Friday, Apr 30, 2004
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The people in Madhya Pradesh are busy these days speculating about the outcome of the battle of the ballot for the Chhindwara parliamentary seat where the senior Congress leader, Kamal Nath, is locked in a stiff contest with the Union Minister for Coal, Prahlad Patel.
A Congress stronghold since the first general election in 1952, Chhindwara went to the Congress even in the post-Emergency election of 1977, when the party was routed elsewhere. Mr. Nath, who first won from here in 1980, represented the seat till 1996. In that year's general election, his wife Alka won the seat on the Congress ticket after his name figured in the Havala scandal.
In the 1997 byelection held after Ms. Alka Nath relinquished her seat in favour of her husband, Mr. Nath lost by over 1,50,000 votes to the former Chief Minister, Sunderlal Patwa, of the BJP. A year later, Mr. Nath had avenged his defeat. In 1999 too, Mr. Nath won with relative ease over his BJP rival, a relative lightweight named Santosh Jain.
The Chhindwara constituency comprises eight Assembly segments Jamai (ST), Chhindwara, Parasia (SC), Damua (ST), Amarwara (ST), Chaurai, Sausar, and Pandhurna. Of the 11,45,631 voters, 5,55,832 are women. Among the tribals, who constitute almost 40 per cent of the total electorate in the constituency, the Gonds are particularly dominant. Then there are over 21 per cent Scheduled Caste votes, 20 per cent other backward classes (OBCs), 13 per cent "upper castes" and nearly 6 per cent minority votes. Candidates of the BJP, the Congress, the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP), the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Republican Party are among the 27 in the fray. Of all the constituencies going to the polls in the third phase, Chhindwara has the most number of sensitive polling booths after Khajuraho.
In the run-up to the elections, the Congress made hectic efforts to enter into some kind of an alliance with the GGP. The idea was to prevent the splitting of the Gond votes that had traditionally gone to Mr. Nath. However, the plan failed and the GGP fielded its own candidate, Manmohan Shah Batti.
Mr. Nath has been emphatic in telling the voters that only the Congress can ensure the welfare and progress of the weaker sections. The migration of workers had been checked to a large extent after he initiated many job-oriented welfare schemes for the deprived sections in the Chhindwara region, he says. He has also told the daily wagers that those in the BJP are conspiring to shut down the coal mines in the area.
Mr. Patel, on the other hand, is unruffled by Mr. Nath's charges. He counters by promising that new mines would be opened to usher in progress and prosperity. A huge band of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha followers work for him from door-to-door on motorcycles. He had also filed his nomination well in advance and with time on hand, has criss-crossed the constituency a few times, reaching out to the voters.
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