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|September 22, 1999||
Development remains a daydream in remote Rajnandgaon
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Motilal Vora of the Congress is striving for a consecutive win from the Naxalite-infested Rajnandgaon constituency where elaborate security measures have been made to prevent any attempt to disturb the polling on September 25 in the third phase of Lok Sabha elections in the state.
Vora, who won quite easily last time, seems to be finding it tough this time around as the BJP has fielded Dr Raman Singh, a local candidate.
Vora, who hails from neighbouring Durg, still banks on the support of his former socialist friends in the campaign in this sprawling backward constituency, spread over Kawardha and Rajnandgaon districts.
Dismissing reports that the supporters of former Union minister V C Shukla, who was denied a ticket this time, were not actively campaigning for him, Vora claimed that he had the support of all Congress workers. His confidants, former legislator Ramesh Varlyani and former Raipur Development Authority chairman Gangaram Sharma, both belonging to Raipur, are managing his campaign in Rajnandgaon and Kawardha districts.
Other candidates in the fray are Sitadevi Vaishnav of the Ajeya Bharat Party, Meera Borkar of the Chhattisgarhi Samaj Party, Ramesh Kumar of the Gondwana Gantantra Party and Dev Singh Nandeshwar, an Independent.
BJP candidate Dr Raman Singh, a former legislator from Kawardha, has the advantage of belonging to the newly carved out district. Ashok Sharma, who won the seat in 1996 on the BJP ticket, also belongs to Rajnandgaon.
Denial of a ticket to Sharma this time initially caused some heartburn among the BJP workers of Rajnandgaon, but they were pacified following the intervention of senior party leaders including Lakhiram Agrawal, who is in charge of the BJP's Madhya Pradesh campaign.
The Congress appears to be trying to exploit the resentment among the BJP workers. Its propaganda suggests that the BJP higher-ups were giving consideration to the idea of supporting V C Shukla if he was interested in contesting from Rajnandgaon.
Vora also says the BJP bid to change its candidate at the last moment was an admission of its impending defeat and lack of confidence in its own nominee.
However, Dr Raman Singh denied any resentment among the BJP workers and said the entire party machinery was with him. He says Vora's high-profile image will not work as it had last time.
The BJP leader alleged that Vora was not maintaining contact with the electorate nor had fulfilled the assurances given earlier.
On the other hand, Vora claims a number of development works, including a railway level-crossing, construction of a by-pass road and survey for a railway line between Rajnandgaon and Jabalpur, had been taken up after he was elected last year. These things were pending for over 40 years, he said.
Of the eight assembly segments in this constituency, five belong to the Congress and three to the BJP. Among the electorate, the lack of roads, growing unemployment and other local issues are more important than the Kargil conflict, stability or other national issues.
The backwardness of Kawardha and Rajnandgaon districts bordering Maharashtra has become a fertile ground for the People's War Group of Naxalites to launch their operations.
The looting of arms by the Naxalites from the Mainpur police station a year ago and their recent unsuccessful bid to loot the Chhuria police station, both in Rajnandgaon district, highlighted the influence they have among the common people, particularly tribals. This time also, the Naxalites have given a call for boycott of the polls.
Both Vora and Dr Raman Singh claim that the Naxalite threat posed no hurdle in their campaigning, nor will it affect polling.
Rajnandgaon district collector L S Baghel and Superintendent of Police S Sagar said elaborate security arrangements had been made to prevent any attack by the Naxalites on polling parties. One helicopter would be deployed for aerial surveillance to monitor the movements of Naxalites, Baghel added.
Sagar revealed that satellite telephone facility had been provided for the police stations in the Naxalite-infested areas. The border with Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra would also be sealed to prevent inter- state movement of the Naxalites.
Tribals form a sizeable section among the more than a million strong electorate. The Naxalites, who are known in the local lingo as dadas, have sufficient sympathisers among the tribals.
In the urban pockets of the constituency, the recent hike in electricity tariff is being highlighted by the BJP to criticise the performance of the state government. The alleged failure of the panchayati raj institutions to come up to the expectations of the common man due to various factors including financial constraints are also being raised to criticise the Congress rule.
A seasoned politician, Vora prefers to raise only national issues in his campaign meetings: the pro-development approach of the Congress and alleged failures of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
The BJP is on the defensive on the Chhattisgarh state issue. Vora and other Congress leaders claim the BJP raised the statehood issue only during the polls and later forgot it. The Congress alone could form the separate state, they say.
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