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When the bahu takes charge

Last updated on: May 11, 2004 01:50 IST
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Smriti Irani, better known as Tulsi, the daughter-in-law in soap opera Saas Bhi Kahbie Bahu Thee, was feeling wonderful. That is, till she heard the bad news.

" Everything is fine and we are doing well," Irani, who is fighting as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha parliamentary seat against veteran Congressman Kapil Sibal, told after visiting polling booths in the Mori Gate in old Delhi.area

Clad in a purple printed sari and a matching blouse, with the jogging shoes looking a bit incongruous, she drove around in an open jeep loaded with party workers. It wound its way through the Civil Lines towards the Majnu Ka Tilla area. The car had hardly stopped outside the local market area in Manju Ka Tilla that a supporter hurried up.

"Madam, there has been large-scale rigging by Kapil Sibal and his men in booth numbers 104,105,107 and 108," the party worker said. But Irani was not taking any of that.

" What were you doing there? Did you lodge a complaint against them with the local police?" she asked.

" The police drove us away."

" Get me the local station house officer Lalit Mohan," she asked, now completely in command.

A party worker called the police station and had the station home officer on the line. " Hey, kya ho raha hai. Yahan booth-capturing ho rahi hai aur app kuch nahin kar rahe hain? (What is going on here? There is booth-capturing going on here and you are doing nothing?)." She presses home her advantage: "There are mediapersons here with me."

She asks him to take prompt action and then moves on to the nearest polling booth. She comes out a while later, beaming. Things are going well, it appears.

Asked about her claims that Congress workers had harassed her, she says she indeed was – at both Qaspura and Sita Ram Bazar. She had registered her complaints against them, she said.

"But Kapil Sibal has not been harassed?" asked another journalist.

"Kapil Sibal is not a woman," she replied, adding, "You cannot take away my fundamental right." If things are not quite clear, rest assured. We too are mystified.

She gets back into the jeep and begins peeling a banana as she whizzes past the journalists.

But she is back a little later, soon after Arun Jaitley, general secretary of the BJP, arrives on the scene. She told Jaitley the news of the day.

SHO Lalit Mohan, who Irani had upbraided earlier, is also around. Seeing Jaitley, he energetically orders his men to quickly move to ensure no rigging occurred at the polling booths that Irani had complained about.

Having surveyed the situation and chatted with Irani, Jaitley drives off.

By now, news of the allegations of rigging have begun getting around and journalists are pouring in.

" Please let me do my election work," Irani pleads, trying to keep the questions at bay.

"Her body language suggests she has lost the seat," commented one senior journalist as we left. Well, we'll just wait and see, won't we?

Veteran BJP candidate Vijay Kumar Malhotra has no doubt – at least in public -- that he will thrash main rival R K Anand of the Congress in the South Delhi parliamentary constituency for which voting ended Monday.

" Good, good," he mumbles into his cellphone, comforted by a supporter at the other end who assures him things could not be better.

Most voters who turned up, came out early to avoid the enervating afternoon heat. Still, the average voting percentage, the Election Commission tells us, was between 45-50 percent.

"My feedback from my party workers in this constituency say that I will romp home comfortably," Malhotra says, dismissing the challenge from posed by Anand.

To avoid surprises, Malhotra has zealously covered South Delhi's 10 assembly segments -- Okhla, Kalkaji, Malviya Nagar, R K Puram, Hauz Khas, Rajouri Garden. Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar, Janakpuri and Delhi Cantonment.

"I've ensured that my party apparatus functions like a well-oiled machine. So I'm quite optimistic," he says. But, from lunch till the voting is all done at 5 pm, Malhotra keeps in constant touch with supporters and party activists, using both land lines and mobile phones to keep himself updated. This ate into his ability to speak to reporters who called up.

BJP worker Praneet says an overwhelming majority of the Sikhs in the constituency remembered the BJP for its "good work" during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. He said BJP leaders, including present Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, had distributed milk to young Sikh children -- an act which was gratefully remembered by the older generation. And the viewpoint finds some resonance in the electorate.

Even Santokh Singh, 67, who sells tyres in Hauz Khas, said that while he had become cynical about the BJP-led Vajpayee government, he still would vote for the party.

"I cannot forget what the Congress did in 1984," he says.

"He (Malhotra) will win hands down. He is a well-known personality among Punjabis in this constituency," says Anjali Singh, a primary school-teacher. "Malhotraji cares for our community and its pride. That appeals to somebody like me. So he gets my vote, " she says.

The Sikh vote – 2.5 lakh strong – is a healthy chunk of the 12.5 lakh voters in the in the constituency.

And the others are happy that he has brought up South Delhi's problems before the Lok Sabha.

Things are harder for Anand, a newcomer, says Praneet, the BJP worker earlier mentioned.

The BJP has consistently won the South Delhi parliamentary seat since 1989. In fact, in 1999, Malhotra trounced Dr Manmohan Singh, former Congress union finance minister. And Malhotra keeps telling voters there still are many things to be done. And if they are to be done, he has to be elected again.

" Surely you are giving me another chance, aren't you," he asks a group of young adults, smiling.

" Of course," is the prompt response of the young boys and girls. Malhotra must have been gratified.

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