NEW DELHI - The broken paving stones and exposed cables that mar the neo-Georgian grandeur of India's prime shopping precinct give a glimpse into why the ruling Congress party might struggle to hold on to the capital Delhi in a local election on Wednesday.
Work is still unfinished on a costly face lift to Connaught Place that was meant to showcase Delhi to the world for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and businesses located in what is some of the world's most costly office real estate are furious.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hopeful a widespread perception that government corruption and incompetence is to blame for shambles like Connaught Place's facelift will feed into voter anger at high prices and unsafe streets, and help it unseat Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit after 15-years in office.
"We are fed up, for the last five years we have lost our business, we had to lay off four employees, we couldn't pay their salaries," said S.P. Jain, a smartly-suited travel agent and money changer in Connaught Place, speaking over the sound of drilling as workmen dug up the pavement outside the shop he has run since 1963.
"Wherever Congress is ruling, there is corruption," Jain said, echoing a complaint heard across India.
The Congress-led national government was voted back to power in 2009 thanks to strong economic performance and populist schemes, but has since tried voters' patience with a string of corruption scandals and economic missteps.
The Delhi election could give some insight into how the world's biggest democracy votes in general elections due by May 2014. Losing the national capital Delhi to the opposition would be a symbolic blow for the Congress party in its lead-up to general elections.