New Delhi: For the first time, Delhi will see a three-way contest in assembly elections, thanks to a political party that is only 11 months old but is already making waves.
The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the November battle has for all practical purposes ended what was essentially a bi-polar nature of Delhi's electoral scene: the Congress vs the BJP. Although the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are dismissive of the AAP's claims of an outright victory, their leaders admit that the AAP is bound to hurt them.
Both fans and critics credit all this to AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) and an Indian Revenue Service officer who was a big boss in the Income Tax department before he turned activist before various causes before he finally decided he needed a political party to overhaul the system.
Kejriwal, 45, whose won the Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership for his campaign to get the Right to Information law passed in India, has announced his candidature from New Delhi assembly constituency, which has been electing Congress Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
Born as a result of the anti-corruption campaign of Gandhian Anna Hazare that gripped Delhi two years ago, AAP was founded in November 2012, and it got its election symbol -- a broom (to symbolically sweep the system clean) -- only this year. The AAP is widely discussed in the capital even if not everyone is willing to accept Kejriwal's claim that he will form the next government.
Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad, the party in charge for Delhi, admitted that the AAP would affect both the BJP and the Congress. "It will cut both BJP and Congress votes," Ahmad told IANS. A senior BJP member told IANS that the AAP could hurt the BJP more than the Congress as Kejriwal's anti-government campaign could divide the anti-Congress votes.
The Congress has ruled Delhi since 1998, and it is confident of winning another five-year term. The BJP is equally confident of ending the 15-year reign of Dikshit.
Although the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other smaller parties have contested elections for the Delhi assembly, with the BSP winning two seats in 2008, Delhi has always been a Congress and BJP fiefdom.
This, everyone admits, has ended.
"Earlier people in Delhi didn't have any option outside of the Congress and the BJP," the AAP's Kumar Vishwas, one of its spokesmen, told IANS. "Now they have an option in the AAP."
The Congress won 43 of the 70 Delhi seats in 2008 with a 40.31 percent vote share. The BJP was mauled despite cornering 36.84 percent of votes.
Some pundits feel the AAP could win six-nine assembly seats but corner as much as 17 percent of the total votes - a dramatic showing for a just born political formation.
In 2008, the winner in 20 Delhi constituencies were decided by only a few hundred votes -- a frightening proposition for the two established parties when a strong third party is in the fray.
The AAP's appeal arises from its high-pitched campaign on issues that matter in the capital: poor water supply, high power bills, lack of sewage system and concerns over women's safety.
In just a year, the AAP has around 12,000 registered supporters -- 4,000 of them students including 400 from IIT Delhi -- and 150,000 "prabharis", each tasked with overseeing 20 families in his neighbourhood.
The AAP says some 3,000 people come from nearby cities each week to campaign for the party. Opinion polls say the AAP's entry could produce a hung Delhi assembly while some even say Kejriwal could well be the proverbial dark horse in the fray.
Unlike the Congress and the BJP, AAP candidates are mostly in the 30s. They are also a mixed bag: a former NSG commando, social activists, a business management graduate, an auto-rickshaw driver and an IT professional.
Despite being a diabetic, Kejriwal, 46, follows a punishing schedule, visiting several areas of Delhi every day. A well known face, he feels his party is going to win a shocking 47 of the 70 assembly seats.
Delhi's Power Minister Haroon Yusuf has contempt for the AAP. "They will not get even a single seat, let alone winning the election. They indulge in theatrics and expect people to vote," Yusuf told IANS.
Pradip Kumar Datta, a professor of political science at Delhi University, warned that the AAP could wean away a section of the BJP's middle class voters as well as the poor who normally vote for the Congress.