Crying Atishi, Sulking Gautam Gambhir: What Will Delhi Vote For This Election?


Crying Atishi, Sulking Gautam Gambhir: What Will Delhi Vote For This Election?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Aboxer, a Bhojpuri singer, a former cricketer, a politician past her prime, a Punjabi sufist all gather on the sofa. The Bhojpuri singer wears military fatigues, the cricketer is mostly bitter, the boxer is uncharacteristically subdued, the politician is hung up on the past whereas the sufi singer only talks in hyperbolic hymns. This would be a chartbusting roster for a reality show that the likes of Bigg Boss would salivate at putting together, only it has already been done by political parties contesting Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats. As Delhi prepares to go to polls in the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha elections this Sunday, it must seem to the rest of India that the capital has been unwittingly bought tickets to a circus it probably did not ask for, and probably doesn’t deserve.

The most recent illustration of this is a malicious pamphlet being circulated in Delhi. It terms East Delhi’s AAP candidate Atishi such disgusting unparliamentary things that are best left unmentioned here. Obviously, the most convenient target to pin the blame on is her opponent Gautam Gambhir. Regardless of the origin of this deplorable piece of paper, instead of condemning its contents outright, Gambhir has suggested conspiracy. His counter-claim? Blaming the CM and AAP chief, Arvind Kejriwal of concocting the pamphlet to garner votes. The capital’s political arena has predictably offered the lowest point of this election.  

And yet, these might be the most politically involved candidates in the city’s election. It would be an understatement to say that some candidates fighting elections in Delhi on big party tickets are as abnormally apolitical as they are wilfully ignorant. Take for example the BJP’s North West Delhi candidate, the singer Hans Raj Hans. Hans has, for starters, been part of both the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress before joining the BJP in 2016. Most interviews that the singer has given are definitively low on political knowhow… or any knowhow for that matter. It seems he is placed to read, rather sing, quite literally from a script. When asked about his campaign by an ABP reporter, Hans says “Jab waqt aaye toh pehle hi itna sochlo, k sochne ki zarurat hi na pade” as if it makes sense. When asked about their candidate, a voter from Hans’ constituency responded “Ye wahin hain jinhone ‘Tote tote ho gaya gaaya’ tha”. Unfortunately, that is what the status quo is.

The BJP is not the only party in on the absurdity. The Congress’ South Delhi candidate Vijender Singh offers anything but an accessible demeanour. Cold, almost stiff in his body language, Singh seems like a man who has done one reality show too many. And without a script in his hands, he looks completely out of his element. To make matters worse, Singh admittedly turned to politics ten days before he was nominated. The first thing he did after that was to “google his own constituency”. Though he has picked up the pace in recent weeks, a ground report a week ago suggested Singh looked disinterested, sat in meetings “with his head down” and spoke only for a few minutes at rallies. He may have been a champion boxer and therefore naturally earns the label of tenacity, but Singh sounds like a man waiting for all this to end one way or the other.

It is clear that the three leading parties see the Delhi elections as a subset of its national agenda. The fight thus projected is between Modi, Rahul Gandhi… and Arvind Kejriwal.

Singh’s lamentable political foresight and investment has been ably contested by cricketer Gautam Gambhir’s repetitive sulk. Gambhir, who doesn’t seem to have a funny bone or a sense of humour, comes across as a man who doesn’t so much want to contribute to politics as much as he wants to win it. The former cricketer rather than give to discourse has done his best to quash it outright. Gambhir has spoken precious little about his constituency and has relied on the ethos of his Twitter nationalism. Only if he had taken a minute from social media, he’d know better than to hold a political rally without the EC’s permission.

And then there is the grand old lady of Lutyens, the 81-year-old, former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit. She is the person who presumably opposed the promising AAP-Congress alliance, contesting rather desperately from a seat where the Congress finished third in the last Lok Sabha elections.  

It is clear that the three leading parties see the Delhi elections as a subset of its national agenda. The fight thus projected is between Modi, Rahul Gandhi… and Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP alone has offered a Delhi-specific campaign and is adamant it will continue to push for full statehood, but its national imprint is far too limited. Both Congress and BJP, meanwhile, are evidently trying to only push each other out.

The bigger loss will be Delhi’s.

There is a dearth of bankable candidates on all sides, leaders who can campaign and win on their own. Worse, the overwhelming prerogative seems to be, like a game of musical chairs: Occupy the seat for a Modi or a Rahul replica, for as long as the candidate himself can disappear behind the party’s symbol.

It is remarkable really that for elections in the national capital of the country – where media focus is the severest and therefore scrutiny the harshest – political parties have pretty much taken the electorate for granted. A majority of these candidates, especially the ones who have been parachuted in at the last minute, look like complete misfits. But maybe they will be able to represent Delhi’s interests at the centre – miracles have been known to happen.