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Chhattisgarh has its own battle royale in Marwahi where perhaps for the first time in the Parliamentary democracy, a chief minister and a leader of opposition are battling it out in the same constituency.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2003 14:57 IST

Forget Rajasthan's Jhalrapatan, Chhattisgarh has its own battle royale in Marwahi where perhaps for the first time in the Parliamentary democracy, a chief minister and a leader of opposition are battling it out in the same constituency.

Though, unlike Vasundhara Raje and Rama Pilot in Jhalrapatan, chief minister Ajit Jogi has an upper hand over his BJP rival and leader of opposition Nand Kumar Sai in Marwahi.

So confident is Jogi about his victory that he did not visit his constituency and instead entrusted his son Amit and wife Dr Renu to coordinate the campaigning. “I was told by my voters that I should take care of the rest of the State to ensure Congress victory. And that’s why I am not bothered about my constituency. I am concentrating more on campaigning in other constituencies in the State,” he said.

“People of Marwahi know the type of development works which were carried out there and it would be virtually a cake walk for me,” a confident Jogi said. However, Sai has turned the equation as a prestige point for both, the Congress and the BJP. This is the second occasion that Sai is contesting against Jogi in an election. The BJP leader had earlier lost to Jogi in 1998 Lok Sabha elections from Raigarh constituency.

Sai, who had been contesting from Tapkara, a tribal constituency in Jashpur for the last two decades, was forced to contest from Marwahi by the party leadership this time. Some felt that Sai was made a scapegoat by his foes within the organisation, by fielding him from Marwahi, where defeating Jogi would be a Herculean task.

But Sai is serious. “I am contesting from Marwahi to protect and uphold the tribal pride and self-esteem,” Sai said and announced that the battle is purely between a genuine tribal and a fake one, an oblique reference to cases over the chief minister’s tribal credential.

However, the election would have been an interesting one, had the BJP and NCP would have fielded a joint candidate. But it was not possible at the eleventh hour, and NCP fielded Hemwant Porte, a Congress rebel and chairperson of the State Women Commission.

Porte unsuccessfully tried her best to get a Congress ticket and even met Sonia Gandhi for the purpose. She even met BJP leaders for a ticket. But the BJP did not take a risk as it found Porte as an unpredictable leader who could have been defected to the Congress after the elections.

Finally, Porte got a ticket from NCP. Her argument is that her husband - Bhanwarlal Porte, a former minister in undivided Madhya Pradesh, represented Marwahi and now she should be given a chance to serve the constituency.

Porte may be considered a political lightweight compared to Jogi and Sai but the fact cannot be ignored that her late husband Bhanwar Singh Porte had won from this constituency on previous four occasions--thrice on Congress ticket while as a BJP nominee once.

But, the triangular fight has given an edge to Jogi, who won from Marwahi, bordering Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh, where he once was a collector, within a huge margin of over 50,000 votes.

Ironically, Jogi had contested the Lok Sabha elections from Shahdol in 1999 elections but lost. His defeat was a boon in disguise as if he had won the elections he would have been just a Lok Sabha member. But as he lost the election, he claimed the chief ministership of Chhattisgarh immediately when it was carved out from MP.

In the 1998 elections within undivided MP, the BJP’s Ram Dayal Uikey won the seat, defeating his nearest Congress rival, Pahalwan Singh by a margin of over 12,000 votes. After Chhattisgarh was carved out in November 2000, Uikey quit the BJP and vacated his constituency to enable Jogi to contest a by-poll for becoming an MLA within six months of assuming office.

Jogi defeated his BJP rival, Amar Singh Khusro by a margin of over 50,000 votes in the by-election. The chief minister rewarded Uikey with a post of member of SC/ST Commission, with a rank of a state minister.

Besides, he also ensured a party ticket for him from the neighbouring Tanakhar Assembly constituency.

First Published: Nov 26, 2003 20:41 IST