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KHAJURAHO

In this land of temples, tourists and exotica, elections have always been more high profile than other constituencies in the state - perhaps because it is Chief Minister Uma Bharati's home ground.
PTI | By Rohit Ghosh (Indo-Asian News Service)
PUBLISHED ON APR 15, 2004 06:47 PM IST

In this land of temples, tourists and exotica, elections have always been more high profile than other constituencies in the state - perhaps because it is Chief Minister Uma Bharati's home ground.

And it doesn't really matter that one of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) most high profile leaders left the constituency, home to the ancient Khajuraho temples, to contest from Bhopal in 1999. For Uma Bharati, who has been MP from here four times, this is a prestige battle.

Being the constituency in which her home Tikamgarh falls as does her assembly constituency Bada Malehra, Khajuraho has emerged as a crucial battle zone in the state.

With an electorate of 1.5 million voters, of which nearly one million belong to the lower castes, including the other backward castes (OBC), Khajuraho this time faces a four-cornered contest.

Till now, the two primary players have been the Congress and the BJP. However, this time the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are also expected to be a pivotal factor -- as their influence spreads to a constituency that is close to Uttar Pradesh.

Both the BJP and Congress can expect their votes to be considerably eroded.

The BJP is playing the electoral game on a back foot.

Uma Bharati started her political innings from here in 1984 but lost to Congress' Vidyawati Chaturvedi by over 50,000 votes. She avenged her defeat in 1989, defeating Chaturvedi by a whopping 200,000 votes, and then won from here in 1991, 1996 and 1998.

But things changed for the BJP in 1999 when she moved to Bhopal and her old foe's son Satyavrat Chaturvedi, fighting on a Congress ticket, defeated the BJP's Akhand Prasad Yadav by over 81,000 votes.

Now Chaturvedi is seeking to be re-elected from the constituency. And the BJP should be worried.

Keeping in mind the OBC factor -- and that Uma Bharati herself belongs to it -the party has fielded Ram Krishna Kusumariya, an OBC leader from the area who represented the neighbouring Damoh constituency in the last Lok Sabha, lower house of parliament.

But in an area where caste plays a crucial role, the Brahmin Chaturvedi has emerged as a powerful and influential leader with a strong following in the upper castes.

However, he has been weakened by the opposition from the Thakur lobby, which wanted someone from their own caste to be nominated.

"The Thakur lobby of the Congress wanted someone from amongst them to contest from the constituency. But Chaturvedi was given the green signal to contest. No doubt they are sulking and will work for him half-heartedly," said an insider.

And then there is the SP-BSP factor. The SP has fielded Ashok Veer Vikram Singh, a Thakur candidate. The BSP has fielded OBC leader Brijmohan Kushwaha.

"There will be a neck to neck fight in the constituency. The Congress will try its best to retain the constituency while the BJP will leave no stone unturned to wrench it from the Congress. The SP and BSP candidates will definitely reduce votes of the BJP and Congress," said an analyst.

The chief minister has visited Khajuraho several times to boost the morale of her party workers. Khajuraho voted for BJP in all of its eight assembly segments.

But then this is the parliamentary election.

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