AAP’s Atishi could be the dark horse in tri-cornered contest in East Delhi LS seat


New Delhi, :  An interesting tri-cornered contest seems to be in offing in the Lok Sabha elections in this constituency that has, in the past, been represented by Sandeep Dikshit of the Congress and Lal Bihari Tiwari of the BJP in the past.
The East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, which has traditionally witnessed a clash between the Congress and the BJP, is this time witnessing a triangular contest between veteran Delhi Congress politician Aravinder Singh Lovely, educational reformer Atishi Marlena from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Delhi cricketer Gautam Gambhir , who is contesting on a BJP ticket.
Political pundits may place their bets on either BJP candidate and noted cricketer and Mr Lovely of the Congress but those involved in heat and dust of campaign say Ms Marlena of the AAP may well prove to be the dark horse.
A well-known face in AAP, being a member of the party’s political affairs committee, Ms Marlena has over the past four-and-a-half years emerged as the face behind the transformation in the education sector in Delhi.
It is notable that Ms Marlena, who served as adviser to Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia when the AAP came to power in Delhi with landslide win in the 2015 Assembly elections, has been the brain behind the various initiatives taken by AAP to transform the face of education in Delhi, including modernisation of the Government schools, starting the trend of parent teacher meetings in Government schools and providing training to Delhi school teachers abroad.
A gold medallist from the prestigious St Stephens college, Ms Marlena did her Masters at the Oxford college in London. After the AAP formed the government in Delhi, she worked as an adviser to Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia who is also Delhi education minister. In this sense, she is the brain behind the various educational reforms brought about by the AAP in Delhi.
Not many would give her and the ruling AAP a chance in a contest where those in the fray include veteran Delhi politician Lovely and cricketer Gautam Gambhir but a talk to the people in the area, a mix of people belonging to the lower middle class and the middle class, show a general satisfaction with performance by the AAP government.
A visit of the areas of the constituency also reveals the outreach by the AAP candidate Ms Marlena in the constituency over the past few months.
AAP leaders that one talks to say that Ms Marlena, who was declared as the AAP candidate several months ago, has been conducting door-to-door campaigning in the area , informing people of the country about the initiatives taken by the AAP Government led by Arvind Kejriwal in the field of education over the past four year.
Talking about the work done by AAP, Ms Marlena said, ‘In four-and-a-half years, AAP government built two new schools of excellence, two talent schools, two university campuses and 25 mohalla clinics in East Delhi with 32 being under construction.
In fact, AAP leaders point out that out of the schools of excellence set up by the AAP Government in Delhi, two are in East Delhi.
AAP leaders say that education is a big issue with the people of Delhi. They say that people of Delhi have for years been lamenting about the poor state of Government schools which forces many of them , especially those from the middle class, to admit their children in private schools , which charge exorbitant amounts of money from parents in the name of education.
Says a local AAP leader, ‘People here are happy over the improvement in education facilities and coming up of Mohalla clinics.’
The people are happy at the decisions of the AAP government to half electricity bills, setting up of Mohalla clinics, online delivery of services as well as improvement in state if government schools.
Pitted against Ms Marlena are veteran Congress leader from Delhi Aravinder Singh Lovely, who served for several terms as a legislator from Gandhinagar, and cricketer Gautam Gambhir, who has been fielded by the BJP.
On their part, the Congress leaders feels that Mr Lovely has tremendous following in East Delhi, having been elected from Gandhinagar several times.
Interestingly, he has also served as minister in the Sheila Diskhit Governmet in Delhi, including holding the education portfolio.
The Congress leaders refute the claims made by the AAP of having done a lot of work in the field of education.
In this context, they say that the students enrolment in Government schools over the past four years has decreased rather than having increased.
They also claim that in the past four years, the passing percentage in Government schools in Delhi has come down drastically, which debunks the claims of AAP.
The Congress leaders say that Mr Lovely reminds people of the Sheila Dikshit Government, which ruled Delhi for 15 years, from 1998 to 2013, a period which saw the huge development of Delhi, including rapid expansion of the road network, vast expansion of the Metro network and sharp increase in the public transport fleet in the city.
In this context, they point out that during the Kejriwal government, there has been no improvement in public transport system.
On AAP’s Ms Marlena, they feel that she is a newcomer in Delhi unlike Mr Lovely and would fail to have much impact on the electorate.
Though the BJP is confident that the entry into the fray of Gautam Gambhir would draw the electorate, especially the youth, towards the saffron party, both Congress and the BJP feel the presence of Gambhir would not have much of an impact.
Congress leaders feel that many of the ‘off the cuff’ remarks by Gambhir like his recent remarks on Article 370 reflect his immaturity as a politician.
AAP leaders also feel that Gambhir would not pose much of a challenge from the Lok Sabha seat given his lack of awareness of the issues and problems faced by people in the area.
People of Delhi vote for a candidate on issues and not on whether they are celebrities, says Ms Marlena.
In fact, during the campaign, Gambhir has been embroiled in controversies over his having two voter ids and holding a rally without permission, issues on which he has received a notice from the Chief Electoral Officer in Delhi.
AAP believes that Gambhir has no vision for the parliamentary constituency. In fact, they point out that he on Tuesday turned down a challenge from Ms Marlena for a debate on issues faced by people here.
During the campaigning in the area, AAP leaders have been emphasising Gambhir’s lack of vision.
In this context, they point out that in the 2015 Assembly polls celebrity Kiran Bedi, who was projected as BJP chief ministerial face in Delhi, had to face defeat.
The Congress leaders also point out that cricketer Chetan Chauhan, who had been fielded by the BJP from here in 2009 —- had to face defeat at the hands of Sandeep Dikshit.
The Congress and the AAP feel that unlike in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when BJP won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi due to the Modi wave, no such wave exists in Delhi at present.
Moreover, they say that people of the area are unhappy with the BJP as their MP Mahesh Girri hardly visited them in the last five years.
An interesting battle thus seems to be on cards here on May 12 when Delhi goes to vote.
One of the larger and highly populated Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi, East Delhi Parliamentary constituency comprises 40 municipal wards of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi with approximately 16 lakh voters and a population of approx 25 lakhs.
The constituency covers areas east of the Yamuna and has a large population, including Seelampur, Shahdara, Gandhi Nagar and Preet Vihar.
In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Sandeep Dikshit of the Congress won the seat from his BJP rival Lal Bihari Tiwari by over 2 lakh votes.
In 2009, Sandeep Dikshit won again over his BJP rival Chetan Chauhan by over 2 lakh votes.
In 2014, however, BJP ‘s Maheish Girri won the seat over his AAP rival Rajmohan Gandhi by nearly 2 lakh votes. The Congress’ Sandeep Dikshit bagged the third position.

By Rajesh Ahuja

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