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|November 19, 1998||
Shadow CM Dixit threatens Kirti Azad's second innings in Delhi
Former Test cricketer Kirti Azad is faced with a googly -- in the form of shadow chief minister and Congress candidate Shiela Dixit -- in his bid for a second innings in the Delhi assembly.
The deadly delivery, arising from the surprise nomination of the Delhi Congress unit chief for the Gole Market constituency represented by the cricketer-turned-politician as a Bharatiya Janata Party member in the outgoing assembly, is not the only problem confronting him in the November 25 election.
His challenge in the constituency, where almost 80 per cent of the voters are government employees and their families, is far more formidable, given the anti-incumbency factor, price rise and water and power shortages.
But Azad is undeterred.
''I have struck a close rapport with my voters during my five-year tenure as MLA, making myself available to them round the clock and promptly responding to their grievances. This will help me sail through the polls,'' he contends.
Dixit's main plank, like other candidates of her party, is price rise and the BJP's 'misrule' in the city.
Referring to this, Azad says about 77 per cent of the 116,000 voters in the constituency have done matriculation or above and as such they understand that essential items have gone up even in non-BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh.
In the last assembly election in 1993, Azad had defeated his nearest Congress rival, Brij Mohan Bhama, a political lightweight as compared to Dixit, by a slender margin of about 3,300 votes.
Asked how he expects victory over Dixit, who besides being a former Union minister has close association with the Gandhi family and is perceived to be the Congress chief ministerial candidate, Azad says popularity is not that important.
Rajesh Khanna lost the election in the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, which comprises the Gole Market assembly segment, despite being popular, while a political novice, Muzaffar Ali, polled nearly 200,000 votes contesting against the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the last general election in Lucknow, he argues.
Further, the ''goodwill of the voters I have earned in the constituency'' is evident from the fact that the BJP consolidated its hold over it in the 1996 and 1998 Lok Sabha polls in the New Delhi constituency, improving its share of votes, he points out.
In contrast to his stress on local issues and his work as MLA, particularly in the slum clusters, Dixit is harping on the BJP's ''misrule'' in the last five years which saw three chief ministers.
Dixit, who lost the Lok Sabha election from the East Delhi constituency in March 1998, is contesting the Delhi assembly election for the first time.
While both Azad and Dixit have so far been campaigning mainly through padyatras and door-to-door visits, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chief Minister Sushma Swaraj and former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar are scheduled to address public meetings in the constituency.
Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, MP, has also agreed to campaign for the BJP candidate.
Dixit, daughter-in-law of former Union home minister Uma Shankar Dixit, is sought to be discredited by the BJP, terming her an outsider to Delhi.
Refuting this, Dixit, who has won the 1984 Lok Sabha polls from Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh, says she had her education at the Jesus and Mary School in New Delhi and Miranda House of Delhi University.
Though the Congress has not formally projected her as the chief ministerial candidate, her supporters keep raising slogans during the daily rounds of the constituency highlighting that she will hold the reigns in the event of the party coming to power.
Addressing street-corner meetings, Dixit raises issues relating to the spiralling crime graph in the capital, dropsy deaths, dengue and back-breaking inflation.
Her supporters, in order to reduce the effect of Azad's rapport with the electorate, announce that Dixit will convert the constituency ''into another Amethi,'' pampered when it was represented by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Initially, Dixit was on a weak wicket with Delhi Congress general secretary Romesh Sabharwal having filed his nomination as a rebel candidate. Sabharwal subsequently retired from the contest.
Among the eight candidates contesting the seat are M M Gope of the Communist Party of India, Ram Kumar of the Samajwadi Party and Ram Murat Shola of the Lokantrik Samajwadi Party.
The President of India, several Union ministers and MPs are voters of the constituency.
Besides 60,000 government employees and their families, those living in slum clusters number 20,000, the balmiki community 12,000, residents from the Uttarakhand region of Uttar Pradesh 6,000, voters living in bungalows 5,000, employees at Rashtrapati Bhavan and their families 4,000, and families in servant quarters of ministers 9,000.
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