NEW DELHI, February 8: The politics of caste and religion, hitherto confined to living-room conversations in the Capital, seems to have spilled over into real life with these factors becoming significant in the choice of candidates.
The BJP has fielded almost the same set of the sitting MPs, who they feel are in a good position to woo the majority community in each of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies. But what has endorsed the use of the caste and the religion card is the Congress fielding candidates who can cut into the votes of the same communities.
It appears that this change in the face of Delhi politics was triggered by the Congress apology for the 1984 Sikh riots, in the wake of which three veteran Congress candidates, H.K.L. Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were denied tickets.
Without fail, all the three tickets have gone to candidates, who are `communally right' for the three constituencies of East Delhi, Delhi Sadar and Outer Delhi.
Delhi politicians are worried about this slanttowards caste. Says BJP Campaign Committee chief Vijay Kumar Malhotra: ``This encourages infighting and lobbying in the party because candidates with merit get sidelined for those from a particular community or caste.''
He explains: ``Once a candidate is fielded from an area where his community is in a majority he would want the same ticket next time too. It is easier to win and the seat becomes unofficially reserved.''
Says the leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly, Jag Pravesh Chandra: ``If a voter gets used to the idea of voting for `his' community man, there is the danger that he might never look for a candidate with merit. Because whatever a person is outside, inside he belongs to his caste or community.''
The trend is clear in East Delhi, which has now become a `pandit' seat for both the parties. The massive constituency has a majority pandit presence of more than 6 lakhs. The rest of the electorate is divided among Muslims, Sikhs and others.
For the Congress, the seat traditionally belonged toH.K.L. Bhagat who was denied a ticket this time. The Congress ticket went to Shiela Dikshit, the former union minister, a Punjabi married into a Brahmin family. She will be taking on the BJP candidate Lal Behair Tewari, another Brahmin.
Banking on the considerable pandit vote, the BJP has been fielding Brahmin candidates from the seat. Last year, in the by-polls for the constituency the ticket went to a Brahmin candidate, Lal Behari Tewari, the Delhi Minister for Food and Civil Supplies, who won the elections and also is in the fray this time.
Another constituency which is a `pandit' seat is Outer Delhi. Though the constituency is made up of thousands of new migrants to the city, of the scheduled communities, the population of pandits and Jats is over 7 lakhs each.
In Congress, Outer Delhi has always been known as the seat of Sajjan Kumar, who was also denied ticket this time. In his place, the ticket has been given to Deep Chand Sharma, a Brahmin. The Congress gameplan is that while Sharma would takeaway the advantage from the BJP candidate, because of Sajjan Kumar campaigning for him Sharma would also get the Jat votes.
In this `Sharma versus Sharma' battle, the BJP has once again fielded the sitting MP Krishan Lal Sharma, a senior party leader. With vigorous campaigning by the Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma, he also has the pandit and Jat votes.
In Delhi Sadar, there are as many trader votes as there are Punjabi votes.After refusing Jagdish Tytler a ticket from his long-time constituency, the Congress has fielded a businessman, M.M. Aggarwal. And since the time he had taken over he has been making no bones about where his attentions would lie if he is voted to power.
The BJP, on the other hand, is banking on the Punjabi votes by fielding former Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana.
The equations are pretty much the same in other constituencies.
The New Delhi constituency has a majority bureaucrat presence. With an eye on them, former bureaucrats Jagmohan from BJP and R.K. Dhawan fromCongress have been fielded here.
Chandni Chowk has a majority businessmen presence and wooing them are traders themselves Vijay Goel of BJP and J.P. Aggarwal of Congress.
South Delhi with its majority Punjabi votes has two candidates of the same community, Sushma Swaraj of the BJP and Ajay Maken of the Congress.
Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.