Emerging trends

Print edition : December 19, 2008

At a polling station in Ganderbal on November 23.-TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP

The most memorable feature of the polling in the November-December round is the way in which Kashmiri voters ignored the separatists boycott call.

Separatists snubbed By Shujaat Bukhari in Srinagar

UNPREDICTABLE is another name for Kashmir. This was evident from the stunning 65 per cent voter turnout in the first two phases of the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly held on November 17 and 23. The display of voter enthusiasm despite inclement weather and the boycott call given by separatists in the two districts of Bandipore and Ganderbal sounded a warning to leaders of both mainstream political parties and separatist groups.

The elections (the third phase is scheduled for November 30 and the fourth for December 7) are in fact conducted in the backdrop of a political atmosphere vitiated to by the agitation three months ago in the Kashmir Valley against the transfer of land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and the protests in Jammu demanding the revocation of the government order cancelling the land transfer. Although the issue was settled in favour of the Sri Amarnathji Shrine Board Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, it gave a new lease of life to the mass uprising in Kashmir against the Indian state.

The movement for the right to self-determination was rejuvenated, and separatist leaders, who had practically lost their postal address in the changing political landscape, grabbed centre stage. These leaders could not, perhaps, be blamed for thinking that they were the real leaders as hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the martyrs cemetery (where slain militant leaders are buried) at Idgah, at the Tourist Reception Centre grounds, and at Pampore in August, making it clear that they would not compromise on anything less than azadi (independence).

Kashmirs renewed upsurge had a tantalising effect on the elections, which were otherwise due in September-October. The imposition of Presidents Rule in the wake of the withdrawal of support by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Congress-led coalition headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad came in handy for the Central government to plan a slight delay in the holding of elections. There was increasing pressure on the Government of India and the Election Commission of India (ECI) to postpone the elections and hold them along with the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. However, fearing that it would be tantamount to surrendering before the separatists, New Delhi ignored the calls for further postponement made by several parties, including the PDP, which was recovering from the agitation over the Amarnath land issue and the subsequent uprising in Kashmir.

The Election Commission appears to have scored a point. Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswamy, during his visit to Srinagar ahead of the elections, made it clear that the ECI was concerned not about the turnout but about the fairness and transparency in the exercise. The experience of 1996, and to some extent 2002, was that force was used to make people come out and vote, in order to swell the turnout figures.

In this round of elections, especially with the atmosphere not so favourable, there were apprehensions that the Army would once again complete the electoral process with the use of force, to prove that the Kashmiri people had faith in Indian democracy. However, notwithstanding a large presence of the security forces, their interference on the ground was absent.

On the day of the elections, the separatists call for a boycott appeared to have the potential to bring the process to a grinding halt. But at the end of the day the voting percentage in the two districts surpassed even the 2002 figures.

What surprised everyone was not only the smooth conduct of polling but also its brisk nature. Even mediapersons were not prepared for the long queues of voters. This correspondent in fact thought he would be reporting a complete boycott or the use of force in the event of zero polling.

Those who voted surely defied the calls by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and its allies. They had their own argument for this. We are not against freedom. But we do want good governance, redress of our grievances, and people who can represent us meaningfully, a voter in Bandipore said. Many of them are of the opinion that if we do not vote and choose the right people, then ikhwanis [surrendered militants], unscrupulous elements and crooks will come forward to take advantage of the boycott and then rule us. This distinction between the demand for azadi and the decision to vote seems to hold water to an extent.

The impact of the peoples decision to vote also heralds a new faith in the democratic system through which they want roads, electricity and jobs. However, many people, especially the young people who turned out to vote, cautioned that it should not be seen as a referendum in favour of India.

I do not think this means that every Kashmiri is an Indian. The Kashmir dispute is one thing and voting is another, explained Nazar Mohammad, a college student in the Ajas area of Bandipore. In a different context, it does make sense to view the situation on those lines.

Before the Amarnath agitation erupted, the chapter of azadi had been almost closed in Kashmir by those who were threatened by it. For them it was a past to be put behind in view of a weak Pakistan, the tremendous development activity that was taking place in Jammu and Kashmir, and the slew of confidence-building measures the Indian government had taken. They would think that the rigid stand of pro-freedom leaders had been buried under the new atmosphere created by the peace overtures between India and Pakistan and by development activities. But the embers that lay dormant were rekindled by the Amarnath issue.

It is a fact that Kashmir has to be resolved politically, then only you can see stability, says columnist P.G. Rasool. He attributes the large turnout to many factors, which include a deep sense of tribalism and regionalism. He also blames the Hurriyat for not conducting itself properly.

The first two phases of the elections have set a trend. Not only was the voter turnout high, but even the number of contestants showed an increase from the previous elections. In the first phase, 105 candidates contested from the 10 constituencies of Bandipore district. This new political atmosphere has changed the nature of political discourse in the mainstream camp as well. Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah said his party, the National Conference (N.C.), was contesting the elections for good governance, and the Hurriyat said it was fighting for a resolution of the Kashmir issue. The Vision Document released by the N.C. also focusses on governance.

The PDPs founder, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, gives an entirely new direction to this process by saying that people have again reminded India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue. What is more surprising is that the militants, barring in one incident, did not try to disrupt the elections. In 2002, they targeted mainstream politicians, and scores of killings took place.

While mainstream political parties are trying not to distance themselves from the people and are making use of both the elections and the rhetoric on the Kashmir issue, the position of the separatists is becoming awkward. Hurriyat Conference (moderate) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has put the hawkish Syed Ali Geelani far behind in preaching a hard line vis-a-vis the elections, but leaders of both the groups are unable to find answers to the question why the people ignored the boycott call.

The Mirwaiz did say, Let the government release us for one day and allow us to run a boycott campaign and see how many people will come out to vote. But it raises a pertinent question: if people have faith in the separatist leadership, where is the need to counsel them on this vital issue?

However, the fact remains that this is one of the most interesting elections in the State, where two premier families the Abdullahs and the Muftis are locked in a battle for power.

For the Abdullahs it is more important to return to power, given the fact that the N.C. was voted out of power in 2002. Omar Abdullah suffered a humiliating defeat in the Ganderbal constituency. But this time he sounds optimistic. His chief election agent, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, who happens to be a former Chief Secretary of the State, said on the day of polling: Omar wins Ganderbal. Omar is locked in a three-cornered contest, but the presence of the Congress nominee, Sheikh Ashfaq, in the fray may give him an edge as the latter is said to have cut into the vote bank of Qazi Afzal of the PDP. Qazi Afzal, who earned the title giant killer when he defeated Omar in 2002, is facing strong anti-incumbency sentiments and is seen as the architect of the Amarnath land transfer as Forest Minister.

The Congress will play a significant role in deciding the power structure. Independents, too, seem to be in a crucial position to decide the fate of the traditional political parties.

Congress upbeat

By T.K. Rajalakshmi in Jaipur, Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and Bikaner

Vasundhara Raje s campaign "rath" being flagged off at the BJP office in Jaipur on November 25.-PTI

WINNING, winning, winning we are winning all the way, gushed a woman candidate of the Congress who was a Minister in the previous government headed by Ashok Gehlot. The Congress sees itself as forming the next government in Rajasthan, but the euphoria is not felt uniformly in all the constituencies.

There were 2,196 candidates in the fray for the December 4 elections. While political observers agree that the electoral contest is mainly between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the former having an edge in several constituencies, there have been sufficient indications that 98 seats will witness triangular contests. This has given rise to the prospect of a hung Assembly with others, including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), impacting the outcome to an extent.

Both the Congress and the BJP have suffered rebellion within their ranks, with each claiming that the other party has more dissent to contend with. BJP insiders think the party will not be able to hold on to its 120 seats and may even find it difficult to win a simple majority, that is, 101 seats in the 200-member Assembly. Other internal assessments have projected a comfortable victory for the Congress.

We are doing well. Our election management techniques involving booth-level committees have been very successful. Our party workers are united. On the other hand, the Congress is a divided house, State BJP president Om Prakash Mathur told Frontline in Jaipur. But this is not the complete truth. The BJP was forced to expel 17 party leaders, including Food and Civil Supplies Minister Kirori Lal Meena and Bharatpur Member of Parliament Vishwendra Singh.

The partys public reception to former Congress Minister Janardhan Singh Gehlot, when he announced his decision to leave the Congress and join the BJP, has been viewed with derision. But a senior BJP functionary said: We need him. He will ensure that his communitys votes tilt the delicate balance in our favour in quite a number of constituencies in eastern Rajasthan. He did, however, admit that Janardan Gehlot was more a liability than an asset. Incidentally, Janardhan Gehlot forfeited his deposit in the previous elections.

Detractors of the Congress point out that the party has failed to project any one person as its chief ministerial candidate. On the other hand, Vasundhara Raje is the obvious choice for the BJP. The Congress has not projected Ashok Gehlot, insisting that it follows democratic norms and that the leader will be decided by the Congress Legislature Party.

The truth is far from that. Although Ashok Gehlot has been addressing press conferences and leading the partys onslaught against the BJP, the Congress does not want to alienate any community, especially those sections of the electorate (for instance, Jats) whose long-standing grouse has been that the party has neglected their political claims. Some observers feel that with the Lok Sabha elections just round the corner, the Congress may not choose Gehlot for the post of Chief Minister. The BJP has to some extent tried to capitalise on this confusion within the Congress.

Here in Rajasthan, it is not the party that matters, it is the individual, his work and his relations with the masses that count ultimately, said Bhagirath Godara, a former bank employee in Sikar district. This sentiment is not confined to Sikar. Voters elsewhere expressed similar sentiments.

Traditionally a Congress stronghold, the Shekhawati region comprising Sikar, Churu and Jhunjhunu has seen some major dissent against the official nominees. The contests in Sikar district have taken a curious turn with the strong presence of candidates put up by the CPI(M). Even members of the opposition parties admiringly concede that the Left has made an impact in this region by raising the farmers issues rather successfully. In fact, this time, the Left parties plan to increase their presence in the Assembly. We cannot say how many, but definitely it is going to be more than one this time. It is the outcome of our sustained struggles in this region, Vasudev, CPI(M) State secretary, told Frontline.

Amra Ram of the CPI(M), who has been representing the Dhod Assembly constituency for the past 15 years, is contesting from Danta Ramgarh, where he faces the former Pradesh Congress Committee president Narain Singh. In Dhod, which has become a reserved constituency, the CPI(M) candidate, Pema Ram, is quite optimistic of victory. There is no doubt that Amra Ram has done a lot for the farmers. Compared with him, the Congress has hardly done anything, Lok Sabha member Subhash Mahariya said. At Sikar, the official Congress candidate does not enjoy much support from the numerically dominant Muslim electorate. For years we hoped that the party would put up a Muslim candidate. Until the last minute, we were hopeful. We cannot help it if Qayyum Qureishi from the CPI(M) gets our support, said a senior functionary of the district Congress committee. He said that even when Narain Singh was the PCC chief, the claims of Muslims were ignored. At Dhod, Amra Ram ensured the victory of Usmaan Khan to the post of pradhan despite the fact that Muslims were in a minority, he said. The general impression is that the party gave the ticket to Muslims in areas where they were in a minority, while preferring to nominate non-Muslim candidates in Muslim-dominated seats.

In the Sikar constituency, the minority community, which has around 67,000 votes, can tilt the balance in favour of any one party. The other, more important, reason why Muslims are unhappy with the Congress nominee, Rajinder Pareek, is that he had felicitated Sadhvi Rithambara, the Vishwa Hindu Parishads fiery campaigner, a few years ago. Tell me, what is the difference between the Sangh Parivar and the Congress? a Muslim Congress leader in Sikar asked. Besides, Pareeks claim to fame is that he is related to Uttarakhand Governor B.L. Joshi.

At Churu and Bikaner, too, there is unhappiness over the official nominees in both parties. Vishwajit, a rebel BJP candidate from Bikaner (East), told Frontline that the people did not care for the royalty anymore. He was referring to the BJP nominee Siddhi Kumari, princess of Bikaner. The royal magic doesnt work now. At least Dharmendra, the BJP MP from here, could be seen on the screen; no one knows her at all, he said.

Interestingly, both parties have an almost equal number of rebels in their ranks. Although the BJP claims that ultimately the electorate will vote for the party and not the candidate, the facts that it has not re-nominated 64 sitting legislators and has admitted leaders from the Congress indicate that the party is not very confident.

At Jhunjhunu, some multi-cornered contests are expected. Outgoing Speaker Sumitra Singh changed her seat from the Jhunjhunu segment to Mandawa, where she faces the daughter of former Leader of the Opposition Ram Narain Chaudhary. I did not get much time to campaign. Besides, there is a rebel candidate here who is throwing money like anything, Sumitra Singh said. I thought I would face Narain Singh at Mandawa but have learnt that his daughter is contesting from here, said the septuagenarian rather genially. My main threat is from a BJP rebel, she added.

The Congress nominee for Jhunjhunu is Brajendra Ola, the son of Union Minister Sis Ram Ola. I am confident of winning this time. I lost by only 800 votes last time, but my individual vote share was at least 10 percentage points more than the vote share of the Congress in the State as a whole, said Brajendra Ola, not mentioning the fact that he lost three times consecutively in the past.

There has also been a palpable shift in the tone and tenor of the campaigns. Rather than focus on development, which was the initial thrust, Vasundhara Raje has now taken to raising issues that the Sangh Parivar is concerned about. Pet themes include terrorism, the incarceration of the sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Ram Sethu, the Afzal hanging issue, the Batla House events and Bangladeshi incursions. Local issues, the candidates individual image and caste compositions in the respective constituencies will also play significant roles.

It cannot be denied that there is a general disenchantment with the ruling party, but how much of this will benefit the Congress is anyones guess. There is anger against the BJP misrule, but whether this will translate into votes for us is unclear, said Bina Kak, the Congress nominee from Sumerpur.

Mood for change By Purnima S. Tripathi in Bhopal

BSP supremo and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati at an election rally in Bhopal on November 18.-RAJ PATIDAR/REUTERS

MADHYA PRADESH is in for a surprise in this round of elections. The prevailing mood is in favour of change: change the candidate; change the party; change the government; give somebody untried so far a chance. This mood for change will dictate who gets the highest number of seats.

The voters preference could depend on the individual candidates credentials irrespective of the party, or the party irrespective of the candidate. The bipolar contests, which characterised elections in the past, have this time given way to multipolar contests, to the detriment of the two main contenders for power: the BJP and the Congress. The challengers are the BSP and the Bharatiya Jan Shakti (BJS) party. While the spread of the BJS is confined to the Bundelkhand region, where its leader Uma Bharati wields much influence, the BSP is making its presence felt quite forcefully all over the State.

The BSP appears to have captured the imagination of the poor and the downtrodden. Madan Singh of Sukhi Sewania village in the Huzur Assembly constituency, on the outskirts of Bhopal, summed up the mood in most parts of the State, which goes to the polls on November 27, thus: Itne saal sabko dekha, garib ki kahin koi sunwai nahi hain. Ek baar inko bhi dekh lein. Dil kehta hai ki ye party garibon ka bhala karegi (All these years we have seen all of them. There is no one to listen to the voices of the poor. Let us give these people a chance. My heart says this party will work for the welfare of the poor).

Madan Singh, a mason, has no political background, but two years ago he began leaning towards the BSP after its State president, Bhujbal Singh Ahirwar, and some prominent Brahmin leaders of the party from Uttar Pradesh started Brahmin-Dalit bhaichara meetings in his area. Influential Brahmins of the area, who were never known to treat people like Madan Singh with respect, suddenly became courteous and offered them chairs at meetings and drank tea with them. This was nothing short of a social revolution for Madan Singh and other Dalits. Other parties never treated us as equals, but leaders from the BSP, even Brahmins and Thakurs, would make us sit with them in chairs, treat us like one of them. They would even come to our house and share tea with us. If a leader [Mayawati] can bring about such a change in peoples attitudes, then certainly this is the only party that can do something good for poor people like me, he said emotionally. He is an active worker of the BSP.

According to Madan Singh, the response of people from his own community as well as from among the upper castes has been good. Similar sentiments were heard from people belonging to various communities in Huzur, which was part of the Govindapura Assembly constituency and has been represented by senior BJP leader Babulal Gaur, who served as Chief Minister for a short while after Uma Bharati was removed from the post. If people like Madan Singh are to be believed, despite being represented by such a high-profile leader, no benefits have reached the poor people of the area.

Surprisingly, even members of the Muslim and Christian communities have expressed enthusiasm for the BSP. They feel the Congress failed them when they were persecuted by Hindutva forces. The BJP government turned a blind eye to the violence by VHP and Bajrang Dal goons against Muslims and Christians. There were 171 attacks directed against Christians in Madhya Pradesh in the past five years and no action has been taken even in a single case. The Congress kept quiet when it could have done a lot, being in power at the Centre. For us, security matters the most, says Fr. Anand Muthungal, spokesman for Catholic Church of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. According to him, the Christian community, which has a decisive vote share in 20-25 constituencies, has this time decided to support candidates either with proven secular credentials individually or belonging to parties like the Left or the BSP. This could spell trouble for the Congress, which in previous elections was the only choice for Christians. Similar sentiments were expressed by Muslims. Riots and the disturbing realisation that the rioters enjoyed state patronage forced members of this community to live in fear for the past five years. Now they have decided to vote for candidates with proven secular credentials.

In Itkheri village of the Bairasia Assembly constituency, for example, Mian Mirazuddin and Moin Khan, joined by Radheshyam and Shamlal, both belonging to the Dalit community, excitedly discussed the secular credentials of Mayawati despite her association with the BJP in the past, how Uttar Pradesh had been riot-free since she came to power, and how tough she was with errant officials if they showed laxity in tackling law and order. This time both the BJP and the Congress appear to be in trouble. Looks like a third front, most likely led by the BSP, will form the government, said Ibrahim Quereshi, president of the All India Muslim Backward Classes Federation and vice-president of the All-India Muslim Education Society. He is also a former chairman of the State Minorities Commission. He said safety and security were the biggest issues bothering the Muslims in Madhya Pradesh, and this could form a major criterion for voting.

The BSP is capable of even upsetting the Congress chances of capitalising on the anti-incumbency factor and the minorities disaffection with the BJP. These sections would have voted for the Congress, but the BSP has presented them an alternative now.

Most importantly, the elections in Madhya Pradesh will be an acid test for the BSP in its pan-India pursuit. The outcome will indicate whether Mayawati will emerge as a big player in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Uma Bharati with BJS candidate Shilendra Pradhan in Bhopal.-PTI

Another party to watch is the BJS. Contesting from 219 of the 231 constituencies, it can harm the BJPs chances in a major way. Uma Bharatis charisma, which delivered the State to the BJP in 2003 with a resounding majority, is intact: she manages to attract big crowds at her meetings and her betrayal story is getting her a lot of sympathy. Besides, many Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activists are working for her discreetly as she continues to be on good terms with the Sangh Parivar. Many BJP rebels, who were either denied the ticket or were ignored, are known to be working for her.

Another factor that has galvanised her party is the association of former RSS ideologue K. Govindacharya as her patron. Govindacharya, who is known to be the mastermind of the BJPs social engineering formula, is at it again, helping the BJS. But it remains to be seen whether his magic will work for the BJS. One thing, however, is quite obvious: Uma Bharati will damage the BJPs chances in at least 25 seats even though she may not win that many seats herself. What the BSP is doing to the Congress, the BJS is doing to the BJP.

As for issues dominating the elections, while the BJP is harping on unprecedented development in the past five years, the Congress is focussing on corruption and the failure of the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government to fulfil the promises made in the poll manifesto, and on Hindutva terrorism. Bijli, sadak, paani (electricity, roads and water), which was the BJPs main election plank in 2003, still remains a big issue. Added to that is rampant poverty, increasing unemployment and the non-availability of even basic necessities such as foodgrains and kerosene in the ration shops.

While the BJP is dismissive of the threat from the BJS and the BSP, Congress leaders are optimistic that the party will benefit hugely from the voters desire for change.

BSP factor By Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta in New Delhi

A section of the crowd at the BSP rally at Trilokpuri in New Delhi on November 23.-V. SUDERSHAN

THE BSP appeared determined to disprove the notion that it was only a spoiler in the November 29 Assembly elections in Delhi. Indications that the party wanted to gain ground in the National Capital Region (NCR) emerged at its November 23 election rally.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and party supremo Mayawati told the rally at Trilokpuri, a reserved constituency: The BSP is against the BJP, the Congress and its allies. The parties at the Centre and the States have been coming to power with the help of capitalists. They have taken money from the capitalists and will work for them. On the other hand, we have come to power on the basis of the work of our party workers. So we want you to vote for us as we are committed to your development. Although the BSP is strong only in a few pockets of Delhi (and does not have an elected legislator in the Assembly), the crux of Mayawatis words, in a way, gave a new direction to the election campaign. The BSP is not expected to win more than six of the 69 seats it is contesting (election to one seat has been countermanded following the death of a BJP candidate), but in many constituencies it is expected to finish a close second or third, mostly spoiling the Congress chances. East and Outer Delhi (which include Badarpur, Kondli, Narela, Ghonda and Chaatarpur Assembly constituencies), where most of the migrant population, mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, stay, are largely seen as swing constituencies. The BSP has forced both the Congress and the BJP to focus on rural and Outer Delhi.

The Congress tried to appeal to apparent BSP voters by speaking of the rights of the poor to proper shelter, food and civic amenities, besides highlighting the successes of its government since 1998.

Issues relating to workers and the poorer sections of society came up rarely in previous elections. By focussing on this segment of the electorate, the BSP expected to get around 15 per cent of the votes, thereby affecting the already polarised BJP and Congress votes. (In the previous elections, the Congress vote share was 48.13 per cent and the BJPs, 35.22 per cent.)

The delimitation exercise has divided the constituencies almost equally in terms of population, giving the maximum advantage to the Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes and slum-dwellers. The three groups make up almost half of the population in most of the constituencies. It is perhaps for this reason that this segment got added attention from the Congress and the BJP this time.

The manifestos of the two parties have taken extra care to speak for the marginalised sections of the population. The BJPs chief ministerial candidate, V.K. Malhotra, has promised one lakh housing units for the poor every year. Calling migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh the capitals pillar of development, he said, the culture, customs and festivals of people from different linguistic regions would be respected and preserved. The BJP has promised to issue ration coupons to all poor families. These coupons could be used in all grocery shops in Delhi, it was suggested. Malhotra has also promised to make available rice and wheat flour at Rs.2 and Rs.3 a kg respectively, and expressed his wish to provide free water for every citizen.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit at an election rally at Mangolpuri on November 23.-SANDEEP SAXENA

One of the major issues that got much attention was the demand for full statehood for Delhi. While the BJP demanded statehood, which would bring full control over land and law and public order, the Congress manifesto, significantly, dropped the demand. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told Frontline: The [Congress] government in the past 10 years has learnt from its experience that full statehood for Delhi is impossible. We understand there is multiplicity of authorities in the city and have sought a special status, asking control over the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and land. (The power to control law, public order, and land in the NCR rests with the Union government.)

Malhotra said the Congress government was skirting issues relating to law and order citing multiplicity of authorities, and that was why the BJP was keen to pursue the demand of full statehood. The Delhi government is accountable for the security of its people, he remarked. Most of the BJP campaign focussed on the underperformance of the Congress government, but the party appeared to have not many concrete ideas to offer. For instance, it suggested the modification of the BRT (bus rapid transit) corridor, which witnessed a few fatal accidents since its inception recently, but could not point out the relevant changes that were necessary. We will appoint consultants to find out the loopholes and rectify them, Malhotra said.

Ajay Maken, Congress Member of Parliament and Minister at the Centre, retorted that the problems of the BRT were just teething troubles. The Narendra Modi government in Gujarat has applauded the BRTs success in Ahmedabad and has asked the Centre for funds to build two such corridors in Rajkot and Surat. So why these contradictory statements from the BJP? he wondered.

The BJP received a boost by the return of the truant leader and former Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana, who is on an aggressive campaign to reinstate Punjabi pride among the Punjabis. Both the Congress and the BJP have promised to provide second language status to Punjabi in Delhi. The decision to recognise Punjabi as the second language was taken way back in the 1970s.

Unlike the Congress, which was fraught with controversies over caste and community issues, the BJP was able to balance Jat-Punjabi equilibrium before the elections. The equations between the Jats and Punjabis have not been very cordial in the party, with both caste groups trying to command as much power as possible. This factor had forced Khurana to leave the party earlier.

In an attempt to woo information technology-savvy voters, the BJP launched a website providing complete details about Malhotra. Malhotra can also be found in popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Orkut. The BJP expelled four executive members of the party for their apparent anti-party activities.

The Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) expelled seven members, the most important among them being former Delhi Mayor Satbir Singh, now contesting as an independent from Mehrauli against Health Minister and Congress candidate Yoganand Shastri. A former MLA and executive member of the DPCC, Ram Singh Netaji, is contesting from Badarpur on the BSP ticket. The other five are also contesting against official Congress candidates. Congress sources said that the partys second list of 22 candidates faced a lot of criticism within the party.

A record number of 69 parties are contesting this time; 45 sitting legislators are seeking re-election. Most of these legislators have shown a huge increase in their assets since 2003. Political parties that have advocated 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament have faced criticism since the number of women contestants in the Assembly elections is only 79, that is, only 9 per cent of the total number of contestants. The counting will take place on December 8.

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