iconimg Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times
April 20, 2009
The Congress seems to have turned a walkover in Delhi into a fierce electoral battle that could actually end in victories for the BJP in some Lok Sabha constituencies. Instead of taking advantage of what was acknowledged in political circles as a poor list of saffron nominees, the Congress in its enthusiasm to accommodate some favourites has thrown the election wide open. In the process, the BSP could end up cutting into the Congress vote and may even pick up a seat if its campaign stays on track. If so, it will be the first time since 1989 that a third party wins a Lok Sabha seat from Delhi. It was Tarif Singh as a Janata Dal nominee who had defeated Bharat Singh of the Congress in 1989 to win Outer Delhi.

What has come as a surprise is the Congress decision to field Ramesh Kumar, sitting MP, Sajjan Kumar’s younger brother from South Delhi in his place. Ramesh is a well-meaning young man who had lost the Assembly polls from Daulatpur, now in North West Delhi, by nearly 28,000 votes in 2003 when the going was good for the Congress. He had earlier been elected from the same constituency in 1998. But to give him the South Delhi ticket beggars belief.

First, he does not qualify to contest from South Delhi as he has nothing to do with the area. True, he may have assisted Sajjan in his election when parts of this constituency were in the earlier Outer Delhi constituency. But there the matter ends. Sajjan was withdrawn from the fight on the plea that Sikhs were angry with him and Jagdish Tytler. The rationale was that giving tickets to both these leaders would have an adverse impact on the party’s prospects in Punjab.

Giving the seat to Ramesh, who is Sajjan’s proxy, is not likely to fool anyone but the most naïve. Everyone knows that it will be Sajjan Kumar who will be fighting this election for his brother. If Ramesh wins, it will be Sajjan’s victory and not his. Clearly, Dr Manmohan Singh’s sentiments in respect of Sajjan and Tytler have been completely disregarded by whoever pressed for the ticket to be given to Ramesh. In the end, the Sikhs will feel even more outraged.

It is common knowledge that a coterie has been influencing decisions in the Congress. This is one case where this coterie has directly targeted the Prime Minister. The argument in circulation in Delhi Congress circles is that if the ticket had been denied to Sajjan’s nominee, the sitting MP may have left the party or played the spoiler in two or three other Parliamentary constituencies. First, Sajjan has gained from his association with the Congress and is not the sort who will work against the party. Second, by giving the ticket to Ramesh, the party high command has sent a message that Sajjan is indispensable. Third, the message is that Sikh resentment is superficial and that the community is not bothered who contests the seat now.

Ideally speaking, the South Delhi seat should have gone to a Gujjar candidate given the complexion of the constituency. Ramvir Singh Bidhuri was the most qualified for the ticket. He was overlooked since he lost the Badarpur seat in 2008, a defeat to which many top Congress leaders actively contributed. But Ramesh who had lost the 2003 polls by a bigger margin has been given the ticket. Bidhuri is being persuaded by the party to campaign for its Gujjar candidates in Rajasthan.

In North East Delhi, Jai Prakash Aggarwal, the DPCC chief and Rajya Sabha MP has been chosen as the party nominee. He is essentially from Delhi-6 and has done all his politics from the Chandni Chowk area. To give him a seat, which could put his political career in jeopardy, is astounding. Unless the calculation is to get Tytler into the Rajya Sabha if JP wins the Lok Sabha. And if he loses, the seat remains open for the Congress. Ideally, JP should have been overseeing the polls. If the party could accommodate Ramesh, it could easily have given the North East ticket to Deepak Bhagat, son of the late H.K.L. Bhagat whose contribution to the development of the trans-Yamuna area remains unmatched. Otherwise, Sandeep Dikshit could have been moved to North East and Arvinder Singh Lovely, Delhi education minister could have contested from East Delhi. This way the Sikhs would have got a nominee in the Lok Sabha from Delhi for the first time since Charanjit Singh in 1980.

The Congress is already feeling the heat from the BJP in West Delhi where it has given a ticket to Mahabal Mishra in a Punjabi- and Sikh-dominated area. It may now feel the heat elsewhere too. At present, the Congress appears to be comfortably placed in East and North West Delhi while the BJP is in a happy position in West Delhi. All other seats will witness a fierce contest. May the best man win. Between us.