Electioneering in Delhi draws to close today, polling on Saturday

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New Delhi, Nov 27: Electioneering for the Delhi Assembly polls will draw to a close this evening amid a strong sense of uncertainty over the mood of the electorate.

Barring a flurry of activities in the last three days, campaigning was largely lacklustre, following the strict vigil of the Election Commission and its strict enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct.

Polling for 69 seats of the 70-member Assembly will be held on Saturday. A total of 863 candidates are in the fray.

Polling to the Rajinder Nagar seat has been postponed to December 13 following the sudden demise of BJP candidate and sitting legislator Puran Chand Yogi.

As a strong wave in favour of any party seemed missing, an air of uncertainty prevailed over the outcome.

While youth icon Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were Congress star campaigners, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who comes as a trump card, was to wind up the party's canvassing with a rally at Ambedkarnagar (Speaker Ch Prem Singh's constituency).

However, the rally was cancelled following the terror attacks in Mumbai.

Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram did his bit by going over to Delhi unit party office to address a press conference to dispel all apprehensions about the recession and assert that the Indian economy was right on track.

But it was Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who was the backbone of the Congress campaign, is addressing as many as six to eight rallies in a day. She is leaving no stone unturned to see to it that her party comes back to power.

For the BJP, its Chief Ministerial candidate V K Malhotra has its bet to take on Ms Dikshit. He too has been addressing public meetings across the city.

While party's Prime Ministerial nominee L K Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi were reserved for fag-end electioneering, Mr Advani's rally yesterday was cancelled in Chandni Chowk, for security reasons. One of BJP president Rajnath Singh's rally too had to be curtailed due to the EC deadline.

Apart from Mr Rajnath Singh, former cricketer-turned-politician and Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Siddhu, party leaders Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and Shatrughan Sinha also pitched in with their efforts to improve their party's prospects.

Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati tried to turn the tide towards her party, which is in the fray in all the constituencies, canvassing vigorously. Her party is expected to queer the pitch for both the BJP and the Congress in quite a few seats.

While the BJP, in its campaign, harped on the 'Mehangi Padi Congress' (Congress cost us dear) plank and focused on the city's problems like power, traffic, water, BRT and crime, the Congress was quick to point to the development milestones achieved during its ten-year rule and retorted with a slogan 'You can't afford to stop progress, Vote for Congress'. However, such issues as sealings, price rise, BRT and more recently Batla House encounter could become its Achilles' heel.

For the BJP, projection of Prof Malhotra as its Chief Ministerial candidate has evoked lukewarm response, poll observers admit.

Ms Mayawati, meanwhile, took on both the parties as benefactors of capitalists, accusing them of furthering the interest of the rich and neglecting the poor. Pointing out that the Capital was beset with a shortage of infrastructure, electricity, water and sewer problems, she said these will be eliminated if her party came to power.

She also promised to fight for full statehood for the national capital.

Strict monitoring by the EC could have added to the dampening of campaigning spirit. Its Code of Conduct prohibits holding of any meetings or rallies beyond 2200 hrs as well as defacement of walls by posters and hoardings. Consequently, a number of public meetings by star campaigners have been curtailed and converted into road shows.

Overall, public meetings this time drew lesser crowd as compared to previous elections. A public meeting in Munirka in south Delhi by Congress star campaigner Raj Babbar to campaign for the party nominee from the area drew a lacklustre response from the general public.

In fact, in many areas, the poll managers of the two parties have been putting up chairs on the venues of the public meetings instead of 'durries' to avoid embarrassment in case of low turnout by the public.

In addition to traditional methods of campaign, the parties have relied on website, e-mails and mobile phones to reach out to the voters.

Campaign vehicles were also deployed for canvassing by these parties. The BJP went one step ahead when it roped in Sufi singer and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Hansraj Hans, Daler Mehdi and other artistes to sing paeans in praise of the party, on its campaign vehicles, christened 'Radio BJP'.

Both the BJP and the Congress have also used traditional campaign materials like posters, banners and hoardings with their leaders' pictures. Posters depicting Ms Dikshit, raising the development plank and Mr Malhotra hounding the Congress for ten-year of ''misrule'', dotted prominent places in the city.

Counting of votes will be taken up on December 8. The term of the present Legislative Assembly of Delhi is expiring on December 17.

Around 10.7 million people are eligible to cast their votes in the election.

The EC has identified 346 polling stations as hypersensitive and 1218 others as sensitive, out of a total of 11,044 booths.

While Seemapuri Assembly seat has the maximum of 30 hypersensitive booths, the Okhla constituency has the highest number of 92 sensitive booths.

UNI

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