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Gole Market may not be easy going for Dikshit

Many may consider Sheila Dikshit one of India's most successful chief ministers, but she could face an uphill task as she prepares to retain her seat in the Delhi Assembly.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2003 21:22 IST

Many may consider Sheila Dikshit one of India's most successful chief ministers, but she could face an uphill task as she prepares to retain her seat in the Delhi Assembly from a largely middle class constituency.

With most pundits predicting an easy Congress win in the national capital, the soft-spoken Dikshit, 65, who is also a grandmother in every sense of the term, is no doubt sitting pretty.

And her supporters of course seem to have no doubt that she will win, and cite her political and administrative experience in her credit.

But the chief minister herself is not sure how she will fare in her Gole Market Assembly constituency in the heart of the city.

The reasons are not far to seek.

These range from the alleged neglect of the constituency to Dikshit's many hidden enemies within the Delhi Congress notwithstanding the fact that she has the blessings of party president Sonia Gandhi.

And now the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made things more difficult by fielding Poonam Azad, an attractive woman and the wife of former Indian cricket star Kirti Azad whom Dikshit defeated in 1998 by a margin of just 5,600 votes.

Naturally, Congress sources say that Dikshit would have a bumpy ride on the road to victory - if she does win. Even some Congress veterans say that things are not looking very rosy for Dikshit.

With elections barely three weeks away, some voters in her constituency are openly complaining.

"I have never seen her after she was elected from this place," said a bitter Chandar Bhan, a tailor in the area's Bhagat Singh Market. It is an opinion that is shared by many others.

Mohammad Nizam, a cigarette-kiosk owner on Bangla Sahib Marg, is sure that Dikshit would not return to power this time.

"Last time I voted for BJP but it lost. But I will vote again for BJP. Voters have realised that the chief minister thinks of us only during an election."

Even residents of slum clusters located amid the multi-storey government quarters, otherwise considered diehard Congress supporters, do not have many good things to say about Dikshit.

One such person is Kanta Devi of Raja Bazar, who complains she has never encountered Dikshit in the past five years.

But BJP nominee Poonam Azad is a familiar face, she says.

"Poonamji comes to our huts often and has been taking care of our problems," Kanta Devi said.

Congress leader Jagdish Tytler admitted: "Dikshit has her enemies in Gole Market who may not contest the election but will surely make things difficult for her by quietly supporting her adversary."

He identified one such person as Romesh Sabbarwal, who "commands a lot of influence in the Gole Market area and will mobilise support for Poonam Azad".

But Tytler added: "Yes, there are charges of neglect of the constituency, but still Poonam Azad by herself is no match. Sheila Diskshit is a proven successful administrator, a fact voters may not find easy to ignore."

Until her candidature was formally announced late Wednesday, there were strong rumours that she might either shift her constituency or contest from two places.

BJP vice-president Harsh Vardhan is already trumpeting Poonam Azad's victory.

"Dikshit has neglected the constituency after being elected," he said. "But Poonamji has been actively involved in social work in her area and she has done a lot for slum dwellers.

"She is also younger and more energetic than Sheila Dikshit. Sheila's glamour has worn out."

Dikshit has one consolation though - not many in her constituency seem to have any great fondness for most politicians.

Said Chander Bhan: "I guess each of them is as bad as other. Their mudslinging does not cut any ice with me. It happens in election time. Candidates do accuse each other of letting the people down or corruption.

"Our family has four members and we have been voting for Congress all these years. But I cannot say whom we will vote for this time. There is still time to think."

First Published: Nov 14, 2003 21:22 IST