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In Coveted New Delhi Lok Sabha Seat, BJP-AAP Faceoff as Voters Demand Basic Amenities

Despite covering a large part of Lutyens' Delhi, the constituency is also home to several unregulated colonies and slums, where basic amenities are still an issue. Bansuri Swaraj, BJP candidate, and Somnath Bharti of AAP have been promising to resolve issues around power supply, water supply and roads.

New Delhi: An interesting electoral contest has been in the making between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Bansuri Swaraj and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Somnath Bharti for the prestigious New Delhi Lok Sabha seat. Covering a large part of Lutyens’ Delhi, the constituency is also home to several unregulated colonies and slums, where concerns around basic amenities of bijli, paani, sadak, rozgar (power supply, water supply, roads, jobs) have made it to electoral discourse.

Both candidates have been employing ingenious ways to reach out to the electorate.

The next 10 days are going to be hectic for Swaraj. Her team has come up with a new campaign schedule which involves participation in five to six events per day. Forty-year-old Bansuri is the daughter of late Sushma Swaraj, a veteran BJP leader and former Union minister.

Swaraj believes in targeting specific voter groups and her campaign has been designed accordingly. For instance, she participated in an exclusive gathering of women in Karol Bagh on Monday. On Tuesday, she addressed a jan sabha of traders in the same area. On Wednesday, she plans to attend a gathering of young voters, according to her campaign schedule.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

It’s not just age, occupation and gender, caste is equally important. If a programme on Monday was supposed to address concerns of the Kanojia community, an event on Tuesday was meant for Raigarhs.

“She comes from a well-known family and people have high hopes,” said Dharamvati (who identified herself only by first name), who attended one of Swaraj’s rallies in the Kirti Nagar neighbourhood on Monday.

Kamlesh Tripathi, a Karol Bagh resident, said that the BJP has been in power in this seat for 10 years now and things are good. His neighbour Prajapati Saran disagreed, citing law and order issues and lack of development in unregulated colonies.

If Swaraj is a lawyer by profession, so is Bharti – her main competitor for the New Delhi seat.

A three-time legislator from Malviya Nagar, 49-year-old Bharti is a popular face of the AAP.

Bharti’s campaign style is slightly different. He meets people over morning walks, cycling programmes and yoga sessions in the parks. Later in the day, he engages in jan sabhas, door-to-door drives and occasional roadshows. But, he too targets specific groups such as youngsters, women, senior citizens, traders and professionals.

Two different worlds

Beyond the similarity in profession, Swaraj and Bharti are two starkly different personalities.

Bansuri’s parents were both lawyers, who went on to become politicians. Sushma Swaraj started her political career with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) from Haryana in the early 1970s, she was a minister in the Devi Lal-led Haryana government, she came to Delhi after becoming a Lok Sabha member and went on to become chief minister of the national capital. She served as Union minister in the cabinets of prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. Bansuri’s father, Swaraj Kaushal, served as Mizoram’s governor in the early 1990s and as a Rajya Sabha member from Haryana between 1998 and 2004.

BJP candidate Bansuri Swaraj during election campaign. Photo: Special arrangement.

Bharti, on the other hand, comes from a humble background. He was born and raised in Bihar’s Nawada. His parents were no lawyers or politicians. His father was a small-time trader, and his mother a housewife.

Swaraj has an undergraduate degree in English literature from the University of Warwick, following which she pursued law at the BPP University Law School in London. She has a postgraduate degree from Oxford. She returned to India and started practising law around 13 years ago.

Bharti pursued graduation in Patna and then migrated to Delhi for a master’s degree in science from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). He started a small coaching centre for IIT aspirants and later pursued law from the University of Delhi.

Swaraj was always expected to join politics, as some sort of a natural choice, at some point.

Bharti’s journey had more twists and turns. He started a software business, which did not work out, and faced many hiccups in his initial legal career. He first met AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal in 2010, he says, when the latter was a transparency activist and the India Against Corruption Movement was yet to take shape. The AAP was eventually born out of the Anna Hazare-led movement and Bharti was one of the founding members of the political party.

Swaraj came to prominence with her feisty speeches in 2020 against the AAP leadership which was protesting a law that gave overarching powers of Delhi’s administration to the lieutenant governor despite there being an elected government in place.

Bharti’s first brush with fame happened with a controversy. He made headlines in 2014 when he led a midnight raid with locals in south Delhi’s Khirki Extension neighbourhood, targeting a group of African nationals.

AAP candidate Somnath Bharti during campaign trail. Photo: Special arrangement.

“Controversies can be one aspect of his [Bharti’s] personality. He is a highly accessible MLA, people can always meet him and share their problems. He listens and solves problems,” said Madan Rai, a resident of Sheikh Sarai, an AAP supporter who was at a public gathering held at the party’s central Delhi office on Saturday.

A prestigious battle

The two of them have now locked horns for the prestigious parliamentary constituency of New Delhi.

This particular parliamentary segment includes the New Delhi assembly segment, which covers large parts of Lutyens’ Delhi with all the bungalows occupied by the who’s who of Indian politics, judiciary and bureaucracy, and several of India’s richests.

It also has several central Delhi areas such as Karol Bagh, Patel Nagar, Moti Nagar, Rajendra Nagar; the Delhi Cantonment region; and many south Delhi localities such as Kasturba Nagar, Malviya Nagar, RK Puram and Greater Kailash.

The constituency is a mix of several elite localities, government quarters as well as hundreds of unregulated colonies and slums that have proliferated over the years.

This seat was previously represented by popular names. Its first MP was Suchetra Kripalani, who went on to become India’s first woman chief minister, heading the state of Uttar Pradesh between 1963 and 1967.

Then there was Mehr Chand Khanna, a Union minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. Those who haven’t heard his name, might have heard of the Meherchand Market and Khanna market in Delhi – both named after the political leader. This seat also sent Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the parliament in 1977 and 1980. Lal Krishna Advani too represented this seat in 1989 and 1991. So did popular Hindi movie actor Rajesh Khanna, who won a bye-election, in 1992.

The last MP from the seat was Meenakshi Lekhi, who served two consecutive terms from 2014. She too is a lawyer by profession.

“This can be a coveted Lok Sabha seat because of its history but it still has the same issues of bijli, paani, sadak, rozgar [power supply, water supply, roads, jobs],” said Jaspreet Singh, a Moti Nagar resident, who sees both Swaraj and Bharti as strong candidates. “Encroachment of roads and public properties is a big issue, so is law and order. Petty crimes are frequent. We want an MP who can address these issues.”

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