No heavy weights in Delhi polls
For someone like me who was born and grew up in Delhi, this year’s Lok Sabha elections appear to be extremely lack luster. The capital has always had one or two heavy weights contesting from here but it is for the first time that none of the established leaders of long standing is not there in the fray from either of the two main political parties—the Congress and the BJP.It is one election where there is no Madan Lal Khurana or Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the two names synonymous with the Saffron party and that too in the year when L.K.Advani hopes to form the government at the center. Sahib Singh Verma had died in a tragic road accident a couple of years ago and therefore the BJP challenge is largely led by Vijay Goel, three times winner but who has a long way to go to before he becomes the face of his party in this city. He has the potential but as I said he is yet to reach his destination.
The Congress has withdrawn the names of its two top leaders—Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler from the contest in the wake of the controversy over grant of tickets to those accused of in the 1984 anti Sikh riots. The rest of the party list has winners but none of them is a full-fledged leader of the city as yet. Ajay Maken is closest to becoming one but he will have to win this election against Vijay Goel and subsequently also lead his party to victory before he is acknowledged to be part of the big league. Kapil Sibal has won one and lost one election in Delhi and like Sandeep Dikshit has to work very hard to become acceptable to the people of Delhi.
I feel that after H.K.l.Bhagat, the Congress has not produced a leader who has a huge appeal amongst both party workers and the people. Many may argue that Sheila Dikshit is one such leader but I will tend to disagree. Sheilaji may go down in the history of Delhi’s politics as the longest serving Chief Minister but she will never be regarded as the leader of Delhi so far as her acceptability amongst the workers and masses are concerned. She has big media appeal but her connection with the common people is not the same as big time leaders of Delhi in the past. It is a changing world and she has become the CM for the third time but there is a lot one can argue about. It is my opinion and I know many will disagree with that.
The BJP has fielded Chetan Chauhan against Sandeep Dikshit. Most people consider him to be a weak candidate and therefore expect Dikshit to win with ease. Similarly, there is no logic to giving the North East Delhi ticket to B.L.Sharma `Prem’. He is over 80 years old and past his prime. He had quit the Lok Sabha in 1997 after a spat with then Speaker P.A.Sangma. I have known Premji from the time when he used to come with press releases of the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh to the Time of India office where I was a reporter in the early eighties. He was an energetic and lively person who would try and convince me and my colleague Ravi Bhatia why we should publish his statement. He was also at that stage associated with the founding of the Hindu Parishad and he took pride in portraying himself as a RSS man.
Prem was subsequently fielded against H.K.L.Bhagat in 1991 and created history by defeating Delhi’s strongman largely because Ramvir Singh Bidhuri as the Janata Dal candidate cut largely into Bhagat’s once loyal Gujjar vote bank. The story is that Bidhuri wanted to withdraw and sent a message through a Hindi journalist to a Bhagat aide that he would like to step down. The message was conveyed but the aide who had his own political ambitions never passed the information to Bhagat. Rest is history.
Premji once met me while I was on an Indian Airlines flight to Trivandrum to cover the “Ekta Yatra’’ of Dr Murali Manohar Joshi from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. It was December 1991 and I was with the Hindu at that point of time and covering the BJP. There were whole lot of BJP leaders also on the plane and there was Shanta Kumar, the then Himachal Chief Minister occupying the first row of seats and Rajmata Vijay Raje Scindia sitting a couple of rows behind. I was talking to Shantaji when Prem appeared and started talking about his long association with Shanta Kumar “who had started his career along with him from Shahdara”. He embarrassed the CM by stating that “it was me who got him married off” and advised Shanta Kumar to cooperate with the press, as I was a friend. That is how Prem has been. Mahabal Mishra, the Congress candidate from West Delhi is a nice Bihari but has to go a long way before he is accepted as leader in the capital. He is pitted against Jagdish Mukhi whom his own colleagues at one time would describe as Sheila Dikshit’s eighth minister since he always cooperated with the CM while he was leader of the opposition in Delhi Assembly. He is likely to make it to the Lok Sabha this time largely because of Mahabal’s presence. Had the Congress fielded someone like Mukesh Sharma, Mukhi’s chances would have receded.
The joke doing the rounds in Delhi is that since the BJP gave a weak candidate against Sandeep Dikshit, the Congress has reciprocated the gesture by making the passage to Lok Sabha for Mukhi easier.
Vijendra Gupta contesting his maiden Lok Sabha elections from Chandni Chowk on the BJP ticket is someone who cannot be taken lightly. I have known him for many years and he has been a close associate of Vijay Goel. But he is a leader in his own right now and Kapil Sibal should be prepared for a fight of his life since I would always rate Gupta as a strong candidate whatever others may say.
Krishna Tirath and Meera Kawaria are engaged in a fight in North West Delhi, a constituency that is new for both of them. Tirath has an advantage since Sajjan Kumar and Bhagat had nurtured this part for the Congress very well.
Though Congress is expected to declare the candidates for South and North East Delhi, the BJP will be happy that they have come back into the fight. But I am of the view that the North East seat could help the BSP to perhaps open its account in Delhi if the Congress puts up a weak candidate. Both Sajjan and Tytler also would want the party to lose these two seats if their nominees do not get the tickets primarily because they hope that next time (that is in about two years), another Lok Sabha polls may take place and they may finally get the nod from their leadership.
My recipe for the Congress would have been that they should have shifted Sandeep to North East and brought in Arvinder Singh Lovely, the young Delhi minister from east Delhi. In South, they could have given the ticket to Ramvir Singh Bidhuri even though he lost the MLA’s election in2008 since he is still their best candidate from that constituency.
For the BJP, the best thing I would recommend is that they should make Varun Gandhi contest from East Delhi if Sandeep is not shifted in addition to Pilibhit. This would energize their whole campaign in Delhi. Let us see how things shape up now.