In North East Delhi’s Ghonda Chowk, Priyanka Gandhi ropes in Sheila Dikshit to woo voters as BJP struggles with Manoj Tiwari’s ‘invisible’ work
“Tumne ghatbandhan tukhraaya, hum tumhe thukraate hain” a glossy white banner with this slogan dangled off a terrace wall at Ghonda Chowk in North East Delhi. Right below it, Priyanka Gandhi’s roadshow inched forward, tearing through a sea of supporters and onlookers. The Congress’ new signature chant ‘chowkidaar chor hai’ was on the loop.
Describing herself as a dilli ki ladki, Priyanka stated that the people of the city have seen her (and her family) through good and bad days and have played a key role in raising her. In a starchy red saree, standing atop a van, Priyanka compared the prime minister to that schoolboy who doesn’t do his homework and keeps putting the blame on other students – Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. She threw an open challenge to the prime minister to fight the last two phases of the election based on issues like GST, demonetisation and women’s safety.
The Uttar Pradesh East general secretary of the Congress party accused the ruling party of having failed to defend youngsters by not offering them jobs and hence having failed to defend the nation. Despite a bolder than before style of making her point, Priyanka’s speech reflected the same four-five jibes the Congress’ Lok Sabha campaign takes at the prime minister. On 12 March, in her first speech in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, after being appointed as general secretary of the party, Priyanka had made subtle references to the prime minister, without taking his name.
Today, when the country’s fascination with dynasty has become a subject of serious scrutiny and the cornerstone for an erstwhile opposition party to come to power with a kind of majority it had never enjoyed, Priyanka’s job has become harder. Yet, the Congress is seen campaigning with its 81-year-old former chief minister Sheila Dikshit and the newest Gandhi campaigner.
Dikshit looked particularly frail and peeped out of a sunroof. The grand old party is relying on the popularity of the former chief minister and its old loyalists to cause a dent in the vote share of the Aam Aadmi Party. The parties that failed to come together and form an alliance are now faced with the mammoth challenge of defeating the Bhartiya Janata Party.
Firstpost hit ground zero: Ghonda Chowk, in North East Delhi, to grasp the sentiment of the local voter. The first four-five layers in the crowd were supporters sporting Congress sashes and waving party flags.
“My forefathers voted for the Congress that’s why I am a Congress supporter,” said Rajiv Sharma, resident of Ghonda. “The Congress has very few councillors in the constituency. After Sheila Dikshit entered the race, the cadre has found a new lease of life,” said Sumit, another Congress supporter from the area.
In 2014, BJP’s Manoj Tiwari won from here with 59,6125 votes, AAP’s Anand Kumar came in second with 45,2041 and Jai Prakash Agarwal of the Congress came in third with 21,4792. Interestingly, many in the rally were from Jafrabad and Mustafabad, two areas with more than 60 percent Muslim votes in the constituency. Roz Ali and Asit Ali from Mustafabad had walked along with the roadshow that covered a little over two kilometres. They said they came all the way to catch a glimpse of Priyanka who they felt would have made a better candidate.
Even in a group of Congress supporters, especially here for the roadshow, Modi supporters could be seen.
“We know Manoj Tiwari hasn’t done anything for this area. We are voting for Modi. We don’t want Rs 15 lakh in our accounts for free. If Modi ji becomes prime minister again, we will find the ability to earn Rs 15 crore on our own,” said Prakash Thakur, a resident of Ghonda, who praised Modi for taking tough decisions for the country’s wellbeing, even at the risk of upsetting his own image.
Arvind Kumar, another resident of Ghonda, said Tiwari has done some work but failed to recall what. Standing next to him, Amit Sharma said the opposition lacks a face like Modi and that’s why defeating the BJP will be nearly impossible for opposition parties.
“From Wazirabad to Sonia Vihar, Manoj Tiwari is the only candidate who is being talked about. Nobody knows the name of the AAP candidate and Congress is present only on paper,” said Girish Tomar, a resident of Ghonda who said crowds came to see Gandhi and not to stand with the Congress party.
He added that given Dikshit’s entry into the race, the party might be able to retain its old 30 percent vote but won’t be able to win back Modi supporters who traditionally voted for the Congress.
Suresh Kumar, a BJP worker wearing a lotus pin on his off-white shirt, also stood watching the convoy pass by. When asked about his candidate from the area, he said, “This election is not about Manoj Tiwari. It is about Modi because the country needs a man who can build it and defend it.” He added that Tiwari has done some good work in Sonia Vihar but failed to recall the details.
However, not all were kind to Tiwari.
“Manoj Tiwari hasn’t visited this area even once. He only comes when he has to campaign and when he has to sing. Now he’s brought a dancer Sapna Chaudhary to make a mockery of politics in our constituency,” said Rakesh Thakur, an old BJP supporter. Devendra, a resident of Ghonda chowk and a Congress supporter said the lack of development — garbage on the streets, terribly high crime rate and lack of women’s safety are a result of Tiwari’s incompetence.
Out of nearly a hundred people, only one person spoke in favour of AAP’s statehood demand. Ehsaan, a resident of Seelampur, stated that the Municipality Corporation of Delhi should be in control of the Delhi government because it extorts money from street vendors and e-rickshaw pullers.
While AAP seemed nearly absent from the ground, there was discontentment among the people, for the Congress, and even for Tiwari.