Delhi elections: Changing up their candidates could cost the BJP

Uncertainty has kept people largely silent. If they do speak, they tailor their words to suit their audience

Voters line up with their ID cards in a New Delhi polling booth (photo: PTI)
Voters line up with their ID cards in a New Delhi polling booth (photo: PTI)

S. Khurram Raza

The Lok Sabha elections in Delhi are certainly looking interesting.

Unlike in the 2014 and 2019 elections, this time, no one seems able to guarantee a win or a loss for any party (or indeed, independent candidate) in the 2024 parliamentary elections.

This uncertainty is keeping the Delhi voters largely silent — if they do speak, they tailor their words carefully to the audience.

There is no doubt that the electoral contest in Delhi is down to a bipolar one between two alliances: the NDA, with the BJP candidates contesting all seats, and the INDIA bloc, which has divided its collective seats between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress. The AAP is contesting four out of Delhi’s seven seats, while the Congress is contesting the remaining three.

The four seats the AAP is contesting feature Kuldeep Kumar (East Delhi), Sahiram Bidhuri (South Delhi), Mahabal Mishra (West Delhi) and Somanth Bharti (New Delhi). On the Congress side, Kanhaiya Kumar is contesting from North East, Jai Prakash Agarwal from Chandni Chowk and Udit Raj from the reserved seat of the North West parliamentary constituency.

On the other side, the BJP has replaced six out of its seven incumbents with new candidates.

From East Delhi, Harsh Malhotra is contesting in place of Gautam Gambhir. Ramveer Singh Bidhuri is contesting the South Delhi seat, replacing Ramesh Bidhuri. Kamaljeet Shehrawat is contesting from West Delhi, replacing Parvesh Verma. Bansuri Swaraj has replaced Meenakshi Lekhi in New Delhi. Praveen Khandelwal is fighting from Chandni Chowk, replacing Dr Harsh Vardhan. From the reserved constituency of North West Delhi, Yogendra Chandolia is the BJP candidate instead of Hans Raj Hans. The only candidate whose candidature had been retained is Manoj Tiwari, from the North East Delhi seat.

Delhi's seven parliamentary seats are considered urban ones, and the BJP has dominated these for the past two decades.

Voters here often support a single party due to Delhi's unique nature as a small special state where residents may live in one part and work in another. This cross-hatching of influences across residential neighbourhoods and workplaces has shaped its voters' opinions and discussions, leading to consistent support for one party in most elections.

Two clear divisions have emerged: one based on religion and the other, economics.

Muslims in Delhi, comprising 12 per cent of the population, generally vote against the BJP, similar to their voting pattern nationwide.

The largest demographic in the NCR comprises the OBC communities, at 35 per cent, followed by the Dalit communities at 17 per cent.

While the INDIA bloc benefits from their support of the Muslim community against Islamophobia, the NDA expects to press the advantage of the Ram Temple construction as leverage.

Economically, the affluent and middle class tend to support the NDA, whereas the poor in the city align with the INDIA bloc.

In Chandni Chowk, Congress candidate Jai Prakash Agarwal is up against the BJP's Praveen Khandelwal. Jai Prakash is a seasoned Congress leader, with strong influence in the Vaish community and has been a Member of Parliament twice.

In contrast, BJP's Praveen Khandelwal lacks full support from prominent figures of his own party, such as Harsh Vardhan and Vijender Gupta.

The constituency has over 13 per cent Muslim voters and 16 per cent Dalit voters. If the 17 per cent Baniya voters (who are historically BJP supporters) split, Jai Prakash Agarwal could have the upper hand.

In North East Delhi, the BJP has fielded Manoj Tiwari for the third time. He won this seat in 2014 and 2019 and now faces Congress's dynamic young leader Kanhaiya Kumar.

This constituency has the highest percentage of Muslim voters in Delhi at 20 per cent, along with 16 per cent Dalit voters, giving Kanhaiya an edge.

However, the impact of the Ram Temple construction is significant in this area, and should benefit Manoj Tiwari.

Burari, an assembly seat within this constituency, has a high number of Bihari voters, who seem to be leaning towards Kanhaiya Kumar, however.

Neeraj Sharma, a former alderman and in-charge of the East Delhi parliamentary constituency for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), notes the rapidly changing demographics of Delhi, with 35 per cent of the population now being Purvanchalis. Though the NCR has historically been dominated by Punjabis and Baniyas, the Purvanchalis have gained considerable influence.

So, it is being said, the BJP retained Manoj Tiwari as their candidate due to his strong Bhojpuri connections.

In North West Delhi, the Congress' Udit Raj is up against former MCD leader Yogendra Chandolia of the BJP. Raj, a former IRS officer and a BJP MP in 2014, is now running as a Congress candidate. The constituency has 20 per cent Dalit voters, making it a reserved seat, and 10 per cent Muslim voters. Raj has the advantage of incumbency, while Chandolia's age works in his favour.

In East Delhi, AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar, of a Dalit community, benefits from the 15 per cent Dalit and 16 per cent Muslim demographic here. However, the Ram Temple has a strong influence here too, making the BJP's Harsh Malhotra a tough competitor.

In West Delhi, AAP candidate Mahabal Mishra, a former Congress MLA and MP, has a strong presence. With a significant proportion of Purvanchali residents in this area and his established popularity, he holds the advantage.

The BJP's decision to replace Parvesh Verma with former mayor Kamaljeet Sehrawat, who also belongs to the Jat community, makes for a competitive race here. The constituency has 12 per cent Dalit, 6 per cent Muslim and 7 per cent Jat (the highest in Delhi) voters.

In South Delhi, the BJP replaced its loyalist Ramesh Bidhuri with Ramveer Singh Bidhuri, a seasoned politician who has been a member of almost all the Delhi political parties at one time or another. He is currently leader of the Opposition in the Delhi assembly. The contest here between the AAP’s Sahiram Bidhuri and Ramveer is a close one, for both are from the Gujjar community.

The BJP's switched ticket has caused some disappointment within the ranks, which could potentially benefit Sahiram Bidhuri.

The constituency has 16 per cent Dalit, 7 per cent Muslim and 8 per cent Gujjar voters, a significant number of them poor voters.

In New Delhi, the entry of BSP candidate Anand has introduced uncertainty. Anand recently left his ministerial position in the AAP government and is now contesting on a BSP ticket.

The new AAP candidate, Somnath Bharti, believes this will be to his own advantage. On the other hand, BJP candidate Bansuri Swaraj, daughter of the late Sushma Swaraj, thinks it will hurt the AAP.

The constituency has 18 per cent Dalit voters and the highest percentage of middle-class voters, at 8 per cent, making the election here highly competitive.

The clear influence of the Ram Temple construction across Delhi contrasts with the significant issue of safeguarding the Constitution, which has made the elections more competitive.

The disappointment among voters with the incumbent government and the BJP itself switching out tickets for six out of seven candidates seems to hand the advantage to the INDIA bloc.

However, the biggest challenge for INDIA voters is recognising the correct election symbols, with all the candidates and leaders emphasising where to vote for the hand symbol (Congress) and where the broom symbol (AAP).

It remains to be seen on 25 May which alliance Delhi's electorate will support.

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