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It's Digvijay's political career on the line
Tara Shankar Sahay in Bhopal |
December 01, 2003 15:44 IST
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's great gamble of shunning the assistance of Congress bigwigs to formulate his electoral strategy is undergoing its litmus test today with 3.78 crore voters deciding whether he will triumph a third time, or whether he has made the mistake of his life.
"Of course I appreciate help from party leaders. But my gut feeling and electoral instincts have never let me down," Singh told rediff.com, explaining why he took charge of the party's campaign in the state.
Brave words indeed from 'Diggy Raja', as he is popularly known, who has defied opinion polls predicting his defeat, advice from senior party leaders to take their assistance, and the wrath of his detractors to fashion his own electoral strategy.
Though outwardly calm, Singh's political career is at stake. Defeat would mean being booted into the dustbin of Congress history. The chief minister has already gone on record that he would give up striving for any post if he loses and remain an ordinary Congress worker for the rest of his life.
Heeding his submission, party president Sonia Gandhi let him have his way. Inevitably, it won him more enemies than friends. As many as 157 people deprived of Congress tickets have become rebel candidates, compared to approximately 50 in the rival Bharatiya Janata Party.
The grave shortage of power and the absence of roads are the two issues on which the BJP has sought to crucify the chief minister. Much to Digvijay Singh's chagrin, even veteran Congress leader and former chief minister Arjun Singh went around seeking people's forgiveness for the poor power position during his campaign tours.
Three hours after voting began in 42,267 polling stations all over the state for 230 assembly seats, voters, including those in the capital Bhopal, appeared enthusiastic. "My vote is precious, I will cast it for the party that I have decided to vote for," said 38 year-old Sumita Devi in Gautam Nagar, a colony in the Bhopal South constituency.
Sumita Devi was on her way to the polling station accompanied by a group of 14 women, mostly housewives. Her companion Shalini (in her early forties) said the administration should have ensured that there was electricity in the colony at least when people were going to vote. Power went off in parts of Bhopal at 0800 IST, just the time voting began.
"You can give somebody a second chance, everybody makes mistakes," said taxi-driver Mukesh Kumar, "but why should he [Digvijay Singh] deserve a third when his earlier two terms have belied our expectations about Madhya Pradesh's development?"
Kumar said the chief minister had "promised the sun and the moon" to the people on becoming chief minister. Nothing happened and he repeated the promises when he sought a second term. "Now he is in trouble," the cabby asserted. "Loss of credibility means loss of faith. The BJP is described as a communal party, but I will vote for it this time."
These basic issues apart, the chief minister seems to have become the victim of his own strategy. Realising that Singh had declined help from Congress stalwarts, the BJP leadership sent both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, Lal Kishenchand Advani, among other senior politicians, to Madhya Pradesh to take advantage of the situation.
The BJP leaders pilloried Diggy Raja for 'non-development' of the state and appealed to voters to bring their party to power to change the situation.
Local Congress workers like Jamaluddin in the MP Nagar locality of Bhopal are now hoping that the presence of Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party candidates will hurt the BJP. "Our feedback is that the BSP and SP candidates will help us by ensuring that the BJP does not gain," he said.
Congress leaders in MP are also taking heart from the fact that in 1998 as well, "Diggy Raja had faced depressing poll predictions, but had come out a winner".