Sunday, Nov 16, 2003
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WILL THE Congress party return to power for a third consecutive term in Madhya Pradesh? This is the question on everyone's lips with barely two weeks to go for the Assembly polls. At a time when the Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, should have reasons to rely on the positive aspects of a decade in power, many pre-poll surveys in the State have highlighted the "anti-incumbency factor".
The political scenario in the Sate remains highly polarised between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has long been preparing for this face-off; its first move was the appointment some months back of Uma Bharti as the State unit chief and her projection as the candidate for Chief Minister.
Ms. Bharti's popularity graph soared after she embarked on her `sankalp yatra' (campaign journey). The BJP has also fielded the party general secretary, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, from Raghogarh to fight Mr. Digvijay Singh. It has lined up a host of star campaigners, including the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, the party general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, the Union Minister, Arun Jaitley, and the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.
As for the Congress, it will use the AICC president, Sonia Gandhi's election rallies prominently to counter the BJP challenge. The Congress has promised that it will work for social justice, put the State on the fast track of development and continue with its efforts to improve the common man's quality of life.
A candidate on his way to file nomination papers in Bhopal.
The BJP has, in recent times, started mobilising support in the tribal areas. So much so that following the huge turnout of tribals in hundreds of villages in Dhar and Jhabua districts, where Ganesh idols were installed by the Seva Bharti closely associated with the BJP to mark this year's Ganesh chaturthi festivities, the State Congressmen, led by Mr. Singh, went on the offensive. Citing Gujarat, and describing the BJP as a communal outfit, they said the party was bent on dividing the people on narrow religious lines. Mr. Singh particularly became assertive when the BJP adopted a tough posture in support of the majority community's demand for unhindered entry into Dhar's Bhojshala to offer prayers, and the emotive cow slaughter issue.
The BJP has kept its campaign focussed on the development plank by raising the issue of bad roads, power crisis, unemployment and corruption. In the last 10 years, the Digvijay Singh Government has been concentrating on health-care, primary education, literacy, sanitation and watershed management. Efforts were also made to decentralise power by strengthening the Panchayati Raj institutions. At the same time, parallel power centres were created by setting up district governments and gram sabhas along with village-level committees.
The Digvijay Government's decision to distribute land among the landless Dalits also led to violent clashes in many villages across the State. Its pre-election decision to waive the electricity dues of the farmers and the weaker sections is being described by the BJP as an election gimmick. The Election Commission has stayed the implementation of this decision.
The rebel factor is something both the BJP and the Congress have to contend with. While allotting the ticket, the Congress had the chance of repeating the 1998 formula of denying it to "non-performing" Ministers and MLAs but it eventually dropped only a small number of the 127 sitting party MLAs. Many of those who have been denied the ticket have either joined the poll fray as rebels or are working to sabotage the Congress' prospects.
In the BJP, the allotment of the ticket initially led to party workers coming out on the streets to protest the selection of candidates. The unrest, however, appears to be dying down. When the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP parted ways in Uttar Pradesh, there was reason for the Madhya Pradesh Congress unit to rejoice. The BSP supremo, Ms. Mayawati, could have been of immense help. But with the Taj corridor controversy gaining momentum, things have changed. The much talked about BSP factor, which could have influenced the voting pattern in the Bhind-Morena-Gwalior belt bordering Uttar Pradesh, has also been negated by the vertical split in the Madhya Pradesh unit of the party, engineered by Phool Singh Baraiya.
Besides the BSP, which has chosen to contest 160 of the 230 State Assembly seats, obviously as part of a tacit understanding with the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party and the new political outfit the Samata Samaj Party floated by Mr. Baraiya are also trying to register their presence. But in a highly polarised scenario when the balance appears to be tilting in favour of the BJP, these parties are likely to end up causing more harm than good to the Congress.
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