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Interesting battle in Raghogarh makes it MP state's cynosure

Digvijay Singh, who is contesting for the fourth time, had won from Raghogarh in 1998 by a record 82 per cent of the vote share with the vctory margin being over 54,000.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2003 18:58 IST

With BJP making it a prestige fight and the power crisis not leaving Raghogarh untouched, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh is going the extra mile to shake off a spirited challenge in his pocket borough in the Assembly polls next week.

By putting up its national general secretary Shivraj Singh Chauhan against Singh and bringing in a host of leaders for campaigning, BJP has warmed up the contest, which was a one-sided affair in the past whenever the chief minister was the candidate.

Singh, who is contesting for the fourth time, had won the 1998 elections by a record 82 per cent of the vote and by a margin of over 54,000.

While the chief minister of 10 years has ridiculed talk of challenge from Chauhan saying he has been made a scapegoat by his party, the BJP MP has hit back dubbing it as "arrogance of a raja in tussle with a humble farmer".

Notwithstanding BJP's claims of a surprising result this time, the chief minister, a Raja of the erstwhile Raghogarh principality, had made mincemeat of the opposition challenge so far.

In the 1977 elections, he was the lone congress winner in 16 districts of the state when Janata wave had swept central and north India.

BJP has made Digvijay Singh as the issue in this constituency by painting a bleak picture of his 10-year rule and is attempting to cash in on the hardships suffered by the people, mostly farmers, due to power crisis.

But the opposition party's game plan to tie the chief minister down to his constituency seems not to have succeeded as Singh had come here so far only once to file his nomination. He, however, has planned five meetings on the outskirts of the constituency to cover his home turf as also adjoining areas in the last few days.

In an emotional appeal to the electorate, Singh reminded them that it was due to their support that he had been able to become the chief minister and since he would be busy in campaigning all over the state, they should ensure a Congress government in the state again.

However, aware of the changed situation, the chief minister has employed all tricks of the trade to maintain contact with the electorate. His wife Asha Singh is going door-to-door to explain to women voters how one should vote through electronic voting machines, being employed in the constituency for the first time.

His younger brother and Congress MP Laxman Singh, who is in-charge of the poll campaign, has already made a whirlwind tour of the constituency and nearby Assembly segments.

While Chauhan is extensively touring the constituency and party leaders Uma Bharti, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Pyarelal Khandelwal have campaigned, no Congress leader from outside has been invited for canvassing support for the chief minister.

Singh, in a statement, has asked party leaders to concentrate on their areas instead of coming to his constituency for canvassing.

Narendra Lahoti, president of the Raghogarh-Vijaipur municipal council and a close associate of the chief minister, said Congress needed "no outside" leader as Singh has maintained "live" contact with the people over the years and has carried out extensive developmental work.

He said that the BJP tried to turn the election of his Municipal Council a high-profile affair as it was held just after the saffron party's victory in Gujarat and had brought in several leaders for campaigning.

Despite such a show of strength, the BJP could manage only three of the 24 seats in the Municipal Council with the rest going to congress. The election of the chairman of the Municipal Council was also won by Congress by a huge margin in a direct election.

BJP leaders are proclaiming to turn the current election into that of 1962 when the then Chief Minister Kailashnath Katju was defeated in Raghogarh.

Supporters of the chief minister claim that Singh was not facing a challenge at all in the eight-cornered contest where besides Chauhan, an NCP nominee and five independents are in fray including one whose name is also Shivraj Singh.

The BJP candidate is leaving no stone unturned to focus on the problems faced by the people, including staging a Dharna in front of the office of the electricity board, the congress camp is insisting that the common man is aware that the problem has been caused by creation of Chattisgarh.

Old timers say that as compared to earlier times, opponents of the chief minister are not putting up even a token but have done it through flags, posters and meetings.

BJP is terribly afraid of the chief minister and is therefore targeting him is the refrain in the Congress camp which lists out the starting of various industries, setting up of sugar factories and construction of dams in the area as achievements on the part of Singh.

Even as the BJP leaders proclaim that they are going in for the kill, supporters of the chief minister appear unfazed. This time, the voting percentage of the chief minister will increase as the invalid votes, which used to be three to four per cent, will be less due to the use of electronic voting machines, they reason.

First Published: Nov 25, 2003 11:13 IST