New Delhi, Sept. 22: Pollsters may be busy crunching numbers for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll but right now that isn’t what’s engaging Delhi’s upper echelons. Top of their mind now is the Delhi Gymkhana Club election.
The fight for president in the September 27 election is four-cornered. In the fray are Union road secretary Vijay Chhibber, former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief A.S. Dulat, retired director-general of police B.L. Vohra and retired information services officer Urmila Gupta.
Spread on 27.3 acres in the heart of the city, the Delhi Gymkhana Club is situated next to the Prime Minister’s residence.
The club, established in 1913, is primarily run by the armed forces, but every two years it opens up the contest to members from the civil services. The post goes back to the defence services for the next two terms.
Among the club’s 5,600 members are Manmohan Singh, BJP’s Arun Jaitley, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, cabinet minister Farooq Abdullah, former top cop Kiran Bedi and the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Pulok Chatterjee. There are a host of bureaucrats on the rolls too.
The four members in the fray send their campaign letters to all voting members including the Prime Minister, but he does not vote.
Dulat, a 72-year-old veteran IPS officer, is being seen as one of the heavyweights in this election. He was club president in 2005-07 and has always been in the forefront of the administration.
Chhibber, a serving 58-year-old IAS officer, is a second-generation club member. His father is an ex-IPS officer and retired from the RAW. He is campaigning for his son.
Gupta is the only lady contestant and could be the club’s first female president if she makes it. Till 1985, women did not have voting rights. Only 320 of the club’s 5,600 members are women.
“I am up against the glass ceiling. I am under no illusion that I will walk away with the crown but I have mounted a serious challenge,” Gupta told The Telegraph.
Vohra is being seen as the weakest candidate and is leading the least aggressive campaign.
So how do the elite slug it out? They party to victory, suggested Gupta.
“From May onwards, both Dulat and Chhibber have held at least two dozen parties each to woo members. I have had just one party, which was hosted by the chief managing director of The Lalit Hotel, my friend of 30 years,” she said.
“It was for a close group of 70 friends from the club, unlike the ones the other two are holding, going all out to woo voters.”
Sources said the alumni of St Stephen’s, Chhibber’s alma mater, were throwing a series of parties for him while DLF chairman K.P. Singh has hosted one for Dulat. The fight is ultimately between them, the sources added.
“There are no rules but as per convention a person who has already served as president does not contest again. Others should be given a chance to lead the club,” Chhibber said. Many believe his chances are better as he is a serving secretary and far younger than Dulat.
For Dulat, however, such a scenario is not new. In 2005, he had trumped then civil aviation secretary Ajay Prasad. “My opponent in 2005 was serving while I was retired. Now again my opponent is serving, I continue to be retired,” he said.
Dulat said he had decided to contest again on prodding from club members. “They wanted me to fight so I am fighting, there is nothing more to it,” he said.
The club has seen several bitter contests. A well-known one was in 2007 between army chief Gen. J.J. Singh and Western Air Commander, Air Marshal P.S. Ahluwalia.
Generally, if a serving army chief contests, none puts up a fight. Ahluwalia, however, stayed in the fray till the eleventh hour, agreeing to pull out only after he was assured that Singh would serve as president in the first year and he in the second.
Singh was president only from September 2007 to February 2008. He had to quit after he was appointed governor of Arunachal Pradesh.