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|September 23, 1999||
A Congress bastion mired in backwardness
Former Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee president Parasram Bharadwaj, who is seeking his seventh successive win from this Congress citadel, is locked in a three-cornered contest against state Bahujan Samaj Party president and member of the legislative assembly Dauram Ratnakar and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate P R Khute.
While Bharadwaj is harping on the ''stability'' factor, both the BSP and the BJP are highlighting the backwardness of the area to wean away Congress sympathisers.
Khute claims the ''Atal wave'' will demolish the Congress this time. He had lost the 1998 poll by a narrow margin of about 6,000 votes, while Ratnakar finished third, slipping from the second position he had in 1996. Khute says there is a ''secret understanding'' between the Congress and the BSP, which ensured the victory of the former in the past two elections.
Rebel state BSP general secretary Ramakant Jangade, who recently revolted against his party leadership and announced his candidature as an Independent, also seconds this theory. He alleges that as per the pact both Bharadwaj and Ratnakar helped each other at the hustings, enabling the former to return to the Lok Sabha and the latter to make it to the assembly from Pamgarh. Jangade is being supported by the Nationalist Congress Party. He could not get the NCP symbol on technical grounds.
The sprawling rural constituency of Sarangarh (SC), spread over the three districts of Janjgir, Raigarh and Raipur, remains the most backward Lok Sabha constituency in the Chhattisgarh region with little or no industry, a poor road network and poorer irrigation facilities.
All major rivers flowing through the region like the Mahanadi, Arpa, Sheonath, Jonk, Kelo and Mand merge near the pilgrim centre of Sheorinarayan in Janjgir district, but irrigation facilities are nearly absent in the region with farmers depending solely on the rains.
The area has no major industry and the proposed power station near Chandrapur is yet to come up. The eastward flowing rivers joining Mahanadi is tapped only downstream at the Hirakund Dam in Orissa.
Bharadwaj's critics point out that the backwardness of the area is mainly due to his ''inaction.'' He belongs to the V C Shukla camp in state Congress politics.
Of late, both the BSP and BJP have been able to make inroads into this Congress bastion. In last November's assembly election, BSP candidates were elected from Pamgarh and Sarangarh. The BJP also gained with its candidates winning from Bhatgaon, Chandrapur, Kasdol and Saria with the Congress pocketing only the Malkharod and Palari assembly segments.
The scheduled caste-dominated constituency has more than one million voters, mainly belonging to the Agharia, Gond, Kurmi, Patel, Sahu and Satnami communities. The Gond tribals are still held in high esteem. The erstwhile royal family of Sarangarh also belonged to the Gond community.
The sizeable number of voters belonging to the Satnami community, to which Bharadwaj, Khute and Ratnakar all belong, is also the BSP votebank. Ratnakar has made it to the assembly thrice from Pamgarh.
Electioneering here is on a low key. Niranjan Agrawal, Bharadwaj's campaign manager, said the ''stability'' plank of the Congress would work this time also.
Claiming that the voters belonging to the Other Backward Classes were deserting the BSP, he said Mordhwaj Sahu of Sheetalpur, who was a block president of the BSP, had joined the Congress recently.
The BJP leaders claim the OBC voters, who are disenchanted with the BSP, are now leaning towards the BJP. Shyamadevi Chandra of Chandrapur joined the BJP after leaving the BSP, they point out in support of their claim.
Ajay Gopal, a BJP municipal councillor of Sarangarh, said the BJP campaign was more systematic this time. The steep hike in electricity tariff and fertiliser prices had antagonised the farmers who, he said, were coming closer to the BJP.
Gopal said the people of Sarangarh had a grudge against the Congress MP for his failure to obtain district status for Sarangarh.
A former Congress legislator, Mayaram Negi, who unsuccessfully contested the last assembly election from Bhatgaon after quitting the Congress, is in the fray as the Ajeya Bharat Party nominee. Other candidates are Ajesh of the Gondwana Gantantra Party, Jyoti Kumar of the Chhattisgarh Samaj Party, Phool Singh of the Samajwadi Party and Saheblal of the Apna Dal. The constituency goes to the polls on September 25.
As national issues have taken a back-seat the political parties are trying their best to woo the unenthusiastic voters. There is very little election graffiti on the walls while posters and banners are less compared to previous elections. Rains have made it difficult for candidates to go to the interior areas, which are unmotorable. No prominent leader of any party has so far visited the constituency.
M K Raut, returning officer for Sarangarh, said all arrangements had been made for the smooth conduct of the election. Bullock carts and tractors would also be used in adequate numbers for carrying both poll material and polling personnel to rural areas.
He said polling parties for 91 booths in the Kasdol assembly segment had to cover two to ten kilometres on foot as they had to cross more than two nullahs. Forest guards would also be deployed on poll duty, he said.
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