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|September 8, 1999||
Where gods fight
For the Bharatiya Janata Party, the contest in Rajgarh is more of a proxy war against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh than anything else.
To counter the CM's brother and three-time winner Laxman Singh, it has put forward television actor Nitish Bharadwaj, who shot to fame playing Lord Krishna in the television serial Mahabharat.
"It is a battle between Krishna and Laxman," Bharadwaj had quipped when he came to file his nomination. But now, as the poll date approaches, he says his fight is primarily against the chief minister.
Laxman Singh, meanwhile, is leaving no stone unturned to retain his seat. He is banking mainly on his brother's popularity, which has grown by leaps and bounds after the Congress retained power in the assembly election nine months ago. Digvijay Singh, who represented Rajgarh twice in the Lok Sabha, and has been the chief minister for almost six years now, has diligently nursed the constituency.
Although eight candidates, including representatives of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Ajeya Bharat Party, are in the fray, the real contest is between the Congress and the BJP in this rural constituency which sprawls across the eight assembly segments of Rajgarh, Guna and Vidisha districts. The 1.1-million electorate here, including 529,954 women, is scheduled to vote on September 11.
Electioneering is yet to pick up, although the Congress appears to be way ahead of its rivals in the campaign. Banners, buntings, posters and cutouts of "Raja Saheb and Chote Raja" -- as Digvijay Singh and Laxman Singh are known -- decorate main towns.
The BJP, for its part, is trying to ensure that Bharadwaj establishes direct contact with as many voters as possible. Janmashtami, the festival that marks Lord Krishna's birth, did add a special fervour to Bharadwaj's campaign. Crowds greeted him joyously. People gave him a crown with peacock feathers, a murali (flute) and a battery operated sudarshan chakra.
Bharadwaj too played Lord Krishna's part to the hilt by joyfully breaking mutkees (earthen pots filled with butter).
"There were huge gatherings. They weighed me in curd, milk and sugar at several places," the Bombay-based television actor said.
Digvijay Singh, meanwhile, plans to spend the last few days of campaign in this constituency. Rajesh Khanna, the superstar of yesteryear, added a tinge of glamour for the Congress by canvassing for Laxman Singh.
With 'Krishna' in the poll bandwagon, sloganeering is also at its colourful best. Partymen calling their opponents such names of mythological characters as Duryodhan, Dushashan and Shakuni are quite common.
This constituency bordering Rajasthan has an intriguing track record of electing 'outsiders' -- Dr Vasant Kumar Pandit, Baburao Patel, Jagganath Rao Joshi and Pyarelal Khandelwal, all of the Jan Sangh and BJP, had scored victories from Rajgarh.
The Congressmen have mounted a propaganda that Bharadwaj was unlikely to sacrifice his career and stay on in this rural area to work for the people. To dispel this, the actor has been reportedly telling the people about his plans to construct a house in the Rajgarh assembly segment.
Says former Congress minister Rajendra Singh, who is the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee observer, ''A local candidate has his own importance; all the outsiders who won from here in the past never returned to the area."
Neither Kargil nor the performances of the Centre and state governments are issues here. The high-profile battle has, to a large extent, pushed the real issues to the background, with the rivals mainly concentrating only on wooing the voters.
Scoffing at the BJP campaign Laxman Singh said, "This is hypocrisy. How can anyone project himself and behave like god? I am sure the people will not fall prey to such gimmicks."
To this the BJP nominee counters, ''He is a dummy candidate. My real fight is with Digvijay Singh."
The assembly segments of Sironj, Bioara, Narsingarh, Sarangpur, Rajgarh, Khilchipur, Chachoda and Raghogarh fall under this Lok Sabha constituency. In the 1998 election, the BJP had fielded former chief minister Kailash Joshi. However, Joshi, who had never lost an assembly election since 1962 from Bagli constituency in Dewas district, was defeated by over 56,000 votes.
Bharadwaj had made his electoral debut from the steel township of Jamshedpur in May 1996. He opted out of contest last year reportedly because of his pre-occupation with the shooting of a serial.
Laxman Singh contested his first Lok Sabha poll in 1994 when his brother vacated the Rajgarh seat following his election as the Congress legislature party leader in December 1993.
Rajgarh was considered a bastion of the Jan Sangh and, later, of the BJP till 1984 when Digvijay Singh, who was a minister in the Arjun Singh cabinet, won the seat by 152,000 votes. The BJP's Pyarelal Khandelwal wrested the seat in the 1989 election. But Singh avenged his defeat in 1991 by winning the seat with a slender margin of 1,470 votes.
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