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Malhotra ahead in South Delhi

By Lalit K. Jha

NEW DELHI, MAY 6. Ever since it was carved out of the Outer Delhi Lok Sabha constituency in 1967, every political party has always considered the South Delhi seat a prestigious one. This constituency has always witnessed lively contests with fortunes swinging in the run-up to the polls. Dominated by the rich and the famous with a fair share of the poor and middle class categories, the South Delhi constituency is known for its "elite" nature with the Sikh voters proving to be the deciding factor.

Battling for this prestigious seat this time round are two distantly related cousins belonging to the Punjabi community. The veteran of Delhi politics, Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is pitted against the eminent lawyer and Congress leader, R.K. Anand. Also in the race is the internationally acclaimed management guru, Shiv Raj Khera, along with 13 others.

Though the contest primarily is between Mr. Malhotra and Mr. Anand, the former seems to be ahead of his rival with the latter poised to give a tough fight. Although faced with internal sabotage, Mr. Malhotra has been able to maintain an advantage over his Congress rival who has taken his electioneering into aggressive mode. Even the workers and local Congress leaders concede that they are facing an uphill task in filling up the huge gap between the Congress and the BJP. However, Congressmen argue that they could not get enough time to cover the entire area, while Mr. Malhotra has been campaigning for nearly two months.

Spread over the Muslim-dominated Okhla in the South and the working class and middle class-dominated Janakpuri in the West, the South Delhi constituency has more than 30 per cent voters who are original inhabitants and over 20 per cent refugees from Pakistan, who over the years have emerged as the "elite class" of the area. Interestingly, for the first time, the number of voters here has dropped by about 1.75 lakhs from 1,194,198 in 1999 to 1,019,347 now. The constituency now has 455,632 females and 563,715 men voters.

While Punjabi khatris account for 15 per cent of the voters, migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are present in equally large numbers. Comprising posh colonies like Vasant Vihar, Green Park, Hauz Khas, Gulmohar Park and Greater Kailash, there are some 56 urbanised villages that fall in the constituency, accounting for about 10 per cent of the Jat and Scheduled Caste votes. It would be interesting to see the way the sizable voters in colonies like R.K. Puram vote. Then there is a sizable Sikh population having pockets of influence in Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar, Rajouri Garden and adjoining areas. The Muslim-dominated Okhla and adjoining areas have always gone with the Congress in the past.

The constituency also has educational institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Jamia Hamdard, Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University, known for moulding public opinion on various issues of national importance.

One of the major problems faced by the electorate in this constituency is shortage of drinking water. Power cuts and massive billing errors too have been a cause for worry for the residents of this area. The constituency also is faced with the problem of bad roads, poor drainage, unplanned development of urbanised villages. The Unit Area Method of property tax has also become a major issue in this election. The Congress candidate is raking up issues of failure of the NDA Government to provide employment as promised five years ago.

While the Congress has won handsomely during the last two Assembly elections and also in the Municipal polls, the BJP has been the winner in the Lok Sabha elections. Of the 10 parliamentary elections held so far, the BJP has won seven. The seat went to the Congress candidates in 1971, 1980 and 1984, the last time being when Lalit Maken defeated Mr. Malhotra by about 85,000 votes.

The present Rajasthan Governor, Madan Lal Khurana, represented the constituency twice in 1989 and 1991, while the high-profile BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj, was elected from here in 1996 and 1998. In 1996 she defeated Kapil Sibal of the Congress, now candidate from Chandni Chowk, and in 1998, she had defeated Ajay Maken, by a huge margin of over 2 lakh votes. Mr. Maken this time is contesting from New Delhi.

The best fight, so far, was witnessed during the last Lok Sabha polls when Mr. Malhotra defeated the former Union Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, of the Congress, by 29,999 votes.

The constituency is once again all set to witness a tough contest but the odds presently appear to be in favour of Mr. Malhotra. Not the one to give up easily, Mr. Anand has stepped up his campaign is confident of wresting the seat from BJP with the support of all sections of the society with special focus on the Sikh votes.

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