When you have to pull out proof about the number of times you’ve visited your constituency as a parliamentarian, you’re probably in trouble. And telecom minister Kapil Sibal is in a lot of trouble. Five years ago, he won Chandni Chowk by a margin of more than 200,00 votes. Now there’s a chance Sibal will come in third.

“I have visited my constituency 570 times,” Sibal told The Pioneer two weeks ago, a claim he has since repeated, but one that also brings up an obvious retort from most people in the area: “Has he come? I’ve never seen him here, and I cover the whole area daily,” said Mohammed Ijaz, an autorickshaw driver. “I bet he just had his car drive around so he could say he was here.”

Right in the heart of Old Delhi, in the alleys around Shahjahanabad’s central artery or in the lanes leading down from the Jama Masjid, this national anti-Congress mood seems to disappear. People insist that they will always stick with the party that has always stuck with them, and the Aam Aadmi Party is dismissed by many as a distraction. Until you listen a little closer, that is.

“Can you imagine anyone here voting for someone other than the Congress?” asked Nazeer Mirza, a shop-owner in the walled city. The man making chai right next to his shop, who requests not to be named, waits until Mirza is out of earshot before saying, “You see, I’m an aam aadmi. Who do you think I will vote for?”

Out on the fringes of the walled city, the AAP topi, the almost regimental cap that Aam Aadmi Party members wear, reigns supreme. The murmuring comes from supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “Look, I’ve pulled together a Muslim, a Sikh and I’m a Hindu — never mind Rampal over there — all of us support the jhaadu,” the broom that is the AAP symbol, said Narender Mathur, pointing to a group of young men lolling about at Ajmeri Gate.

Each one of them has a story about how things got better when AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal was chief minister in Delhi. Rahim Mohammed insists his ration card, which he had been trying to get for seven years, was made in a week. Prawesh Kumar said he managed to get medicines at the hospital without having to beg and plead. Ijaz, the auto driver, claimed the police did not ask them for any bribes for the 49 days — although they came back with a vengeance after Kejriwal resigned. But Rampal, who wasn’t counted in the group, disagreed. “Look, they’re all only interested in things for themselves. Narendra Modi will bring development for all of us.”

In the further reaches of the constituency, in places like Adarsh Nagar and Tri Nagar, which sent BJP leaders to the Delhi Assembly in last December’s elections, the circle is completed. Here the youngsters marching the streets before the arrival of the BJP’s candidate, Harsh Vardhan, for a padyatra or foot march, don’t have any flags or saffron regalia. But the locals have no doubt about which party they represent.

“Doctor sahab [as Harsh Vardhan is known] is a good man,” said Ashish Yadav, a young man tending shop in Sarai Pipal Thala, on the edges of the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha seat. “And with him you get Modi too.”

Vardhan is not your usual BJP candidate; a few days ago it was him, not the AAP candidate Ashutosh, accusing Sibal of being too cozy with Ambani (Anil, in this case). And he could benefit if the Congress and AAP end up splitting Muslim votes — about 20 per cent of the electorate in Chandni Chowk.

But there is the sense that Congress’ success in areas with significant Muslim populations in last year’s Assembly elections — attributed to a need to keep the Congress as a bulwark against the BJP  — could be upended, now that minority voters know that AAP can win elections and play the same role.

Then there is the Janata Dal (United)'s legislator in the state assembly, Shoaib Iqbal, whose clashes with the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid has given him clout in the area. Iqbal hasn’t openly endorsed any candidate, but his antipathy for the BJP is clear and he has also expressed disappointment with Sibal. Moreover, Iqbal was one of three independents who supported Kejriwal’s minority government in the Delhi Assembly.

That leaves AAP's Ashutosh who, like Vardhan, is a Bania — a community with significant representation in the constituency — but with the advantage of not alienating the minority vote. The former journalist is one of the most prominent faces of the party who will also benefit from Kejriwal’s energetic campaigning in the area.

All Ashutosh has to do is to convert the positive murmurs along the streets of Old Delhi into open endorsements. If he doesn’t manage to do so, Vardhan — a five-time MLA who was the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in December — should take away the Old Delhi crown. Either ways it seems unlikely that the Congress’ Sibal will have any more opportunities to add to his 570+ tally of visits to Chandni Chowk, at least not as their representative.