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|September 10, 1999||
The Rediff Election Special/ Archana Masih
Caught between the politics of the two banyan trees in Gwalior-Guna, there are many who lie forgotten
The political equation in the Gwalior region has never been as captivating since 1984 – when Madhavrao Scindia trounced Atal Bihari Vajpayee by over 175,000 votes to retain Gwalior for the next four general elections.
Nearly 15 years on, Scindia and Gwalior have come full circle. He has returned to his original constituency of Guna, which first sent him to Parliament in 1971, while his ailing mother Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia finally retired from Guna after representing it for six terms.
Meanwhile, in the short run-up to the 1999 Lok Sabha election, the region has witnessed a strange blend of palace intrigue, as a feuding Scindia family manoeuvers its way to maintain power through the democratic process.
"Scindia hasn't left Gwalior. He has fled," says an exuberant Jaibhan Singh Pavaiyya, the BJP candidate from Gwalior. Many agree Scindia moved to Guna due to his hair-line 3.68 per cent edge over Pavaiyya in 1998. By when Scindia had already lost a chilling 27 per cent of the vote in his long-held constituency.
His supporters – and the view is that Scindia means the Congress here -- however maintain it was only natural for him to return to Guna after his mother vacated it. Scindia first contested the general election from Guna as a Jan Sangh candidate in 1971, as an Independent – supported by the Congress in 1977 when the Congress only won Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh and on a Congress ticket in 1980.
But Scindia rules out any such speculation. "Rajiv Gandhi brought me to Gwalior in 1984. In 1989 when I wanted to return to Guna, my mother decided to contest from there," he says. "Yes, we do belong to different parties, but it was not dignified to stand against my mother."
There is little denying in the constituency that Scindia has jeopardised the Congress fortunes. The BJP is brimming with confidence that the 1999 result may well see this mighty Congress bastion slipping into its hands.
The other view is that by nominating Chandra Mohan Nagori, Scindia has sent a firm message to the Congress leadership in the state that Gwalior can only be won for the party by a Scindia. That his son Jyotiraditya will represent the constituency eventually. Though Scindia denies any such plan. "My son will not contest as long as I am in electoral politics," he affirms.
Scindia's supporters, however, disagree with the premise that the Congress candidate is a weakling. "It is incorrect to underestimate Nagori. He was district Congress president and has Maharaj's support. That is enough to pull him through," says District Congress Working Committee member Mohan Maheshwari. Other party workers at the Congress election office in Sarafa Bazaar also concede that for the first time Scindia's supporters and a few of Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's supporters in Gwalior have been united in the campaign battle.
The owner of a little-known newspaper in the city, Nagori strangely remains reluctant to face the media. Although cardboard cut-outs and posters abound in the city, says an editor of a leading daily: "I still haven't seen what he looks like."
A debutante in parliamentary elections, Nagori had lost the assembly election in 1980. Bearing the mantle of an enviable Congress legacy, he is set for a tortuous task at the hustings. "He is such a weak candidate that no one wants to support him," says the BJP legislator from Lashkar (West) and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's nephew Anoop Mishra. "In villages hardly anyone knows him."
With the Rajmata's retirement, the local BJP unit has also started voicing its long-felt subdued discontentment. "To an extent it was because of the Rajmata that the BJP could never put up a fight in Gwalior," says a local BJP MLA. "It was only in 1996 when Vajpayee refused to field Anoop Mishra from here that we got the central leadership to okay Pavaiyya's candidature."
Once an overseer with the state irrigation department, Pavaiyya was terminated from service – some say on dubious grounds, while others maintain he fell prey to political manipulation and was later reinstated. A former Bajrang Dal president, many within and outside the party are of the view that Pavaiyya never lets go of his Dal aggressiveness. His attitude has alienated him not only from the urban voter, but also his party in Gwalior.
"MLAs like Anoop Mishra, Dhyanendra Singh and Narottam Mishra won't fancy being ordered around by him," adds a political observer. If Pavaiyya does make it to Parliament, Mishra, who is the PM's nephew, and Dhyanendra Singh, who is related to the Rajmata, are unlikely to submit to his political inexperience.
Political opinion in the constituency is that if there is a poor voter turn-out in the rural areas and in the city, the BJP could suffer. The Congress could then fare better in the city and since Nagori is a stranger to the rural folk, the Bahujan Samaj Party may capitalise on this weakness.
"Come rain or shine, the BSP voter will definitely come to the booth, but it is the BJP voter that has to cajoled to cast his vote," says BJP activist and Mishra's wife Shobha.
The BSP, which won two assembly seats in Gwalior, once again has veteran Phool Singh Baraiya in the fray. The party, however, is expected to lose some ground due to the defection of Babu Singh Gujjar, who is fighting on a Samajwadi Party ticket.
With the main fight between the BJP and the Congress, the latter is banking on Madhavrao's legacy while the former is betting on his mother's contribution to the region. Says former MP N K Shejwalkar: "The Gwalior region has always had a strong Hindutva influence since the days of the Hindu Mahasabha. Then after Rajmata fell out with D P Mishra in 1967, she took the initiative in strengthening the party in the region."
Shejwalkar, who lost to Scindia in the 1989 election, says the Congress has done nothing to retain its position in the region outside Gwalior. Its downfall in the last few years has entirely been its doing. Detractors say the party has been plagued by the Scindia dominance and that only his supporters have flourished politically, thus damaging its political growth. There is a conspicuous absence of a second rung of leadership which has resulted in political bankruptcy.
"Both the Rajmata and Madhavrao have been the two giant banyan trees of this region," says a political observer, "They have never allowed any saplings to flourish under them."
The Congress last won Bhind and Morena in the Chambal region in 1989, when the party slumped to its lowest tally -- 8 -- in Madhya Pradesh after the post-Emergency debacle. Of the 32 Vidhan Sabha seats in the four parliamentary constituencies of Bhind, Morena, Guna and Gwalior, the Congress currently holds 7, down by 11 seats from the last assembly election. The BJP has 16, up from 8 last time. The BSP has 6, the SP 2 and there is one Independent MLA.
"I agree our roots are not very strong. It is after all a part of the political process," says Balendu Shukla, a close associate of Scindia who lost the Lok Sabha election in 1998 from Bhind.
A constituency, divided between Thakur and Brahmin votes, opinion is that Congress has suffered in Bhind for the last ten years primarily because of fielding outsiders. "Almost the entire Bhind is in agreement on defeating anyone from outside," says Dainik Bhaskar editor I B Rastogi.
A very inaccessible area, reveals IAS officer Serjius Minj, "There are certain regions that even the DM cannot visit. Bhind also remains one of the most backward areas. The current Congress candidate Satyadeo Katare -- a Scindia nominee – is pitted against the BJP's Ram Lakhan Singh Argal who secured 42.27 per cent of the vote in 1998."
The reserved constituency of Morena saw a shift with the BSP's emergence when Kanshi Ram’s party broke the Congress vote bank. Though the party could not get its candidate elected, the shift in votes has worked in the BJP's favour. "The BSP has never made an attempt to seek votes outside its community. This why they have lost the edge so far," says journalist Dhiren Shukla.
The Thakur-Brahmin vote in the area remains a decisive factor in tipping the scale. Another reason cited for the decline of Congress fortunes is the party's failure in protecting the lower castes from the exploitation by the dreaded Chambal dacoits.
However, caste has never played a decisive role in Guna and Gwalior. Locals say their vote has always gone to a Scindia, irrespective of party. In the absence of Madhavrao in Gwalior, both Pavaiyya and Nagori are banking on their Thakur and Baniya castes respectively. Scindia's opponent in Guna, BJP legislator Raodeshraj Yadav, is banking on the sizeable Yadav voters.
"This time our position is not strong," admits Guna BJP activist Mahendra Mishra. "Yashodhara Raje would have been the perfect candidate." An MLA from Shivpuri, Yashodhara Raje is considered one of the most hard working leaders in the area who has toured her mother’s constituency extensively in the last ten years.
Though there was talk that she would contest the Guna seat this time, she lost her chance of running for MP from well within her grasp for the second time in two years. If her brother's shift prevented it this time, incomplete paperwork had disqualified her the last time. Moreover, it is widely believed that Yashodhara Raje does not hold favour with Rajmata's confidante and the BJP power centre in the region, Sardar Sambhaji Rao Angre.
The Guna Congress unit is also a divided house. The old guard led by former Congress contestant K P Singh – a Digvijay Singh supporter – is reportedly disgruntled. There is a feeling that although Scindia may have patched up his differences with Chief Minister Singh, it is just a façade till the election is over. It has also been alluded that Scindia's shift to Guna was done at the CM's behest.
Local Congress workers are also unhappy because they have been sidelined as Scindia's supporters from Gwalior run the show. This has resulted in fewer party workers left to manage Nagori's campaign in Gwalior.
Apart from its political importance to the rest of the state, agricultural forms the back-bone of the Gwalior region. Wheat, gram, mustard and soya bean cultivation have made many parts prosperous. But its proximity to Agra and Delhi has resulted in reduced growth in the region. "Because they are so close, people prefer to go there for most of their purchases, taking away much business from here," says a local.
Says Gwalior Commissioner Serjius Minj: "Kidnapping has become the most committed crime in the region, but as far is polling is concerned this is largely a peaceful area."
With campaigning concluded for Saturday's election, Gora village, nine kilometres from the Shivpuri highway, has never had a candidate visiting it. The nearest polling booth is 9 kms away . "It takes us a whole day to go and come back," says a resident. A traditional Congress supporting Adivasi village, it has no school, dispensary and water is fetched from a canal one km away.
Caught for years between the politics of the two banyan trees in Gwalior-Guna, there are many who still lie forgotten.
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