Since the 1980s, the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha seat has been held by either the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party. But in 2014, the political dynamics of the constituency and the national capital changed with the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party. In its debut parliamentary elections that year, the AAP won 33 percent of the total votes in Delhi. In the contest from Chandni Chowk that year, the AAP’s Ashutosh won nearly 31 percent votes—around 13 percent more than the Congress leader Kapil Sibal, and second only to the BJP candidate, Harsh Vardhan. The next year, the AAP won 67 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly elections, including in the Chandni Chowk area. Since then, the party appears to have held on to the goodwill of Chandni Chowk’s constituents. Yet, for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the constituency’s traders are leaning towards the BJP—and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalism-focused campaign.
The BJP’s popularity is despite the AAP starting its Lok Sabha campaign in Chandni Chowk in June 2018, months before the BJP or the Congress. The AAP had appointed prabharis, or in charges, for five Delhi constituencies, and they were eventually declared as its candidates from the respective seats, in early March this year. In Chandni Chowk, the AAP has fielded Pankaj Gupta, the party’s national secretary, who has been associated with it since its inception. Gupta will contest the seat against Vardhan, the BJP’s incumbent member of parliament, who is also the union minister of science and technology, and Jai Prakash Agarwal, a 74-year-old Congress veteran who won from Chandni Chowk thrice in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Chandni Chowk constituency is spread over parts of Delhi’s central and north districts, and comprises ten assembly segments, all of which are currently held by the AAP. I visited three of these segments—the Ballimaran, Ajmeri Gate and Chandni Chowk assembly constituencies—and found that the sentiment on the ground was largely in favour of a Modi government at the centre. Even though the AAP commanded visible support, the constituents, who predominantly comprised of Bania traders, the country’s most powerful business community, did not consider them a national party.
“AAP is a state party, Congress and BJP are national parties. Why will we vote for AAP?” Yogesh Singhal, the president of the Bullion and Jewelers Association, which represents around a thousand shops in the constituency, said. “They will have two-three seats. What is that going to achieve?” Similarly, Chanchal Giridhar, a 72-year-old Punjabi from the Bania community, who owns a hardware shop in Ajmeri Gate, told me that the AAP had reduced the cost of electricity, provided free water and facilitated better transportation in the capital. But he added that if he votes for any party other than the BJP, his “vote will go to waste.”
According to media estimates, the Bania community constitutes around 40 percent of the constituency’s population. The representatives of various trader associations in and around Chandni Chowk, who were largely from the Bania community, said they had been aggrieved by two of Modi’s biggest economic policies—the decision to demonetise high-value currency notes, followed by the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax nine months later. “Just when we started recovering from demonetisation, we were hit by the GST,” Mukesh Sachdeva, a Bania trader who works in Chandni Chowk, told me. Sachdeva is the general secretary of the Delhi Hindustani Mercantile Association, or DHMA, a body of textile traders that represents around five thousand shops in Chandni Chowk. He added that the new taxation system had stabilised, but continues to cause traders inconvenience.