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Delhi bypoll turns high-stakes battle

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-08-2017 Pretika Khanna

New Delhi: The bypoll in Bawana assembly seat of Delhi this week is heading for a high-pitched three-cornered battle with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stressing its record in farm development in a predominantly rural constituency.

The fight is between the incumbent AAP, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. The election, caused by the defection of the AAP legislator to the BJP, is an opportunity for the Delhi government to showcase the work they have done while the BJP hopes to increase its seat tally, and the Congress to make an entry in the legislative assembly.

Bawana, a reserved constituency in northwest Delhi has 288,000 electors, including 4,102 first-timers. One of the state’s largest constituencies, it lies on the outskirts of Delhi and goes to poll on Wednesday. Results will be announced on 28 August.

It is one of the 12 constituencies reserved for candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and consists of a large number of Delhi’s villages.

The member of the legislative assembly (MLA) Ved Prakash resigned from AAP and joined the BJP in March. Prakash is now the candidate for the BJP in the election.

The election is a test for the AAP which has been faced by a series of losses including the recent municipal elections, a bypoll in Rajouri Garden and assembly elections in Punjab and Goa, since coming to power in Delhi in 2015. Banking on its work done in Delhi, the AAP has chosen Ramchandra, a party worker from the constituency and former member of the Bahujan Samaj Party as its candidate. AAP national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has made multiple visits to the constituency to campaign for the party’s candidate.

“The mandate in the last election was for the party and not for Prakash. People are happy with the work of the government in the last three years and things are looking very positive,” said Ashutosh, a senior leader of the AAP.

He said the AAP government has taken various steps for rural Delhi.

“AAP government was one of the first to offer highest compensation to farmers. The government has also taken steps to develop villages and circle rate (for farmland),” he added.

BJP’s Prakash is hoping to bank on its performance in the recent municipal elections along with the work done by the central government. The BJP secured a majority of 181 out of 270 seats in the three municipal corporations in Delhi.

“We are confident of our chances in Bawana. This time it is triangular contest but the BJP is far ahead. People see the three-year performance of the central government and the non-performance of the AAP government,” said Vijender Gupta, one of only four BJP members of the Delhi legislative assembly.

“Ved Prakash got the reality of the AAP forward. He realized they are not working for the people and got out of the party. He even sacrificed his seat for it,” Gupta added.

For the Congress, the election is key as it is an opportunity for them to gain entry into the assembly. After ruling for an unbroken three terms, the party drew a blank in the 2015 election. Fighting the election for the party is three-time MLA Surender Kumar. The constituency was a stronghold of the Congress before the AAP won the seat by over 50,000 votes in 2015.

Congress leaders say that anti-incumbency in the constituency will work in the parties favour.

“The MLA who they voted for has changed parties. Our candidate has represented Bawana in the past. People are aware of the work he has done,” said a senior leader of the Congress, who did not wish to be named.

Currently, the 70 member assembly has 65 members from the AAP and four from the BJP.

There are a total of eight candidates contesting election. During the 2015 assembly election, Bawana saw a voter turnout of 61.83%, lower than the overall turnout in Delhi which stood at 67.12%.

Analyst point out that a win in this election for AAP can be a boost after their recent losses.

“It is a bypoll in only one assembly seat. It is important for the AAP. A win for them in this election can help send signals that they can retain lost ground. It is also an opportunity for them to showcase the work they have done,” said Praveen Rai, a political analyst at the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Studies (CSDS).

Along with Bawana, three other assembly constituencies—Valpoi and Panaji in Goa and Nandyal in Andhra Pradesh—will also go to poll. Interestingly, AAP, which contested assembly elections in Goa, has decided to skip the bypoll elections.

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