The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a history of being underwhelming in Delhi’s elections—and often it’s been because of a crisis of leadership.
For 15 years, the BJP had no counter to Sheila Dikshit, the popular former Congress chief minister of the national capital. So, it poached the mediagenic former police officer Kiran Bedi from the Aam Admi Party (AAP) as the counter against the AAP co-founder Arvind Kejriwal less than a month before this week’s election. It was a smart gambit but may well be too little too late.
And what initially appeared to be a cakewalk for the BJP in Delhi has turned into a closely fought war against the AAP.
For Delhi election-watchers, out of the 70 going to polls, here are the seven bellwether seats you need to watch on Feb. 10, as the results come rolling in.
Ramesh Vidhuri, the popular BJP member of legislative assembly (MLA) from this rural southern exurban seat, is now a member of parliament from south Delhi. So it falls on his nephew, Vikram Vidhuri, to keep this otherwise safe but a must-win seat in the BJP fold. AAP candidate and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) turncoat Sahi Ram is the primary rival.
With the Qutub Minar in its borders, Mehrauli is the kind of volatile outer south west Delhi seat the BJP needs to defend to win majority. The party won by a 4.7% margin in 2013 but did not have enough confidence in the incumbent Parvesh Singh to win again this time. Enter former mayor of south Delhi, Sarita Chaudhary, who has been previously accused of misrepresenting credentials. She will be squaring against the AAP’s Naresh Yadav.
The BJP came five seats shy of majority in 2013 because it unexpectedly gave away competitive seats like Karol Bagh to the AAP by a 1.7% margin. In 2003 and 2008, BJP candidates won by 4% and 1.8% margins, respectively. The BJP can hardly expect to win a majority without regaining this seat in central Delhi’s commercial district dominated by the trader class.
Somnath Bharti, the controversial law minister and poster child of pretty much everything that was wrong in the 49-day AAP administration, is up again. Last time, he won by a 9.5% margin. If he loses in this middle-class south Delhi neighbourhood dominated by politically well-informed government employees, it will be a long day for the AAP.
In this ultra-competitive western suburban seat with a large number of migrant blue-collar workers living in illegal residence enclaves, the legality of occupation is a bargaining chip for all political parties in every election cycle. In the last two election cycles, the victor had a winning margin of less than 1,000 votes—that’s about 0.5%.
R K Puram
If the AAP wins 40+ seats in the 70-seat assembly, as some polls are predicting, this posh New Delhi seat is a must-win. In 2013, the BJP’s Anil Sharma won the seat by 326 votes or 0.4%—the narrowest margin of any Delhi constituency. Sharma defeated AAP candidate Shazia Ilmi, who has recently defected to the BJP. So the AAP has now brought in Pramila Tokas, wife of 2013 BSP candidate Dheeraj Tokas. That might be a smart move since the BSP had cornered 9.7% of the vote in 2013.
This is the bellwether seat to judge the fortunes of the deflated Congress, which is otherwise an afterthought this election cycle. Sharmistha Mukherjee, president Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter is running in the middle-class haven, which also happens to include CR Park, the centre of Delhi’s ethnic Bengali community. Mukherjee is a Bengali but it might not help. Neophyte AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj won the seat comfortably by 13.8% margin in 2013. As per custom, the BJP has fielded a weak candidate—a local councillor, against the president’s daughter.
And some others
The election for the AAP will be won and lost in competitive outer Delhi seats like Rohini and Sangram Vihar, where the AAP candidates won by less than 1% margin in 2013. Similarly-won BJP held seats like Gokalpur and Matiala are also crucial.
Also, watch out for Matia Mahal. The fortunes of the AAP will mirror how it does in this Muslim-dominated neighbourhood of old Delhi, right off Jama Masjid. The AAP came third in a four-cornered free-for-all in 2013, only 4,100 votes behind the winning Janata Dal (United) candidate.