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Delhi civil polls: Cong faces tough challenge

Mass anger over rising prices and the sealing of illegal shops have given the Oppn enough ammunition.

delhi Updated: Apr 04, 2007 12:10 IST

Hit by mass anger over rising prices of essential commodities and the sweeping sealing of illegal shops, Delhi's ruling Congress party faces a tough challenge from the opposition in the municipal corporation elections in New Delhi on Thursday.

With the number of wards in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) going up from 134 to 272 in a bid to take governance closer to people, Congress leaders admit the going will be tough. Although many of them are confident of retaining power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is equally determined to win.

Undercutting the chances of both will be the large number of smaller parties as well as independents in the fray. Since the wards are now smaller, anyone who is popular in his area and can wean away a few hundred voters can cause an upset.

"We are going to win the civic election by two thirds majority, and this is not mere speculation. We know the ground realities," asserted Vijay Jolly, the legislator from Saket and one of BJP's better known leaders in the city.

"The poor governance of Sheila Dikshit's government, internal conflicts in the Congress and the sealing drive will help us. People know our strength and concern for real issues. It's our turn to serve the citizens," Jolly said.

The newly unveiled Delhi Master Plan's failure to give reprieve to the traders from sealing by the authorities has definitely swayed opinion against the ruling party, even Congress sources admit.

Some sings of Congress weariness are there to be seen. Unlike the 2002 election, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is not as actively campaigning for her own party - a sure sign of defeatism, according to critics.

Delhi Congress spokesman and legislator Mukesh Sharma is dismissive of the BJP claims. "We will win at least 175 seats this time. We have worked for the people in the last five years," he said.

In the outgoing house, the Congress has 108 of 134 seats against a paltry 16 of BJP. Ten independent candidates also won the last time.

The BJP has promised voters that those living in slums would be provided with a 25-yard plot or flat near their existing habitation and that villages on the city's outskirts and slums would get basic civic amenities.

The Congress has pledged to make legal over 1,500 unauthorized colonies, promote tourism along the now dying river Yamuna, provide alternative sites to vendors and hawkers on whom the Supreme Court is cracking and develop sports facilities in each ward.

A total of 9.96 million voters are eligible to votes in over 9,640 polling stations on Thursday.

While the Congress is contesting all the 272 wards, the BJP is contesting in one less. Election authorities rejected the nomination of its Mahavir Enclave candidate.

Other political parties in the fray include the Bahujan Samaj Party (224 candidates), Indian National Lok Dal (149) and Nationalist Congress Party (135).

A total of 1,216 independent candidates are also trying their luck, including those propped up by local Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) as well as Youth for Equality, which spearheaded a movement against caste-based quotas in elite educational institutions.

While just two contestants are fighting from Rajouri Garden in west Delhi, 23 are in the fray for Prem Nagar constituency in south Delhi.

The five-yearly MCD election will see many firsts - a high 2,575 candidates, a blanket ban on posters and banners in public places, and active participation of RWAs.

Election monitors are keeping an eagle eye on the goings on.

Delhi Police and municipal authorities have removed 7,823 hoardings, 3,805 banners, wall graffiti and over 12,727 posters put up on the streets and walls in violation of the code of conduct.

"The participation of RWAs will affect the political equations in the capital. I am quite convinced about my victory. People want educated candidates who can understand and solve their problems," said Rajpal Chauhan, a candidate from the Rohini-North ward.

Of course the Congress and BJP don't agree.

"When it comes to elections, there are only two parties - the Congress and BJP. All others have no standing," said Jolly, reflecting an opinion shared by Congress veterans too.

But even if people's anger against the Congress is benefiting the BJP, the latter is quietly worried over the active participation in the election of Madan Lal Khurana, a former chief minister and a former BJP leader.

Assisting him in his campaign is another former BJP leader and former Madhya Pradeesh chief minister Uma Bharti.

"Umaji and Khurannaji are senior leaders but they are not going to take away our votes," said one BJP leader, speaking on condition of anonymity.