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|November 18, 1998||
Casteism, criminals to the fore in Delhi poll
George Iype in New Delhi
Caste and crime are the basic ingredients of Delhi's colourful electoral battle, thanks to ticket distribution on caste lines by the main contenders and the large number of candidates with criminal antecedents.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition Congress have fielded candidates on caste and community lines in most of the 70 constituencies in the capital.
Thus, in many constituencies, Punjabi is pitted against Punjabi, Jat against Jat, Brahmin against Brahmin, and Bania against Bania.
Chief Minister Sushma Swaraj, a Punjabi contesting Hauz Khas, faces another Punjabi, Congress candidate Kiran Walia.
Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president Shiela Dixit, a Brahmin and the party's chief ministerial candidate, challenges present BJP legislator and former Test cricketer Kirti Azad, another Brahmin, in Gole Market. Incidentally, this is the constituency where the President, prime minister, and all top bureaucrats will cast their votes.
And in conservative Shakur Basti, All-India Congress Committee secretary Dr S C Vats takes on the BJP's Brahmin leader, Gauri Shanker Bharadwaj.
Similarly, there are many seats in Delhi where both the Congress and the BJP could afford to field only Sikhs or Punjabis.
They include the upmarket Kalkaji where the contest is between Civil Supplies Minister Poornima Sethi and prominent Congressman Subhash Chopra.
Other traditional Punjabi constituencies are Rajendra Nagar (Puran Chand Yogi of the BJP versus Ram Ashish of the Congress), Saket (Vijay Jolly of the BJP versus Tek Chand Sharma of the Congress), Janakpuri (Jagdish Mukhi of the BJP versus Shiv Kumar Sondhi of the Congress) and Rajouri Garden (Sashi Prabha Arya of the BJP versus Ajay Maken of the Congress).
Jat supporters of former chief minister Sahib Singh Verma and Congress politician Sajjan Kumar are contesting many of the 21 constituencies in Outer Delhi.
Considering the support Verma enjoys in the rural areas of Outer Delhi, most BJP candidates there are Jats even though they were up in arms against the party leadership when Verma was axed as chief minister last month.
According to Congress MLA Mukesh Sharma, who is contesting Hastsal, the party has not deliberately nominated candidates on caste lines. "It so happens that our candidate in each assembly segment is from the dominant community in the area. Caste has never been the basis for selection of candidates," Sharma, a close associate of former MP Sajjan Kumar, told Rediff On The NeT.
But Sharma said many BJP candidates and rebels contesting in Delhi have criminal records. BJP rebel and Samata Party candidate Karan Yadav who is contesting against Sharma in Hastsal has at least eight cases of attempt to murder registered against him by the Delhi police.
But the Congress accusing the BJP of fielding criminals is like the pot calling the kettle black. According to a recent report prepared by the Delhi police, 120 of the 815 candidates contesting the election have more than three criminal cases registered against them. And no single party can claim exclusive rights over these worthies.
The criminal candidates, according to the police records, include 44 independents. The remaining 76 have been nominated by the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party, Samata Party and Janata Dal.
The Delhi police describe at least 15 of these candidates as "dreaded" criminals. The charges against them are murder, rape, land grabbing, kidnapping, rioting, unauthorised possession of arms, and intimidation.
This list includes Gangaram Peepal, the BJP candidate in Patparganj, Salauddin Pehalwan, the Congress nominee for Seelampur, Manoj Choudhary, the Janata Dal candidate in Saket, and Manoj Singh, an Independent candidate in Sarojini Nagar.
But, according to the police, Delhi's most feared candidate is Keshav Gujjar, Samajwadi Party candidate in Karawal Nagar. Gujjar was an associate of Satbir Gujjar, a notorious gangster whom the Uttar Pradesh police shot dead last year.
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