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Campaigning for Assembly by-polls a dull affair

By Our Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI, OCT. 9. Even as the Election Commission has made all arrangements for peaceful conduct of by-elections to the two Delhi Assembly seats -- Rajouri Garden and Baljeet Nagar - this coming Wednesday, campaigning is yet to gain momentum.

Having seen two major elections in less than an year - the Delhi Assembly elections in December 2003 and the Lok Sabha polls in May this year -- the 17 candidates in the fray for the two seats are finding it difficult to attract people to their poll meetings. Also missing from the scene are election posters, banners and hoardings.

Senior Election Commission officials, who have not received any major complaint so far, said they were expecting a very low turnout on polling day.

In Rajouri Garden, 101,154 voters including 45,742 women would get a chance to exercise their franchise, while in Baljeet Nagar there are 109,838 voters, including 45,047 women.

Polling, through the electronic voting machines, will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. Counting of votes will be taken up at two counting centres at 8 a.m. on October 15 -- at Ludlow Castle School for Baljeet Nagar and Arya Bhatt Polytechnic for Rajouri Garden. A two-day training session for the poll personnel began today.

Campaigning by the candidates for the two seats will come to a close at 5 p.m. on Monday.

The Election Commission has set up 118 polling booths in the Rajouri Garden Assembly segment and 113 booths in Baljeet Nagar. These seats were earlier represented by the former Delhi Assembly Speaker, Ajay Maken, and his Deputy, Krishna Tirath, respectively.

Rajouri Garden

In the prestigious Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency there are 11 contestants in the fray. It was earlier represented by Mr. Maken, the young Congress leader, who was elected for three consecutive terms in 1993, 1998 and 2003.

While the Congress now has fielded Ramesh Lamba, the Bharatiya Janata Party has given the party ticket to Ramesh Khanna. Though the contest is mainly between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, Virender Kumar of the Bahujan Samaj Party along with eight independents are also in the race.

In the December 2003 Assembly elections, Mr. Maken had defeated Sarabjit Singh of the BJP by an impressive margin of 24,487 votes. More than two-thirds of the electorates had voted for him.

In 1998, he had defeated BJP's Shashi Prabha Arya by about 20,000 votes, and in 1993 Mr. Maken he had won by about 4,000 votes.

While Mr. Lamba is banking on the personal charisma and goodwill of Mr. Maken, his main rival, Mr. Khanna and the BJP leaders here are trying to woo the people of Rajouri Garden by raising the issue of inflation and deterioration of civic services in the area after the Congress came to power at the Centre.

While Punjabi Khatris are the dominant community here followed by Scheduled Castes and Brahmins, the electorates here are mostly engaged in various trades and professions.

Baljeet Nagar

Reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates, the Baljeet Nagar Assembly segment in Karol Bagh is considered a stronghold of the Congress.

Because of the presence of people from socially and economically weaker sections of society who have traditionally been voters of the Congress, the party has never lost an election here in the past one decade.

Even the BJP leaders here concede that they are fighting against all odds to increase the vote percentage of their candidate, Raj Mehra, as the victory of the young Congress leader, Rajesh Lilothia, seems certain. More than 26 per cent of the voters here are Scheduled Caste.

A majority of residents here are either skilled or unskilled workers. Besides, Daya Ram Chandeliya of the BSP, three independent candidates -- Ghan Shyam Morwal, Jai Singh and Heera Lal -- are also in the fray.

Now the Member of Parliament form Karol Bagh, Krishna Tirath, who represented the seat for three consecutive term since 1993, defeated K. C. Ravi of the BJP by 10,930 votes in the December 2003 Assembly elections.

In the previous 1998 elections, she had defeated Yogendra Chandoliya of the BJP by more than 10,000 votes, while in 1993 Ms. Tirath was declared elected against K. C. Ravi of the BJP by about 1,500 votes.

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