Delhi bypolls: Kejriwal, local vs outsider theme dominate polling day

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Rajinder Nagar Assembly bypoll witnessed a low voter turnout and the local vs outsider theme dominated the talks on Thursday. While a section of voters vouched for the Kejriwal factor and the work done by the AAP government, many spoke about how the incumbent party had fielded “an outsider” in the electoral fray.

Vijay Kumar is a resident of Delhi’s Inderpuri area. He is a tailor by profession. Garv Se Kaaho Hum Hindu Hain (Say proudly, I am Hindu) read the stickers put on the entrance of his home.

“Someone might have pasted these stickers on my home. And I proudly say I am a Hindu. But that doesn’t make me a BJP voter. You should have seen the kind of grand welcome we gave to CM Kejriwal while he was campaigning for the AAP candidate here. We support him and his party because of the work done in schools and mohalla clinic. I recently got my multiple medical tests done through mohalla clinics for free. What else would an Aam Aadmi need?” Kumar said. His wife Savitri, an Agaanwadi helper, too backed these claims.

Vijay Kumar and his wife. (Photo: India Today)

“What is the need for a change when they [AAP] are delivering on several fronts? Kejriwal is the one getting aam aadmi’s work done. Why change him? There are some issues with water supply, but we believe that it will be sorted by an AAP MLA,” others waiting outside Kumar’s shop claimed.

Inderpuri comes under Rajinder Nagar Assembly constituency that went to polls today. The neighbourhoods infront of the Inderpuri Police Station are densely populated and have a large chunk of voters who belong to the lower middle class.

A few kilometres from here are the posh neighbourhoods of Old Rajinder Nagar. Tilak Raj, a 71-year-old retired teacher, was waiting outside the polling station. For him, the Rajinder Nagar Assembly bypoll was about only two things — the water crisis and the local vs outsider narrative.

“Many residents like me have been facing water crisis for months now. Raghav (Chadha) was a local boy and local MLA who also ran the show at Delhi Jal Board. And despite this, the residents of Old Rajinder Nagar get contaminated and muddy water through the piped water lines. Now Raghav has left us. The BJP has fielded Rajesh Bhatia who is known face, a local candidate and has delivered as municipal councillor in the past. While AAP’s Durgesh is an outsider,” Raj told India Today.

The difference in Kumar and Raj’s understandings represent the larger narrative that dominated the Rajinder Nagar bypolls. The incumbent AAP had conveyed the voters — during the campaigning — Kejriwal Ki Sarkar, Kejriwal Ka Vidhayak. The message essentially meant electing the local legislator from the incumbent party.

While the BJP had weaved its campaign majorly around two factors: (a) water crisis in the constituency for which they held former MLA Chadha accountable (b) BJP candidate, Rajesh Bhatia is a local leader while AAP’s Durgesh Pathak is an “outsider”.

The bypoll in Rajinder Nagar was needed due to Chadha’s resignation. The AAP has sent Chadha to Rajya Sabha from Punjab. And the BJP –during the electoral campaign –had tried hard to dub it as Chadha abandoned the Rajinder Nagar constituency.

This bypoll is being viewed as the litmus test for Kejriwal’s governance model in Delhi as well as an opportunity for the Opposition to revive its electoral fate in the national capital.

While AAP convenor and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal himself had held a roadshow here for three days in a row, the BJP had launched a star-studded campaign. Several BJP MPs, including Manoj Tiwari and Ravi Kisan had campaigned for BJP candidate Bhatia. The Congress’ former councillor Prem Lata was in the electoral fray, from the grand old party. However, the Congress has missed the bus when it comes to aggressive campaigns and becoming relevant in the electoral narrative.

Notably, the constituency which has over 1.64 registered voters witnessed a lower voter turnout on Thursday. As per the Election Commission, the provisional voter turnout in Rajinder Nagar by poll was 43.71%.

It is generally assumed that lower voter turnout helps the incumbent party. However, in the Rajinder Nagar bypolls, the voting went pretty much along the traditional lines. In the posh neighbourhoods of New and Old Rajinder Nagar, and those having government employee voters, the saffron party dominated the narrative. Old Rajinder Nagar is also home to BJP MP and former cricketer, Gautam Gambhir. The South East Delhi MP Gambhir lambasted the AAP even on the polling day.

However, the polling percentage in these pockets might trouble the BJP. A sitting BJP legislator from Delhi, who was assigned one of the key areas of the constituency, told India Today, “We gave a good fight to the AAP. However, the lower voter turnout is something bothering us. In the pockets where we are strong, such as Old Rajinder Nagar and New Rajinder Nagar, the voter count is less and voter turnout is less as well. And in the pockets where AAP is strong, such as Pandav Nagar, the voter turnout is also high. The inflight in the local BJP unit might trouble us further.”

These issues also reverberated amongst the voters. Surendra Kumar, a resident of densely populated Pandav Nagar of Rajinder Nagar constituency, said, “Today, voting is happening pretty much along the traditional lines. The BJP has fielded a local candidate and is getting votes in their traditional pockets due to this. But in areas like Pandav Nagar where voters from lower strata live, the agenda is clear. Voters like me are thinking about what difference would one new BJP MLA make. So why not strengthen the party in power!”

Kanta and her daughter outside a polling station in Pandav Nagar. (Photo: India Today)

Meanwhile, many women voters in areas such as Pandav Nagar and Inderpuri had their polling agenda clear. Kanta, a 47-year-old private sector worker, said, “I have voted for those who worked for us. Our electricity bills have gone down. Someone like me who travels every day by bus for work also ends up saving more money. We feel safer to travel by bus due to the presence of the marshalls.”

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