Campaign begins on low key as
rebels plague BJP, Congress
Even as the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress grapple with dissidence, the formal campaigning for the November 25 assembly election in Delhi started on a low key today.
With several rebels in the fray even after the last date for withdrawal of candidature yesterday, the two leading parties seem to be preoccupied with "damage control" before they come out full steam on the campaign trail.
A total of 818 candidates remain in the electoral arena for the 70 assembly seats in Delhi. Earlier, 1,051 candidates had filed their nominations, of whom 935 passed scrutiny.
The largest number of candidates is 46 at Nasirpur, while there are only five at Shakurbasti.
While both the Congress and the BJP refrained from disclosing the exact number of rebel candidates, both are making efforts to get them to fall in line.
Vijay Kumar Malhotra, chairman of the BJP's election campaign committee for Delhi, said negotiations were on to persuade the dissidents to "retire" in favour of the official candidates.
Though hopeful of a resolution, he pointed out that the party constitution provides for expulsion for six years.
Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president Sheila Dixit said firm action would be taken against the rebels.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had kicked off the BJP's campaign in the capital with a rally on October 24.
The Left parties, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (National Democratic Front), Lok Dal (Ajit), Samata Party, and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal are among the other parties contesting the election.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Om Prakash Chautala is contesting three seats in alliance with the BJP. The Shiromani Akali Dal, having failed to reach an agreement with the BJP, has not fielded any candidate.
With the Election Commission restricting the use of wall posters and loudspeakers, candidates are concentrating on door-to-door campaigning and street-corner meetings. In recent days, contestants have been busy opening campaign offices in their constituencies and interacting with the media to project their views.
While the BJP is trying to focus on the developmental works undertaken in the state in the past five years, issues like the price rise, law-and-order, and breakdown of civic amenities have pushed it on the defensive.
"Yeh sultani nahin, aasmani kaaran hai (it is not due to the government, but nature),'' Vajpayee had said of the unprecedented rise in price of onions, during last month's rally.
The Congress on the other hand is trying to take advantage of the 'anti-incumbency' factor and play upon the failings of the BJP government.
With the campaign warming up, several pressure groups are also trying to influence the electorate to vote along certain lines.
The Delhi Sikh Forum has called for a boycott of Congress candidates in protest against the party's decision to include in its campaign committee some politicians who allegedly played a role in the anti-Sikh riots in the capital in 1984.
The forum has also expressed dissatisfaction at the performance of the BJP government and called upon the party to assure the Sikh community of fulfilment of its demands in a time-bound manner.
The Balmiki community, particularly in Gole Market, has sought to garner the support of its members against the Congress, saying some party leaders had in the past spoken against the community.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Vijai Kapoor today said he would be approaching the Union home ministry for adequate central forces to ensure smooth and peaceful polling on November 25.
Kapoor said the central forces would be supported by adequate Home Guards.
At a meeting at the Raj Niwas with the chief secretary, chief electoral officer, and senior officials of the state government, Kapoor said the message of carrying out their duties impartially should be sent strongly to the polling officials.
Chief Electoral Officer O P Kelkar said the 8,364,773 voters this time was an increase of about 50,000 since the Lok Sabha election earlier this year.
Eighteen observers have been appointed to oversee the poll process, nine for the general conduct of the election and nine to keep watch on expenditure.
The lieutenant-governor was also keen that extensive training should be imparted to all returning officers and assistant returning officers. Kapoor said instructions on how to use electronic voting machines in the six selected assembly constituencies should be publicised through the print and electronic media.
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