BJP expected to gain as Congress' outlook appears dim

BJP expected to gain as Congress' outlook appears dim
Fifteen years ago, when Congress unseated BJP to take power in Delhi state, Delhi-wallahs welcomed the change excitedly. Then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, a diminutive, sari-clad figure from Congress, was seen as a clean, efficient and accessible leader and a world apart from the favour-trading, parochial satraps of the BJP, who wielded influence over specific zones in the city.

Delhi's seven parliamentary seats will see voting today, and the results in the national capital and its suburbs may well be emblematic of the fortunes of the Congress Party that governs India.

It is now in control of all seven seats, and the betting odds are that India's oldest political party, which won three consecutive elections to fill the Delhi state legislature until last year, will be lucky to retain even one seat.

Most likely, polls and pundits say, a wipeout is on the cards. The big gainer: the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Some 12 million voters are eligible to vote in today's Delhi poll and 150 candidates are in the fray, a third of them independents. But only three parties count - the resurgent BJP, Congress, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Hindi for the Common Man's Party.

The fledging AAP won a stunning victory in the state assembly polls last year, drawing support from Delhi's Muslims and underprivileged classes. Their votes were swelled by a surge of sympathy from middle-class voters drawn by pledges of reduced utility bills and a cleaner government.

But AAP quit government after a mere 49 days because it failed to push through an Ombudsman Bill that the party's temporary backer, Congress, and arch-enemy BJP refused to endorse. Since the AAP did not have a clear majority and ruled with outside support from Congress, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, AAP's founder, chose to step down.

The perceived immaturity of AAP leaders and their anarchist ways - AAP cadres picketed police lines at a time when the party held charge of Delhi - have dented its popularity somewhat. Even so, it still has large pockets of influence.

"AAP has consolidated the lower-class votes and Muslims will vote for whoever they figure has the best prospects against BJP," retired home secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai, a Delhi resident, told The Straits Times. "AAP will benefit from minority votes because of the perception that Congress is on the ropes."

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