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BJP's last-minute efforts to grab votes in Delhi
Indo-Asian News Service, PTI
New Delhi, May 07, 2004
First Published: 13:25 IST(7/5/2004)
Last Updated: 13:25 IST(7/5/2004)

Fearing that the seven Delhi parliamentary seats might slip out of its hands and go to the Congress, a desperate Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sent an SOS to film stars in its camp to come to its aid.

Yesteryear Bollywood actors like Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha and Poonam Dhillon have all descended on the capital in a last minute bid to woo the voters away from a resurgent Congress party before May 10 -- the fifth and last phase of India's staggered elections.

Slum dwellers, including hundreds whose hutments along the winding Yamuna river were demolished and who were relocated to other areas, eunuchs and sex workers in the red light district of G.B. Road have all been visited by candidates in an effort to win their votes.

The BJP had made a clean sweep of the Delhi seats in the last parliamentary elections in 1999, a feat that will be difficult to repeat this time, say poll pundits.

Led by the charismatic Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, the Congress party was returned to power in the elections to the state assembly in December, winning 47 of the 70 seats. The BJP managed to secure just 20.

That trend could well get repeated in Monday's parliamentary election.

Reflecting the confidence of the state unit, the Congress has left the campaign details largely to Dikshit and other Congress leaders.

"We are a little nervous," admitted a local BJP leader.

"It will be difficult to hold on to all the seven seats, particularly since the Congress had a great assembly election. We are looking at about three seats," he said.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi will wind up her election campaign with a rally at the Ramlila Grounds in the city Saturday when campaigning for the final round of polling ends.

BJP sources say the party's best prospect is in South Delhi constituency, where party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra is pitted against leading lawyer and Congress candidate R.K. Anand.

The BJP has three central ministers in the field in Delhi -- Tourism Minister Jagmohan, Labour Minister Sahib Singh Verma and Minister of State for Sports Vijay Goel.

Jagmohan, reputed as a non-nonsense and competent minister, has a tough time countering the Congress campaign that, at 77, he is too old to address the problems of the electorate in his New Delhi constituency.

Taking him on is Delhi assembly Speaker Ajay Maken, 40, of the Congress who is projected as "Mr. Clean" in party posters -- the former transport minister not only has a clean reputation but is also credited with cleaning the capital's air by getting rid of diesel buses and introducing compressed natural gas (CNG) driven public transport vehicles.

The "40 versus 80'' campaign by the Congress has prompted Jagmohan to change his look in election posters and pamphlets by printing pictures apparently taken when he was younger.

Goel has shifted to Delhi Sadar from Chandni Chowk, which returned him last time and from where Congress spokesman and eminent lawyer Kapil Sibal is contesting this time.

The BJP has pitted Smriti Irani, popularly known as Tulsi for her role as a daughter-in-law in the TV soap "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi", against Sibal.

Both Sibal and Irani have been walking through the 10 sq km of their constituency -- the smallest in the country -- and have left nothing to chance. Both have visited even the eunuchs and sex workers in the red light district of G.B. Road to seek their votes.

Sibal appeared to have made a good impression in the area.

"He said I cannot promise anything right now, but if you vote for me and I am elected I will definitely try to solve your problems," said Champa, a sex worker.

"He sounded like a nice man who will keep his word. We have always voted for the Congress," she said after Sibal visited the area.


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