Delhi sounded the election bugle last week. In this melting pot of a mega city where few can claim to be sons of the soil, it was surprising that so many contestants opened their campaigns by brandishing their domicile status even before they got down to discussing election issues.
BJP’s Dr Harsh Vardhan who won the past five assembly elections from east Delhi, launched his campaign for Lok Sabha polls from Phatak Tehliyan in the Walled City where he lived for the first 15 years of his life. Contesting from the Chandni Chowk seat, he insists this is homecoming. His rival Kapil Sibal, the sitting MP from the Congress and a Jalandhar-born lawyer who lives in Lutyens’ Delhi, has questioned Vardhan’s efforts to connect with the constituency after so many years.
At a voters meet in Mayur Vihar, the AAP’s Rajmohan Gandhi tried to shun the “outsider” tag. “I was born in Delhi. I studied, worked and got married here. I live in Gurgaon but my niece lives in East Delhi,” the 78-year-old grandson of Mahatma Gandhi said in a bid to impress the crowd.
Manoj Tiwari, a Bhojpuri singer-actor and a BJP candidate from Northeast Delhi, talked about his seven-year stay in Delhi’s Yamuna Bazar (part of his constituency) before he hit stardom. Twoterm MP Sandeep Dikshit’s fight against BJP’s newcomer Maheish Girri has already been labeled by his fellow Congress leaders as one of ‘gharwale-vs-baharwale’.
Given that there is no procedural compulsion, this insiderversus-outsider debate is perhaps unnecessary. Unlike the assembly elections, Lok Sabha polls do not require a candidate to be a registered voter in the state s/he contests from. Besides, Delhi has had a history of drawing outsiders into its prestigious election fray.
Although not born or raised in Delhi, filmstars Rajesh Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha; political heavyweights AB Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, LK Advani, Arjun Singh, KC Pant and Sushma Swaraj fought general elections from Delhi. Some lost in their first attempt but others went on to win even two terms.
While Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai has Marathis, Bengalis and Tamils, respectively, as bona fide sons of the soil, Delhi has never found numerical strength in its ‘bhumiputras’. It is impossible to identify more than a handful of original Dilliwallas in Delhi. Yes, there are segments where certain caste, religious and regional groups have a sizeable presence, but nowhere enough to influence the results decisively.
In fact, many traditional voters such as Punjabis and traders have moved out of the post-partition resettlement colonies and the Walled City, respectively, to the NCR towns. In many colonies, the new professional migrants have found their place among the families resettled after the Partition.
The delimitation of constituencies before the last Lok Sabha polls further dispersed the traditional vote banks. For example, the conventionally Punjabi-Sikh dominated West Delhi now has a sizeable Poorvanchali vote. The sitting MP Mahabal Mishra was born in Bihar’s Madhubani. The Jats, Yadavs and Gujjars, the original residents of the villages that earlier came under the Outer Delhi constituency, are now outnumbered by migrants after becoming part of the South Delhi segment.
The entry of the AAP in the last Assembly polls was another game changer. The Congress government’s bid to legalise unauthorized colonies and slum clusters without improving basic services did not impress the party’s erstwhile vote bank that threw its weight behind AAP candidates irrespective of their caste or regional credentials.
Lok Sabha polls are primarily about national issues and MPs are not expected to micro-manage their constituencies like councillors or MLAs would do. But voters do expect MPs to lend an ear to their concerns and aspirations. Frankly, most of Delhi’s voters were not born or raised at their current addresses and are unlikely to fault the candidates on domicile records. But once elected, there is no excuse for not being around.