How more of the same made the choice difficult for Delhi

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 26, 2015 15:43 IST

Less than two weeks to Delhi assembly polls, the choices for the electorate seem to be becoming as clear as mud. The battlelines are clearly drawn between three personalities - BJP's Kiran Bedi, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal and Congress' Ajay Maken. But their election pitch is throwing up very few differentiators.

Bedi's last-minute induction and anointment as the party's official CM candidate may have provided the BJP a counter-balance to Kejriwal. But as pointed out by political editor Vinod Sharma in Hindustan Times earlier, the two leaders have far too much in common. Both are IIT alumni, former civil servants, Ramon Magsaysay recipients, social-activists-turned-politicians and even have similar personality traits.

Both Kejriwal and Bedi captured Delhi's mind-space as Anna Hazare's trusted lieutenants in 2011. That could be the reason why it has been tough for the AAP leadership to directly target Bedi. Founder-member Shanti Bhushan's open appreciation of Bedi at Kejriwal's expense last week has not helped the party's cause either.

On Saturday, Bedi finally made an appearance on AAP posters on city's autorickshaws. But Kejriwal's 'honest versus opportunist' pitch seemed like an afterthought as the Congress had already come up with 'U-turn Bedi'.

If elections are about picking the right candidates, the presence of turncoats in many constituencies has only made the choices more confusing. There are at least 20 contestants fighting on BJP, AAP and Congress tickets who jumped the ship recently. In Patel Nagar, the Congress candidate Rajesh Lilothia is pitted against his old party colleagues - former union minister Krishna Tirath, now with BJP, and former Delhi Congress general secretary Hazari Lal Chauhan, now with AAP.

Voters will have to choose between a former and a new AAP candidate in four assembly segments where BJP has fielded former AAP contestants. These include former speaker MS Dhir, AAP rebel Vinod Kumar Binny, and the giant slayer Ashok Kumar who defeated Congress veteran Chaudhury Prem Singh, a politician who never lost an election in his 55-year political career.

Even the election agendas are turning out to be mirror images. Last election, AAP was the first to make a populist pitch by promising a 50% cut in power, free water, and permanent jobs to all contractual workers. This 'activism' earned the rookie party 28 seats.

This time, though, the party is talking more than subsidy. It hasn't released its manifesto yet, but in its ongoing Delhi Dialogue initiated two months ago, AAP has talked about minimizing consumer expenditure, introducing transparent competition amongst power distribution companies, and shifting to renewables.

The Congress in its manifesto last week latched on to some of AAP's pet agenda. It also promised cheaper electricity, introduction of competition amongst discoms, permanent position to contract workers, and a full waiver on pending water bills.

The BJP manifesto is not out yet, but its slogans - such as "Modi ji ka aelaan, bijli bill ke hone aadhe daam: Har ghar ke liye kishto par sasti LED lights ka intezaam' (power bills will be slashed by 50%: every household would be provided LED bulbs on payment in instalments) - give more than a sneak preview of what's in the offing.

On most other priorities - be it regularisation of unauthorized colonies or security for women - the promises have been the same across the political divide. Even on the youth-specific agenda - more colleges, skill development, job generation, wifi zones across the city - the three parties seem to be on the same page.

What could have set AAP apart was its anti-corruption platform. But so far it has not been too vocal on the issue. Taking cue, BJP has put corruption low on its list of priorities and Congress relegated it to the last page of its manifesto.

In the absence of competing agendas, eventually it may come down to credibility, and therefore, again to personalities. With political name-calling making daily headlines, who will Delhi trust to deliver more of the same?

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