Published on Apr 15, 2004 11:25 AM IST

Barring a strong heat wave, there seems to be no other wave in the sprawling Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituency held by Chief Minister Raman Singh, with both Cong and BJP first-timers poised for a keen contest.

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PTI | BySubhashis Mittra (PTI)

Barring a strong heat wave, there seems to be no other wave in the sprawling Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituency held by Chief Minister Raman Singh in the 13th Lok Sabha, with both Congress and BJP first-timers poised for a keen contest in the April 20 Parliamentary polls.

Miles and miles of desolate and dusty rural roads, vast barren fields with thorny bushes sprouting here and there and absence of any sign of electioneering despite polling being just about a week away, sums up the lacklusture pre-poll atmosphere in the predominantly rural constituency.

While Congress has fielded Devwrat Singh, a three-time MLA Pradip Gandhi is the BJP candidate who vacated the Dongargaon Assembly seat to pave the way for Raman Singh's entry into the state Assembly, a mandatory requirement within six months of assmuing power.

The Lok Sabha constituency is spread over eight Assembly seats which are shared by Congress and BJP.

Of the seven aspirants, both BSP and SP too have fielded their candidates as also RPI (K) and there are two independents as well in the fray.

While voters in Khairagarh Assembly segment, held by Devwrat Singh, are openly supporting their Congress leader, in another segment - Dongargaon - the electorate appeared to have made up the mind to vote for Pradip Gandhi.

In Khairagarh, where Devwrat Singh's ancestral home is situated, there is some activity outside his house and Congres flags are seen fluttering atop shops and hutments close by.

Campaigning picked up in the Assembly segment, a Congress bastion, after party Chief Sonia Gandhi's visit on April 10 and the party candidate is making all-out efforts to enter the portals of the Lok Sabha.

Devwrat, who is also the State Youth Congress Chief, is making all out efforts to encash on the development works in his constituency during his three terms in the Assembly and during the same number of terms served by his mother late Rani Rashmi Devi.

Rajnandgaon has 13 lakh voters and 35 per cent of them are tribals and 20 per cent belong to scheduled caste. But, not necessarily all of them back Congress.

The present BJP government in the state too has been trying its best to launch development schemes in the far flung areas to catch the fancy of the voters, most of whom are illiterate.

However, in course of its campaign, the Congress has been alleging the NDA government at the Centre has done little to improve their lot and say that its promise to provide one crore jobs a year has remained a pipe dream.

The Congress received a shot in the arm when the BJP candidate in the last Assembly election, Sunil Ramteke, joined the party and is now working for Devwrat Singh.

However, further down the road in Chuikhadan village, a different picture is noticed as people seem divided in their choice. While some say 80 per cent of them would vote for BJP, others say there is a strong undercurrent in favour of Congress.

Kanchan Tiwari and Rajen Tiwari, both BJP workers, sound confident of victory of Pradip Gandhi, while BJP Yuva Morcha eader Pradip Srivastava accuses the Congress candidate of not doing enough for the people over the years.

At the local bus stand, an old shop keeper said that one should not go by pompous campaign. "Congress will win," he said, a view shared by Ramji Vishwakarma of Shilpatti village.

Refuting the BJP charge that there was no development of the area under the Congress candidate, Sajjak Khan, a Congress corporator of Chuikhadan Nagar Panchayat pointed out that kutcha roads have become a thing of the past.

However, in Dongargaon assembly segment of the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituency, BJP candidate Gandhi appeared better off.

Before embarking on his campaign, during which he addresse nearly 20 public meetings daily, Singh told a visiting PTI correspondent that because of his efforts, irrigation in the area had improved a lot, a number of schools and colleges had been opened and roads laid.

Accusing Gandhi of indulging in irregularities in appointment of teachers and purchase of pumps for irrigation, Singh claimed that the voters were not happy with him.

"Moreover, with senior Congress leader and former CM Ajit Jogi meeting with a serious accident, party workers have taken his task as a challenge and have decided to leave no stone unturned to ensure the party's victory," Devwra said explaining how he was better placed.

About the presence of SP and BSP candidates, he said they did not have the potential to make a dent in the non-NDA vote bank.

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