A final push by the prime contenders closed the barb-filled campaign for the Delhi throne on Thursday amid firefighting by BJP trouble-shooters to check the growing buzz that this contest is a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity.
Kiran Bedi of the BJP chose to visit nearly every lane in her constituency and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal took forward his connect with the underclass by visiting slum clusters but Congress’s Ajay Maken stayed put at home — strategising for Saturday’s vote.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi campaigned for President Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter and the party’s Greater Kailash candidate Sharmishtha.
Residents of Krishna Nagar — a BJP stronghold where Bedi is being fielded — had to wait for three hours before the former IPS officer appeared on an open jeep. She smiled and waved but didn’t say much.
Between roadshows and door-to-door electioneering, the politicians took swipes at each other on the last day of campaigning.
The stakes are high for Modi’s party because the Delhi elections are viewed as a referendum on his tenure since taking power in May.
BJP chief Amit Shah tried to deflate the pressure on Modi after Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu made a similar attempt on Wednesday. “While this is indeed true that the good work of the government of India has its impact on elections, a state election can’t become a referendum (on the Centre’s functioning). Elections in Delhi are never to elect the PM,” he told a news channel.
Kejriwal, who Modi had mockingly called “AK-49” last year, was quick to retort. “Shah and his party are making excuses. He has conceded defeat.”
Kejriwal said Bedi, his former associate from the anti-corruption movement, was inducted into the BJP “as a scapegoat”.
“The BJP leaders knew they are losing and needed a face to blame for the defeat,” he said.
Bedi asked voters not to listen to negative rumours about her.
“That man (Kejriwal) is spreading lies. He is a bhagoda (deserter) and will run away again,” she said, referring to the AAP chief’s chaotic 49-day reign.
Opinion polls say the contest is between the BJP and the AAP. The Congress, which ruled Delhi for 15 uninterrupted years, is fighting an uphill task after bagging only eight seats in the December 2013 elections.