MCD polls: BJP-AAP direct battle on cards as Congress nowhere in picture

The Aam Admi Party, which rules Delhi, is looking to wrest power from the BJP in the local body elections, for the first time while the the Congress is conspicuously missing in the battle, reports Radhika Ramaseshan

With a three-member commission, set up by the Union home ministry for a fresh delimitation of Delhi’s municipal wards, on the verge of completing its assignment, the stage is set for conducting the elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi by the end of the year.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is working on a December 2022-January 2023 timeline and has directed its former councillors to prepare accordingly.

The BJP’s stakes are high because it has swept the civic polls three times consecutively and is looking to retain control one more time.

The Aam Admi Party, which rules Delhi, is looking to wrest power from the BJP in the local body elections, for the first time.

These elections, which were scheduled to be held in April this year, according to the calendar, were put off indefinitely after the three civic bodies of North, South, and East Delhi were merged into a single entity by an act of Parliament in April 2022 — 10 years after their trifurcation.

The Centre intended to reduce the number of councillor seats from 272 to 250, apart from resolving the issues of fund distribution and rationalisation.

The delimitation panel, chaired by Vijay Dev, Delhi state election commissioner, was tasked with redrawing the boundaries of 22 constituencies before notifying the polls.

The panel worked to a deadline of November 8 and set October 3 as the target date for accepting objections. It proposed to hold public hearings on October 8 and 9.

After incorporating suggestions from people, the commission will send a draft to the Centre. Once the Centre endorses the report, it will be sent to the state election commission, which will decide on polling dates.

“We are looking at a December-early January schedule,” said OP Sharma, the BJP’s Vishwas Nagar legislator.

According to Harish Khurana, Delhi BJP spokesperson, re-energising the organisation holds the key to success in a micro-level election.

“Our organisational structures are in place; we have full-time workers to give us feedback on issues and the state of the organisation. Being a small election, the organisation is a big factor. Of course, the candidate’s image is also important because there are personal votes of 5 to 6 per cent. Last time (in 2017), too, there was talk of anti-incumbency against us. But we won because of our organisation.”

After the alteration of the boundaries, the BJP assessed the wards afresh to see what changes in strategy were needed. It identified “25 weak” booths, using three parameters: Demography, the wards narrowly lost last time, and changes, if any, in places with a migrant-heavy population.

“Delimitation has increased the number of Muslim-heavy wards which may not favour us. We have to work hard on these,” a BJP source said.

As for migrants, MLA Sharma — whose constituency is in East Delhi with a large working-class population from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh’s Purvanchal, and Uttarakhand — said: “The landless migrants have got houses with toilets and electricity in their villages. I found that those from Madhya Pradesh, who were markedly pro-Congress, vote for us now. Here, they get rations from the Centre under the Food Security Act. So it’s a double advantage.”

At the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020, migrants turned out of jobs left Delhi for their villages, many on foot.

Most of them returned but the BJP was worried that the experience of being jobless and trekking long distances might have turned them against the party.

“The rations we gave to tide over their difficulties helped,” claimed Sharma.

Notwithstanding the emphasis on the organisation, privately sources acknowledged that some time back the AAP looked like a big challenge in the MCD polls.

But the BJP is optimistic that the slew of issues in its arsenal against the Delhi government shall fire up its campaign.

Vijender Gupta, MLA from Rohini and a three-time councillor from the same constituency, said: “The AAP’s corruption and double standards have been exposed by us. It seems its government has no planning and no road map but just one agenda, and that’s giving out freebies to entice voters. The AAP doesn’t have strong organisational structures despite being in power for so long.”

Gupta maintained that Delhiites were finally being aware of the “folly” of voting for a party that clashed with the Centre at every turn.

“Local bodies need to have a perfect rapport with the central government to get their work moving,” he said and mentioned that only recently Delhi’s Lt Governor V K Saxena wrote to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urging him to expedite approval for 15 mega projects which were stagnating because there was no permission from the state government to transplant or fell trees.

These included the redevelopment of AIIMS.

However, in the BJP-AAP face-off, the Congress is conspicuously missing and shows no sign of rising from the morass into which it sank.

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