In January this year, Omveer Singh Chauhan, a former Dalit Congress leader with a significant following in north east Delhi’s Seemapuri constituency quit the party after nearly three decades as a member and joined the Aam Aadmi Party. “Since Sheila ji’s death the Congress has collapsed completely in Delhi,” Chauhan told me, referring to the Congress veteran and former Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dixit. The party was fielding the “same old faces” and did not allow new leaders to emerge, he said. “The Congress has given the Seemapuri ticket to Veer Singh Dhingan, who lost the last two elections.” In 2015, Dhingan lost the elections to Rajendra Pal Gautam of the AAP. Both of them will compete from the seat once again in this year’s assembly elections. But in a development that does not bode well for Dhingan, Chauhan was far from the only one to become disillusioned with the Congress. In Seemapuri, where Dixit once commanded mass support, the tide seemed to have shifted towards the AAP.
Five years ago, the AAP stormed to power in the national capital, winning 67 of the 70 assembly seats. As Delhi goes to polls on 8 February, the battle lines are clear. The AAP’s pitch for a second term focuses on the reduction of electricity and water bills, and its health and education reforms. The Bharatiya Janata Party has adopted a characteristically divisive campaign that seeks to link the AAP to the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area. The BJP campaign has also been marked by violent, charged rhetoric. The minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur, called for shooting traitors, while the cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar suggested that the Delhi chief minister and AAP chief, Arvind Kejriwal, was a terrorist. Meanwhile, the Congress has gone from three consecutive terms under Dixit, to a party that nobody expects to form government in Delhi.
According to Chauhan, over the past five years, large sections of the Congress party’s voter base have drifted away from the party. Chauhan is a resident of Nand Nagari, a resettlement colony in Seemapuri. The Seemapuri constituency comprises four wards, Dilshad Garden, Nand Nagari, Sundar Nagari and New Seemapuri, and the latter two are also resettlement colonies. While in the Congress, Chauhan said he was the vice president of the party’s north east Delhi district unit. When I asked why he did not join the BJP, he responded, “They never talk about Dalits or our issues. They even broke our Ravidas temple.” In last August, the Delhi Development Authority, which comes under the central government, had demolished a temple of the revered saint and poet, Ravidas, following a Supreme Court directive.