, the BJP, with Union Ministers like Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has introduced a battery of top leaders into the field.
Where is the Congress?
The candidates of the Grand Old Party, which ruled Delhi with Sheila Dikshit at the helm for fifteen years, are facing fierce campaigning from rival candidates. Many are perplexed over why big leaders have not started campaigning for party candidates yet, PTI quoted a Congress candidate from south Delhi as saying, without referring directly to the Gandhis.
While prominent Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are reportedly scheduled to hold road shows and rallies starting today, analysts are speculating whether the party has given a "walk over" to the AAP, which is being perceived as the major competitor to the BJP in Delhi.
A report by The Indian Express said a tussle between the Delhi Congress president Subhash Chopra and the campaign committee head Kirti Azad is also affecting the party's campaign.
However, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari was quoted by the report as saying that the conclusion that the party has virtually bowed out of the race to give the AAP more scope to defeat the BJP is "is an erroneous assessment of the situation".
"From 1 to 6 February, the Congress party, from its highest echelons to its last worker in the last mohalla, will be all out in the streets promising the people of Delhi better governance, a better life if given a chance to serve again," he said.
Ostensibly, leaders like Azad and All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Delhi PC Chacko, are attempting to assure voters about the top brass' commitment to campaign for the Union Territory. PTI quoted Azad said the Congress's election schedule is ready and senior party leaders will hold roadshows and meetings in the coming days in all the constituencies, across Delhi.
Chacko also said the party's campaign has been going on in a systematic way through candidate-centric canvassing. He said its star campaigners have been saved for the last lap of campaigning. "Right now, our candidates and workers are going door-to-door in the constituencies. We are also forming committees, deputing workers and assigning them works at booth level," Chacko was quoted as saying by PTI.
Accusing the BJP of "overdoing it" Chacko said, "We are on time. In fact, the BJP is desperate and overdoing it while (Delhi chief minister Arvind) Kejriwal is a marketing guru. He is just marketing lies," according to India Today.
"There has been no delay. Our senior leaders like Raj Babbar are campaigning. The BJP has deployed all its senior leaders because they are scared and frustrated," a Congress leader was quoted as saying by PTI.
According to reports, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to hold two rallies in the National Capital while Rahul and Priyanka are likely to be part of roadshows in multiple constituencies.
India Today also reported that the Congress struggled with the lack of candidates in the nomination period, with senior Delhi Congress leaders, including Ajay Maken, refusing to contest and instead endorsing their family members. "Many viewed that the party was facing a certain loss and they feared too much of risk for their reputation," the report said.
Once a dominant player in Delhi politics, the Congress under the chief ministership of Sheila Dikshit ruled the national capital from 1998 to 2013. It has been on a downward slope since it was dislodged from power.
In 2013, the party bagged 24 percent of the total votes and in 2014 Lok Sabha polls held six months later, it slipped to 15 percent. But it fell drastically to 9.7 in 2015 — a chunk of it went to the AAP with whom it shares a similar voter base. In the 2017 MCD polls, the Congress improved its vote share to nearly 21 percent. In 2019, it dislodged the AAP to the third position, bagging 22 percent of the votes.
Will the AAP benefit?
With the incumbent ruling party in the National Capital being perceived as the most promising opponent for the BJP, the AAP is likely to receive a majority of votes from the Congress' traditional vote base.
Even though a Hindustan Times report says that Congress is reportedly likely to put up a tough fight in seats like Gandhi Nagar, Badli, Seelampur, Mustafabad, and Ballimaran on the back of the argument that the Muslim community is "disillusioned" with the AAP's silence on the more than month long Shaheen Bagh protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the lack of a campaign from the Congress and a strategically "positive" campaign by the AAP is likely to tip the scales in favour of the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.
'Let's go positive' has been the cruz of the AAP's strategy to take on BJP and Congress in the Assembly election. The message has been conveyed loud and clear to all party MLAs, leaders and volunteers with a special emphasis on the work done by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government in the last five years, with a roadmap for the next five years, this Firspost report said.
Not resorting to any negative narrative to attack its political opponents, the AAP has chalked out a blueprint that encompasses direct dialogue with its voters through multiple tools, on multiple platforms and communicate Delhi government's achievements and share its future vision, as per the report.
"We're communicating positive aspects of Delhi government and the work done for the citizens on multiple platforms. We're talking about good governance and how it has impacted lives of millions in Delhi. The government provides free water and subsidised electricity, and through this people save money which they utilise in improving their living standard and meet their aspirations, however small it may be," Pankaj Gupta, national secretary of AAP told Firstpost in the 4 January report.
AAP has decided to give a twist to its campaigning style by not resorting to traditional public addresses. Instead it plans to go to the public and ask them about achievements and problems in respective localities by organising jan samvad (public dialogue) and mohalla sabhas. Ahead of the upcoming elections, the party has gone for large-scale recruitment of new volunteers and has trained them on contact programme, door-to-door campaigning, booth-level mobilisation of voters, among others.
Free water, subsidised electricity, education (remodelled Delhi government schools) and Mohalla clinics are likely to be the four major thrust areas (or public utility services) that AAP would like to play up in its poll campaigns and on social media.
The AAP has scored a strategic victory by steering the election debate into governance. It has deliberately stayed clear of contentious national issues, which leaves the main Opposition BJP with no strong talking point against the party, another Firstpost report noted.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2020 15:43:51 IST