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Digvijay fighting with his back to the wall

Digvijay Singh is fighting with his back to the wall to retain power in Madhya Pradesh.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2003 11:11 IST

With an upbeat BJP exploiting power crisis and bad roads to the hilt, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh is fighting with his back to the wall to retain power in the first Assembly election in the state after its bifurcation, which saw the emergence of Chhattisgarh.

Singh, who had pulled off the virtually impossible by defeating the BJP in 1998 elections, is this time facing the toughest battle of his political career as an aggressive BJP is leaving no stone unturned to emerge the winner and has projected fiery Sanyasin Uma Bharti as its chief ministerial candidate.

The refrain in the BJP campaign is that development of Madhya Pradesh suffered badly in the ten-year reign of Singh pushing the state backward despite a single party stable government under his uninterrupted leadership as also liberal central funding.

The Congress leadership seems cautious about the poll outcome in Madhya Pradesh unlike in Delhi and Rajasthan. This is reflected in party president Sonia Gandhi's recent statement that the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister says, "We will win and we go by his assessment".

Senior Congress leaders in the state also admit in private that it is an uphill task this time for the party notwithstanding claims of Singh that the party would win in the range of 125-135 seats.

In the last elections held for undivided Madhya Pradesh, the party had won 124 seats in areas, which are now part of the state.

Former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh's reported apology to the people for hardship suffered by them due to power shortage has underlined the fact that it is no smooth sailing for the ruling party this time.

On power shortage, Singh attributes the problem to the carving out of Chhattisgarh on November 1, 2000 saying Madhya Pradesh was left with no generating units as major plants were in the new state.

While supporters of the chief minister dispute claims that the Uma card will click for BJP, his detractors say the challenge thrown by her should not be under estimated given the fact that she belongs to the OBC which forms a sizeable population of the state.

Congress decision to field a large number of women candidates, almost double that of last time, shows the party had to reckon with Uma power as she is being projected as the chief ministerial candidate by BJP.

The campaign has become acrimonious in the wake of Bharti levelling serious charges of corruption against the chief minister who in turn has slapped a defamation suit against her.

While the run up to the poll saw BJP stressing on the issue of development as part of its strategy to pin down Digvijay Singh, the chief minister had time and again played "Hindutva card" by raising issues like Bhojshala and ban on cow slaughter in a bid to beat the saffron party in its own game.

The electoral outcome also hinges on the BSP. The Mayawati-led party has split in the state ahead of the elections with the breakaway group headed by Phool Singh Baraiyya attempting to become a spoiler for Congress.

Though the political scene in the state is mainly a bi-polar one, Congress and BJP being the principal parties, Samajwadi Party and Nationalist Congress Party have also put up a number of candidates besides those by the BSP and the Gondwana Ganatantra Party.

Also in fray are a large number of rebels from both congress and BJP making the going tough for their official nominees and have made the race for power more intense.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Depuy Prime Minister L K Advani are leading the BJP campaign with Vajpayee taking repeated pot shots at Digvijay for his "failure" on development front.

The Congress regime is being assailed by BJP for "worsening" law and order in the state recording a maximum number of crimes against women and rapes as also assault on Dalits.

Countering this, the chief minister says the figure is high as all cases of atrocities are registered in the state while elsewhere such incidents are suppressed.

Sonia Gandhi, who is in the vanguard of the Congress campaign, has accused the Vajpayee Government of adopting step motherly approach towards the state by blocking funds to the tune of several crores for road projects and supplying poor quality coal, which has affected electricity generation.

The ruling party promises to make the state power-surplus in three years saying the projects in the pipeline would generate additional 3000-mw electricity when commissioned.

In the wake of the Judeo cash-on-camera episode rocking the nation, Congress is also making an attempt to cash on the alleged bribery scandal while BJP claims it would be counter productive for the ruling party in the state.

While Malwa region is expected to play a significant role in the battle as it had voted overwhelmingly for Congress in the last elections despite being a BJP bastion.

In Mahakoshal, both the major parties are evenly placed, while in regions including Vindhyanchal political parties like BSP and SP are likely to play a crucial role.

However, as the polling day draws closer, it may turn out to be an uphill task for Congress to beat the strong anti-incumbency mood and for BJP to translate the undercurrent into votes in its favour.

With electioneering reaching a crescendo, all eyes are now focussed on two key constituencies, Digvijay Singh's traditional bastion Raghogarh and Bada Malehra from where Uma Bharti is trying her luck.

Popularly referred to as the raja of Raghogarh, Singh is facing BJP national general secretary Shivraj Singh Chauhan in his fortress where people have always been backing members of the erstwhile royal family.

A confident Singh has described Chauhan as a BJP "scapegoat" while the latter claims that the chief minister's "arrogance" would lead to his "political death". The fight is set to be a direct one between the two stalwarts.

For Uma Bharti it will be her first attempt to enter the portals of the state assembly from Bada Malehra though she has been a well-known political figure at the national level.

The firebrand BJP leader had contested her first electoral battle in the 1984 Lok Sabha polls but had to face defeat in the strong countrywide sympathy wave for Congress in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination.

It may smooth sail for Uma as non-BJP parties have failed to put up a common strong candidate against her. Samajwadi Party, which was to field its state president Gauri Singh Yadav from the seat pulled back its candidate from fray to support CPI nominee Kapoorchand Ghuwara, while Congress nominee Jagdish Shukla is dubbed as a political novice.

First Published: Nov 25, 2003 09:54 IST