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|November 21, 1998||
Woman's touch evident in Delhi campaign
Suhasini Haidar in Delhi
The women's reservation bill may not have seen light yet, but that has not stopped the Delhi assembly election from being taken over by the fairer sex. Although only 46 of the 815 candidates fielded are women, the campaigns drawing the most interest involve women candidates.
To begin with, the fights for Gole Market (featuring Sheila Dixit) and Hauz Khas (featuring Sushma Swaraj). These two seats will decide the fate of Delhi's next chief minister. While Dixit's seat is not quite secure, the Congress has begun to see the glimmer of victory in Delhi. And while Swaraj should be very confident of defeating her opponent Kiran Walia, the BJP's chances of a comeback are rather bleak.
Few comparisons can be drawn between the incumbent and the challenger. While one is earthy and very middle-class, the other is slightly vague and from more rarefied ranks. If there are any comparisons being made on the basis of appearances, they are between Swaraj and the glamorous twice defeated Congress contender from Delhi Cantonment, Kiran Chowdhury. Chowdhury also sports a large red bindi (called an atthanni, or 50 paise coin), about as large as Swaraj's.
Another comparison that seems to fit is between veterans: Dixit and Delhi Food and Civil Supplies minister Poornima Sethi who is hoping for re-election from Kalkaji,. Both have a similar auntyji appearance, with grey hair swept back in a tight bun; both carry large handbags and are wrapped up in large grey shawls.
Amongst voters too, this correspondent found it was the women who seemed most vehement about voting for change. The recent price-rise in Delhi, particularly in vegetables, has generated a lot of anger from the electorate, specifically the housewife in Delhi. "Congress ke zamane me mahangai theen, lekin ab to jeena mushkil hai. Yeh BJP to goli marne layak hai." (Inflation existed during Congress rule too, but now the BJP has made our existence difficult. They should be shot)," said one particularly irate lady from Delhi cantonment who greeted her local candidate with a garland of onions. The price of onions and other vegetables is definitely the main, if slightly overemphasised, issue this election.
There are other women of Delhi who are anguished: the Sikh widows of 1984, living primarily in East Delhi, who are not yet willing to forgive the Congress for its role in the riots which killed their husbands. They are not moved by Congress president Sonia Gandhi's apology to the Sikh community last week.
"If she really felt sorry," says Randhawa Kaur, "Why didn't she apologise to the widows personally? And why did it take so long? The same faces that [took part in the riots] are still in her party." It will be some time, if ever, before their vote, traditionally given to the Congress will revert back to the party.
There are many other poll issues such as the availability of water, electricity, and good schooling which women voters are bringing up to their local candidates in this election. Many candidates are facing the ire of these voters, with slippers being thrown at some of them.
In one particular constituency, voters said they would prefer to vote for the woman candidate from their area, reasoning that, "Only a woman can understand our problems, and she might try to do more for us. She will have a woman's touch".
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