Over 20% Dalits out of 2.1 million voters in Northwest Delhi may play a key role in this constituency where incumbent Congress MP Krishna Tirath is battling people's anger due to crumbling infrastructure and illegal construction.
The Union minister and two-time MP is facing a tough contest from BJP's Udit Raj, a Dalit leader who had switched to the saffron party recently, and Rakhi Birla of AAP.
Problems like choked drains, pot-holed roads, lack of adequate water supply and healthcare facilities are palpable in most areas of the constituency and residents say Tirath did little to address their grievances.
Like other Congress candidates this time, she is facing anti-incumbency of not only the central government, but also the bitter aftertaste of the Sheila Dikshit government. The 59-year-old Tirath, a mother of three daughters, however, brushes aside such talk and expresses confidence that the area's voters will exercise their franchise in her favour again. "You can see my work in papers also. Roads, hospitals, schools, parks, subways... all say it on their own. I have used all development funds. I gave nearly 300 computers in all government schools in my constituency," says Tirath, who defeated BJP's Meera Kanwaria in 2009 by a margin of 1.84 lakh votes.
Although urbanisation has increased in parts of the constituency in the past few years, it has not kept pace with civic infrastructure, residents said, adding public transport was in a shambles in many parts of the constituency. The residents say that Tirath did not fulfil most of the promises she made during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Listing out the problems, they say a large number of unauthorised colonies have mushroomed due to "slackness" of authorities apart from illegal constructions.
Consisting of 10 assembly segments, this Lok Sabha seat, which came into existence in 2008 after delimitation exercise, is a mix of urban and rural-urban areas. In the recent Delhi assembly polls, BJP won five seats that come under the constituency, followed by two each by AAP and Congress and one by an Independent.
While the saffron party secured Narela, Rithala, Bawana, Kirari and Nangloi Jat, Congress won Sultan Pur Majra and Badli. Mangol Puri and Rohini went to AAP while Mundka was secured by the Independent candidate. Narela, Burari, Bawana and Mundka are mostly the urban-rural areas while the rest are urban in nature.
Interestingly, AAP had done well in the reserved constituencies in the Delhi assembly elections, winning nine of 12 seats. However, AAP candidate Rakhi Birla, who became the youngest ever cabinet minister of Delhi when the Arvind Kejriwal-led party formed the government, is fighting internal friction, according to party sources.
Birla replaced Mahender Singh in this seat after his involvement in a case came to light.
Although the party has thrown all its weight behind Birla, who was born in a Dalit family, several AAP workers from Narela, Mundka, Rithala, Badli and Bawana were opposed to her candidature even before the name was officially announced.
Asked to spell out her agenda for the constituency, Birla admits she did not get enough time to prepare a blueprint for solving problems but said she is ready to do what people ask of her. "I am not prepared as I hardly got time to think. It's been only a few days that I have filed my nomination. When did I get time? I am ready to do what the people say," Birla says.
Udit Raj, facing the tag of being an "outsider", has slammed AAP for making false promises to the people on several issues. "They don't know I have been living in Delhi for the past 34 years," argues the 53-year-old former IRS officer, who was born in Ram Nagar (Uttar Pradesh).
BSP's entry into the poll fray for this constituency has also spiced up the contest. BSP candidate Basant Panwar says, "This is a gramin area and problems of locals are out of their (opponents') understanding. People are fed up with BJP and Congress and feel cheated by AAP after Delhi elections." Besides Dalits, the constituency comprises around 15% Jat and 10% Vaish community members.