The Traders fraternity, a traditional voting bank of the federally ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seems to be shifting its political preferences. A major section of New Delhi traders appears to have preferred the ruling Aam Admi Party (AAP) over the BJP in the 70-seat New Delhi assembly elections, despite the Modi government's trader-friendly measures, policies and protectionist agenda.
In major trading hubs of Delhi, the AAP has emerged victorious with large margins. AAP has topped BJP candidates across the trading hubs of Rajouri Garden, Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar, Chandni Chowk, Ballimaran and Sadar Bazaar, among other constituencies, which have a high concentration of trading and business communities. Many of these traders, however, are also spread in other residential areas of New Delhi and have shops or offices in these commercial areas.
In the three assembly seats of Rajouri Garden, Tilak Nagar, and Hari Nagar belonging to the West Delhi Parliamentary seat, the AAP defeated the BJP by large margins. In Hari Nagar, for example, BJP’s Tejindar Pal Singh Bagga – a firebrand youth leader of the party – garnered only 35,956 votes against AAP candidate Raj Kumari Dhillon’s 58,087 votes. AAP saw 53.67 percent votes against BJP’s 35.07 percent from the seat, where the Sikh community, who are predominantly traders, reside in abundance.
A similar trend was seen in the adjoining Rajouri garden assembly seat, known for its marble trade. AAP candidate A. Dhanwati Chandela, who garnered 62,212 votes (55.7 percent) defeated BJP candidate Ramesh Khanna by 23,125 votes. In the Tilak Nagar area – another major trading hub -- AAP’s Jarnail Singh emerged victorious with 62,436 votes (62.2 percent votes) defeating BJP’s Rajiv Babbar by a margin of some 28,000 votes.
New Delhi’s commercial markets of Chandni Chowk, Ballimaran and Sadar Bazar, where it is usually said that one can find literally anything from a safety pin to a petrochemical cracking facility, are the major wholesale hubs of the city. These markets offer a range of commodities, from textiles, hardware, sanitary wares, household items, decorative items, lights, and innumerable other products from across the country. Data from the Election Commission of India reveals that the buzzing 350-year-old Chandni Chowk bazaar negated the BJP as well.
In the Chandni Chowk assembly constituency, AAP’s Prahlad Singh Sawhney, got 50,891 votes, amounting to 66 percent. Suman Kumar Gupta of the BJP, which received 21,307 votes, was defeated by 29,584 votes.
In the Ballimaran constituency, another major trading pocket of the Chandni Chowk area, the BJP candidate got 29,472 votes, less than half of the 65,644 votes polled in favour of the AAP candidate. In yet another major wholesale hub of Sadar Bazaar, 68,790 votes were polled in favour of AAP against 43,146 polled for BJP.
As per an estimate, the Old Delhi area, where the Chandni Chowk and the Ballimaran constituencies are located, almost half a million shops see an untold number of items traded. The annual business of Chandni Chowk area alone is pegged at $15 billion.
Experts blame the 2016 demonetisation and the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as reasons for the BJP rout in the polls.
Political commentator and author, Pradeep Saurabh, told Sputnik, “The ill impact of demonetisation and GST are now visible. India is going through an acute slowdown, with growth dipping to a six-year low. Also, even as the Modi government has reduced corporate tax for large businesses, no benefits have been given to the small-time traders and micro and small enterprises.”
A Delhi-based trader, on condition of anonymity, noted that the “BJP took the trade community for granted. While AAP provided immediate relief such as concessional rates for electricity and water, BJP did no handholding of the trader community.” Even the drive for regularisation of unauthorised colonies, which would have benefited at least 300,000 traders, "remained on paper," said the trader.
The Secretary General of Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), Praveen Khandelwal, believes that votes of the traders took the BJP’s voting percentage up in the elections. “CAIT had given a call to the traders to support BJP in the Delhi elections. It was because of our call that the voting percentage of the party went up to 39 percent compared with 32 percent in 2015,” he told Sputnik.
Another factor in turning the New Delhi trading community from the BJP was the sealing drive by BJP-ruled Municipal Body of Delhi following the court's directives. In last three years, municipal authorities sealed at least 10,000 commercial units for misuse of land use norms.
Another trader told Sputnik that the BJP-ruled Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) should have come up with an amnesty scheme to deal with the problem of sealing, rather than resorting to simple theft.
Be it the Narendra Modi government’s acerbic criticism of retail giant Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, or the protectionist measures announced in the February 1 annual budget, there has been no resonance among New Delhi traders to support the BJP, in one of the most bitterly-contested elections in recent memory.
The trading committee, it seems, remained unimpressed with the BJP electoral rhetoric of nationalism and the politics of Hindutva, opting instead for the development politics offered by the AAP, which usually goes by consensus-based solutions of issues and has allowed various freebies in terms of electricity and water.
The same BJP won seven out of seven seats during the 2019 parliamentary elections in the name of Narendra Modi.