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Arvind Kejriwal, leader of Aam Aadmi Party
India’s capital votes in litmus test for national elections ’14 Upstart party could be spoiler in Delhi polls

NEW DELHI, Dec 3, (Agencies): India’s capital heads to the ballot box on Wednesday in the last of five state elections seen as a barometer for upcoming national polls and a first test for hardline opposition leader Narendra Modi. Modi, who was named the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for prime minister in September, has campaigned relentlessly in all five states, seeking to gain momentum for the much bigger battle of general elections due by May. A popular but divisive chief minister of western Gujarat state, Modi has waged a fierce fight against Rahul Gandhi and his scandal-hit Congress party, which has been in power nationally for almost 10 years.

The pair have criss-crossed the country, holding opposing mass rallies that have attracted tens of thousands of people. In the capital, campaigning has now ended ahead of voting on Wednesday. Results for Delhi and the four other states which voted earlier are to be published after counting on Sunday. “This is the first time Modi has campaigned on the national stage, outside of his Gujarat, so the big question is how well will he do as we head towards general elections?” said political analyst Subhash Agrawal. “The campaign has been a presidential- style contest, pitting one person against another, whereas previous state polls have been fought between parties over mostly local issues,” Agrawal, founder of the think-tank India Focus, told AFP.

During the often personal campaign, Modi has regularly mocked Gandhi, referring to him as “shehzada” or prince of the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947. Modi, 63, has sought to draw a contrast between Gandhi, 43, tipped to be premier should Congress win, and his humble beginnings as the son of a tea vendor in Gujarat which he has governed since 2001. But the battle between Delhi’s two main parties has a new entrant this year. Enter Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax official turned anti-corruption crusader, and his Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party. Kejriwal’s nine-month old AAP comprises an army of volunteers who in recent weeks have trudged through the alleys of the city’s poorest neighborhoods to tap the deep vein of dissatisfaction that has gripped Delhi residents, particularly over corruption and the soaring cost of living.

The AAP hopes to capitalize on the disillusionment with the two major political parties by offering what it claims will be an honest administration which takes the pressing problems of the city as its priority. The 45-year-old Kejriwal brandishes his party’s election symbol, the broom, and in a recent election appearance he promised to “sweep out the rubbish that has accumulated over the decades.” The Congress party’s Sheila Dikshit, 76, had been Delhi’s top elected official, or chief minister, since 1998. Her three consecutive terms have seen the city burgeon into a megapolis of nearly 17 million people, many of them impoverished migrants in search of jobs.

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