Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998

RAJEEV BHATT

RAJEEV BHATT

RAJEEV BHATT

RAJEEV BHATT

RAJEEV BHATT

Five of the six newly-elected BJP MPs from Delhi (clockwise from top left) Sushma Swaraj, Jagmohan, M.L. Khurana, Vijay Goel and K.L. Sharma.

S.K. PANDE

Total seats 7BJP 6Congress(I) 1

IN Delhi the BJP had an early edge; added to this, a well-oiled machinery ensured the party's victory in six of the seven parliamentary seats. The contests in some constituencies were quite keen. The Congress(I)'s share of the popular vote seemed to indicate that the party had retrieved some of the ground it had lost in previous elections. The Sonia factor may have accounted for this, but it was not sufficient for the party to win more than a solitary seat. Although the BJP's seat tally looks impressive, in some seats its victory margins were low. In Chandni Chowk, for instance, the BJP's Vijay Goel defeated J.P. Aggarwal of the Congress(I) by a mere 4,349 votes; Shoaib Iqbal, the Janata Dal candidate who finished third, polled 67,547 votes. Much of his support came from Muslim voters in Matia Mahal and Bailimaran. Had it been a straight contest, the Congress(I) may have won.

In the 1993 elections to the Delhi Assembly, one of the main campaign themes of the BJP was the failure of successive Congress(I) governments at the Centre to take action against those suspected of involvement in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984. The BJP was elected to power in that election. The party again fared well in the 1996 parliamentary elections from Delhi. Since the 1984 riots was still an emotive issue among Sikh voters, the Congress(I) this time denied the party ticket to H.K.L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, against whom cases were filed in connection with the riots. Even so, Sikh voters appear to have voted against the Congress(I).

There is, however, some consolation for the Congress(I): its share of the popular vote went up from 37 per cent in 1996 to 42 per cent this time. The BJP's vote share this time was about 50 per cent - an increase of less than 1 percentage point over 1996. The BJP's victory margins in Outer Delhi and East Delhi were lower than in 1996. In Outer Delhi, the BJP's K.L. Sharma, who won in 1996 by a 2.5-lakh-vote margin, found his margin of victory reduced to 1 lakh votes. In East Delhi, the Congress(I) candidate, Sheila Dixit, polled more votes than Lal Behari Tewari of the BJP in some Assembly segments. But in the overall parliamentary constituency, she lost by 45,362 votes; BSP candidate Zahid Khan polled 35,126 votes. In 1996, the BJP's margin of victory was 1.5 lakh votes.

Only in South Delhi, where Sushma Swaraj defeated the Congress(I)'s Ajay Makan, has the BJP's margin of victory gone up as compared to 1996. In New Delhi, where R.K. Dhawan of the Congress(I) lost to former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Jagmohan (BJP), the BJP's margin of victory came down from over 58,000 in 1996 to 32,647 this time.

The Congress(I)'s only victory came in Karol Bagh, where Meira Kumar defeated Delhi Minister and BJP candidate Raitwal by 4,849 votes.

Meira Kumar of the Congress(I), who won from Karol Bagh.-V. SUDERSHAN

Although the Cong- ress(I) has been humbled in Delhi, it has not been humiliated. Yet it has several points to ponder over its performance in Delhi. There appears to be a leadership vacuum in its party unit in Delhi; the voters are not enthused by the younger crop of leaders, and members of the old guard, who were denied the ticket, were either reluctant to campaign or became the focal points of dissidents.

The Congress(I)'s debacle prompted demands for the resignation of Delhi Congress(I) president Prem Singh. A reshuffle in the party unit is on the cards.

As for the BJP, the erosion in its victory margins - and the regrouping of the Congress(I) machinery - are sources of concern. In addition, the party finds itself in a position where it is unable to increase its share of the popular vote. Anti-incumbency sentiments are also evident, especially among the economically weaker sections.

In the din and bustle of parliamentary elections, the Congress(I) earned a 'consolation prize' in the form of a victory in the byelection to the Ghonda Assembly constituency, which was considered to be a BJP stronghold.

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