MY KOLKATA EDUGRAPH
ADVERTISEMENT
regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Legacy fight in searing heat: Sushma Swaraj's daughter takes on AAP crusader in New Delhi

Somnath Bharti, a three-time AAP MLA, cut his teeth as a civic crusader. He is infamous, yet locally popular, for leading a vigilante raid against African residents in the urban village of Khirki in 2014 on the allegation of drug trafficking — which was never proven

Pheroze L. Vincent New Delhi Published 25.05.24, 07:40 AM
New Delhi candidate Bansuri Swaraj is handed a framed artwork of her mother, former Union minister Sushma Swaraj, on the campaign trail. (Picture right) AAP’s Somnath Bharti before filing his nomination earlier this month.

New Delhi candidate Bansuri Swaraj is handed a framed artwork of her mother, former Union minister Sushma Swaraj, on the campaign trail. (Picture right) AAP’s Somnath Bharti before filing his nomination earlier this month. PTI

The strongest candidate in the New Delhi constituency is the atmospheric temperature. Its antidote — a keen contest between lawyers Bansuri Swaraj (BJP) and Somnath Bharti (AAP), for a constituency that had the lowest turnout in the national capital in 2019.

Both candidates though have legacies of different kinds to defend.

ADVERTISEMENT

Bansuri is the daughter of former Union minister, and briefly Delhi chief minister, Sushma Swaraj — a gifted orator of the BJP who passed away in 2019.

Bharti, a three-time MLA of the Malviya Nagar segment of the New Delhi seat, cut his teeth as a civic crusader. He is infamous, yet locally popular, for leading a vigilante raid against African residents in the urban village of Khirki in 2014 on the allegation of drug trafficking — which was never proven. He also fell out of the good books of his party leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal over his public marital dispute, now resolved.

However, his popularity, his work as the party’s minder for south India and his
efficiency as vice-chairman of the Delhi Jal Board won him back his standing in the Aam Aadmi Party.

“How am I qualified to ask for your vote? My nine-year track record as your MLA. I am not a product of dynasty, I am purely made by you all,” he tells a Sunday morning
gathering in a park in Sarvodaya Enclave, a tony neighbourhood that has overwh­elmingly voted for the BJP in the past decade.

The Aam Aadmi Party holds all the Assembly segments here but the BJP won 54.77 per cent of votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

So, every vote counts for the opposition in this prized seat, where the BJP and the RSS have had a strong presence even in the heydays of the Congress.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his home minister L.K. Advani have both been MPs from here. Advani won twice, in 1989, when he beat the Congress’s V. Mohini Giri, social worker and daughter-in-law of former President VV Giri, and in 1991, famously defeating the Congress’s star candidate Rajesh Khanna by just over 1500 votes in a keenly contested election. Advani, however, vacated the New Delhi
seat and retained Gandhinagar and Khanna won the 1992 bypoll defeating Shatrughan Sinha, then with the BJP and now seeking reelection on a Trinamool Congress ticket from Asansol in Bengal.

This election, an AAP-rebel, former minister Raaj Kumar Anand on a BSP ticket, has made it tougher for Bharti.

Bharti told The Telegraph: “The BJP is raking up my past and personal life only because their own members are voting for me as Modiji himself asks people to vote against dynasty politics. Karyakartas who work hard have been relegated to ‘dari bichao’ (event management) for children of senior leaders.”

Bansuri is keen to demolish this image.

On a Tuesday afternoon, during a meeting at the Delhi Tamil Sangam, she embraces cadres she recognises, makes eye contact with the crowd, smiles, waves and throws flower petals at them. She calls out some of their names — “Princess Park ki princess Seema didi” — calls them to the stage and shares her garlands with them.

It’s blazing outside, and children fill up many of the seats in the air-conditioned hall at the event held by the BJP Delhi’s Scheduled Caste Front. Bansuri greets all saying, “Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat!”

“My strength is four-fold because even I have a brother named Bhim, a general who will take us beyond 400 seats,” she says, embracing the Front’s president Bhim Singh Dhakoliya.

Walking onto the stage with a mic held up, like a rockstar, the 40-year-old Bansuri tells the crowd that Prime Minister Modi does what he says and credits him for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

“Whether you come from Delhi or Dubai, Latur or London, you will chant the
name of Lord Valmiki before you worship Lord Ram,” she adds, referring to the Maharishi Valmiki Airport in Ayodhya.

The sage Valmiki is widely worshipped by the Balmiki Dalit community in North India.

“I ask for your votes in the name of the yugpurush (man of the era Narendra Modiji) who has transformed the country…. Sushma Swaraj ke sanskar ka saar hoon main. Aazma ke dekhiye, nirash nahi karoongi (I am the element of Sushma Swaraj’s culture and behaviour. Give me a chance, I won’t disappoint),” she says.

The real challenge before the adversarial advocates is to get voters out on Saturday, when the weather forecast has the maximum temperature rising to 44°C.

Are they up for it?

New Delhi votes today

Follow us on:
ADVERTISEMENT