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|September 22, 1999||
Bais bids for a fourth win
S Pillai in Raipur
Union Minister of State for Steel and Mines Ramesh Bais of the Bharatiya Janata Party is making a strong bid to register a fourth win from Raipur in the absence of a formidable challenge from the Congress. The latter party is in upheaval over the denial of a ticket to party veteran and former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla.
Even while exuding confidence, Bais says,''There is no room for complacency and the BJP workers are taking the challenge seriously,'' he adds that efforts are on to ensure the winning margin at above 100,000 votes. Last year, he defeated Shukla by about 83,000 votes.
The presence of Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Dr Pradeep Kumar will help the BJP by cutting into the Congress vote-bank, Bais said, adding that he was also hopeful of benefiting by Congress ''infighting''.
Notwithstanding the lacklustre campaign marked by the absence of cacophony associated with the poll and lack of enthusiasm among the voters, the discontent in the Congress over the denial of a ticket to V C Shukla, Dr Somnath Sahu declining to contest as the party candidate to protest against the injustice to his mentor, fielding of another nominee belonging to the same Sahu community and the reported refusal by party workers to co-operate with Jugal Kishore Sahu are making newspaper headlines.
The new Congress candidate is president of the Raipur district panchayat. When J K Sahu filed his nomination, he was accompanied by veteran Congress leader and former chief minister Shyama Charan Shukla, who is contesting the general election for the first time from neighbouring Mahasamund and two state ministers from Raipur district, Satyanarayan Sharma and Dhanendra Sahu, the Congress candidate's elder brother.
Both Sharma and Dhanendra Sahu dismissed the charge of ''non-co-operation'' by party workers, saying these rumours were being spread by the BJP. Though short of saying that the poll in Raipur was a referendum on the panchayati raj system launched by Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, Sharma says ''Jugal Kishore Sahu is the only panchayati raj functionary fielded by the Congress and in no way is a weak candidate.''
The steep increase in the power tariff is sought to be raised by BJP leaders at all venues to nail down the state government's alleged failure in finance management. Bais asserts that ''the contributions of the previous governments in the last 50 years is no match with what Vajpayee had done for Chhattisgarh in the last 13 months.''
He claims the BJP initiative paved the way for the formation of a separate Chhattisgarh state. The minister also listed the Centre's contributions such as the creation of a railway zone at Bilaspur, a railway division at Raipur, a railway terminal at Raigarh, railway lines connecting Ambikapur and Vishrampur and between Jagdalpur and Rajhara, and the airport terminal building at Raipur.
Launching the metro channel from the Raipur Doordarshan centre and making the city an Internet node he cited as the results of his personal initiative.
Karuna Shukla, Prime Minister Vajpayee's niece and the former BJP MLA from Balodabazar, says the villagers dub the metro channel as ''Bais channel'' to acknowledge the fact that the second channel was the minister's contribution.
She claimed the 'Atal wave' is more evident in the rural areas and even the tribals, who were earlier considered to be a Congress vote-base, are coming closer to the BJP.
The Kurmi and Sahu communities dominate Raipur's 1.17 million voters. Observers say the Congress fielded Dr Somnath Sahu and later J K Sahu with an eye on the more than 200,000 voters of the Sahu community. Polarisation of voters totally on caste-lines is unlikely though there is a possibility of it to some extent, they said. Bais belongs to the Kurmi community, numerically as strong as the Sahus.
Raipur, the nerve centre of politics in the Chhattisgarh region, was once considered to be Congress stronghold till it fell to the Opposition for the first time during the Janata wave in 1977.
Bais, who has contested all the Lok Sabha elections here since 1984, has tasted defeat twice -- in 1984 and 1991 -- and won in 1989, 1996 and 1998. Besides five Independents, nominees of the Chhattisgarhi Samaj Party, the Ajey Bharat Party, the CPI-ML (Liberation), the Gondwana Gantantra Party, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and the Shoshit Samaj Party are also in the fray.
The BSP is a force to be reckoned with because of its vote-base among the Satnami community, though its candidates in the last two elections could win only about 50,000 votes.
Though Bais has been elected thrice, it is an irony that whenever he is elected there has been a mid-term dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
That the BJP has made deep inroads into the former Congress stronghold is evident from the fact that party candidates Brijmohan Agrawal and Tarun Chatterjee were re-elected from Raipur town and Raipur rural respectively in last November's assembly election. <
The eight assembly segments in the Raipur Lok Sabha constituency were, however, equally shared by BJP and Congress candidates..
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