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Delhi chief minister may lose her seat

Publication Date : 04-12-2013


In the last hours of campaigning in India's capital city, half a dozen men and women stand on one side of a busy Delhi roundabout and wave brooms to capture the attention of motorists.

They are from the newly formed Aam Aadmi, or Common Man Party (AAP), which hopes to sweep out of power the Congress Party's Sheila Dikshit, who has ruled Delhi for 15 years.

The chief minister - known as "aunty ji" with her crinkled eyes, ruffled grey hair and kindly smile - had cruised through three consecutive elections.

But a fourth shot at power for the 75-year-old, who hides steely determination under a benign image, is looking tough, with all surveys predicting an end to her dream run in power.

This week's polls are keenly watched for indications of the mood of India's 725 million electorate, which must vote before May to elect a fresh Parliament.

Delhi votes today, as does the small north-eastern state of Mizoram, while three other states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - have already voted. The results for Delhi, a union territory, and the four states, three of which are ruled by the Congress, will be announced on Sunday.

In Delhi, most surveys predict a hung assembly with neither the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor AAP getting a clear majority in the 70-seat Delhi assembly.

India's capital city, which has its own government, has seen many improvements in the last 15 years. It has a metro, multiple flyovers and improved electricity supply. But over the last couple of months, public anger has focused on the rising prices of food. Onion prices, always a politically sensitive issue, doubled to 100 rupees (US$1.60) a kg during the height of the election campaign last month.

"The Delhi government... has got a reasonably good rating in surveys," said Professor Sanjay Kumar from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a research institute.

"If the government had managed to control rising prices in the last six to eight months, things would have been very different."

Dikshit's chances have been further hurt by the policy paralysis of the Manmohan Singh government last year.

Amid slowing economic growth, Singh's government was preoccupied with scandals in the award of licences for coal and mobile phone spectrum as well as contracts for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Besides Delhi, Congress looks to be in danger of losing the state of Rajasthan, where it is in power, and facing defeat in the state of Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the BJP.

But Delhi is expected to feel the fallout the most because it is the seat of government.

"The Congress (federal) government is deeply unpopular especially with the middle class, and since Delhi is an urban constituency, therefore Sheila Dikshit is going to pay the price.

"And the advantage is being taken by the Aam Aadmi party, which thinks it can change the world and many people are buying it," said Delhi-based political analyst Amulya Ganguli.

AAP was formed a year ago out of the anti-corruption movement, which tapped public anger over corruption scandals.

AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has promised to introduce strict anti-corruption legislation if he wins.


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