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After disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs, Kejriwal tells Delhi residents to ‘vote wisely’

Delhi is staring at another round of bypolls in six months after 20 AAP legislators were disqualified for holding office of profit. The seats that fall vacant include Dwarka, Chandni Chowk, Najafgarh, Jangpura, Rajender Nagar, Janakpuri

delhi Updated: Jan 22, 2018 15:03 IST
Gulam Jeelani
Gulam Jeelani
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
AAP,Arvind Kejriwal,Delhi bypolls
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during an event in New Delhi.(PTI Photo)

Unless the Delhi High Court stays Sunday’s government notification disqualifying 20 lawmakers from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Delhi stares at another round of bypolls in six months.

The seats under spotlight are largely considered AAP strongholds where its leaders won by margins ranging from 1,500 (Najafgarh) and 67,900 (Burari) in 2015. However, the contest is still likely to be interesting as it would provide another opportunity for BJP and Congress to test waters in Delhi months ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday seemed to have geared into the election mode at a pre-scheduled gathering in Najagarh, one of the assembly constituencies whose MLA, Kailash Gahlot, has been disqualified. The chief minister urged the residents to “vote wisely”.

“There should be no politics in development works,” Kejriwal said in the presence of Gahlot. “Don’t vote for us if this sewer line is not completed before next assembly elections,” he said.

AAP also faces the threat of dissidence due to disqualification. “There have been efforts to break the party earlier as well. Now with the disqualification, the threat becomes even more eminent,” said a party leader who did not wish to be named due to the sensitive nature of the topic. The seats that stand vacated include Dwarka, Chandni Chowk, Najafgarh, Jangpura, Rajender Nagar, Janakpuri, Wazirpur, Gandhi Nagar, Kalkaji, Laxmi Nagar and Mehrauli.

The seats comprise diverse electorates ranging from Narela, which is largely a hub of slum clusters unauthorised colonies and villages, to middle class pockets in west Delhi like Janakpuri, Tilak Nagar and Rajinder Nagar. Also tested would be the AAP’s appeal with a large chunk of Muslim voters in Chandni Chowk.

“Janakpuri, Tilak Nagar, Jangpura and Rajinder Nagar are areas dominated by Punjabis and refugees which form a major part of AAP’s vote bank. These seats would be the most sought after for other parties if the elections take place,” said a party leader. He said party chief, Arvind Kejriwal, during a meeting with the now-disqualified MLAs on Saturday, had asked them to get ready to defeat the BJP and the Congress.

In April 2017, in the Rajouri Garden bypoll, another Punjabi stronghold, SAD’s Manjinder Singh Sirsa won on a BJP ticket to beat AAP’s Harjeet Singh.

“We have been preparing for these elections since the office of the profit issue was raised in 2015,” said party spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj.

AAP MLAs who were disqualified by the ECI at a press conference in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's residence, in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

The disqualification comes as a challenge for the ruling party as the leaders under question include party’s prominent faces such as transport minister Kailash Gahlot, Alka Lamba and Adarsh Shastri. Delhi’s transport and law minister Gahlot, who won Najafgarh seat in 2015, managed to do so with only 1,555 votes. He had played a key role in party’s 2017 bypoll victory in Bawana, which was largely considered a BJP stronghold.

Political scientist Sanjay Kumar from Centre for the Study of Development Studies (CSDS) said, “I think the contest is going to be tough with the ruling party having an edge,” he said.

Congress and BJP said they are gearing up for the bypolls.

“We have already begun preparations and we will hold meetings in all 20 constituencies after Republic Day,” said Ajay Maken, Delhi Congress chief.

BJP’s Vijender Gupta said, “We are confident that the misgovernence in Delhi will be exposed now,” he said.

First Published: Jan 22, 2018 11:32 IST