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A veteran-newcomer fight at Gole Market

By Sujay Mehdudia

NEW DELHI NOV. 22 . Riding a popularity wave and a general "feel good'' factor, Sheila Dikshit has become the first full term serving Delhi Chief Minister to seek re-election for a second successive term. The star campaigner of the Congress party, Ms. Dikshit is being challenged in her bastion by a greenhorn in politics, Poonam Azad, who takes the baton from her husband and Member of Parliament, Kirti Azad.

In the 1998 Delhi Assembly elections, Mr. Kirti Azad, then a sitting MLA, was defeated by Ms. Dikshit by 5,667 votes. Mr. Azad had won this seat in the 1993 polls by defeating his nearest Congress rival, Brij Mohan Bhama, by 3,803 votes. A reserved seat till the 1983 Delhi Metropolitan Council elections, the constituency was turned into a general one in the 1993 Assembly elections. In 1998, when Ms. Dikshit contested, the Congress bagged 53.95 per cent of the votes against 41.60 per cent by the BJP. But things changed in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, when the Congress vote share in this constituency went down to 39.78 per cent and the BJP share shot up to 57.73 per cent. Another interesting aspect of this constituency is the reduction in the number of voters this time compared to the 1998 Assembly polls. At present, the constituency has 82,662 voters on the electoral rolls as against 111,241 in 1998 -- a reduction of about 29,000 votes.

But Ms. Azad, who terms the Chief Minister an "outsider'', faces internal party dissensions and lack of interest among the local BJP leaders. For his part, Mr. Azad is busy reviving his old links and reminding people of all the work done during his tenure as MLA of the area. "I am seeking votes from the people of Gole Market on the development issue. They know the work done by me and by my predecessor who deserted them for greener pastures,'' says a confident Chief Minister, whose campaign is being handled by her entire family and friends so that she could reach out to people in other constituencies.

Billed as a crucial contest, the Gole Market constituency has a large number of government employees and even VVIPs like the President, A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, as voters. In fact, the constituency has a large concentration of Scheduled Caste voters, especially the Balmiki samaj. The crossing over by the prominent BJP Balmiki leader, Swaroop Chand Rajan, into the Congress has dealt a big blow to the BJP. Also, the Bahujan Samaj Party's decision not to field a candidate in Gole Market has gone in favour of the Chief Minister. This would prevent a split in votes.

The constituency is a mix of posh, urban and semi-urban areas and stretches from Alexander Place, Gole Dak Khana running through Ashoka Road, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Bangla Sahib Road, Bapu Dham, North Avenue, South Avenue, President's Estate, Sujan Singh Park, Humayun Road, Janpath, Kali Bari, Mandir Marg into Panchkuian Road. The constituency has jhuggi-jhonpri clusters in areas like Bapu Dham, Kali Bari, Mandir Marg.

The 37-year old Ms. Azad is confident of taking on her opponent whom she accuses of neglecting the constituency. She claims to have worked in the constituency during the past few years through a non-government organisation "Karma'', which promotes sports. She states that the good work done by her husband during his tenure as MLA here during 1993-98 would stand her in good stead. Ms. Azad warns that this election could spring a surprise. "I am from a family where politics was the order of the day. My father-in-law, Bhagwat Jha Azad, was the Chief Minister, my husband is an MP and I have been closely associated with their work,'' she asserts.

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