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|February 12, 1998|
Ms Nice vs Mr Clean
A keen electoral battle is on the cards in Udaipur, where All India Mahila Congress president Dr Girija Vyas takes on Bharatiya Janata Party heavyweight, assembly speaker Shantilal Chaplot.
Dr Vyas is aiming for a hat-trick this time, a feat which her predecessors have been able to accomplish in this traditional Congress stronghold. But Chaplot, who claims to be 'confident' of a victory, would, at the least, give her a rough run. The non-controversial leader enjoys a snow-white image in the area, and is well-backed in the Mawli segment which he represents in the assembly.
Though campaigning is at a low key, Dr Vyas had a head start with Sonia Gandhi addressing a 70,000-strong rally at the Gandhi maidan on February 4. This is the fourth time that she, a former minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government, is contesting the seat. She had lost the 1989 election, but won in 1991 and 1996. In the last election, she had defeated BJP nominee Mahant Murali Manohar by 40,000 votes.
Local issues have taken a front seat in the four-corner contest, and both Dr Vyas and Chaplot are concentrating on door-to-door campaigns and addressing small meetings to establish personal rapport with the voters.
Dr Vyas, fondly called didi by her supporters, becomes defensive when questioned about her unkept promises. During her last campaign, she had promised to get the narrow gauge Udaipur rail line converted into broad gauge. Another promise was a television centre in the constituency. Her supporters defend her saying that she did secure Rs 1 billion from the railway ministry, but could not begin the project because of the conflict between the United Front government at the Centre and the BJP government in the state.
But Dr Vyas's habit of interacting regularly with her voters has given her an edge which her BJP rival lacks. She is easily accessible and is considered a dedicated politician.
Former chief minister Heeralal Devpura, who has been campaigning vigorously for Dr Vyas, said the people would vote her overwhelmingly because of the 'non-performance' of the state government. Developmental activity had come to a standstill and electricity and transport charges gone up manifold. And, also, there was 'rampant corruption' in the administration, he alleged
The main factor against Chaplot is that he has not been able to fulfill his promise of ensuring a high court bench in Udaipur -- a promise which he made much before he became the MLA.
However, the BJP leader has a remarkable popularity to fall back on. Plus, he has been able to initiate quite a few developmental projects in his segment.
"People are fed up with the tall promises made by the Congress," he commented, "All they want is a stable government at the Centre."
Defending the 'non performance' of the BJP government, Chaplot said Lok Sabha elections were fought on national issues, not local ones.
The caste factor, meanwhile, will, as usual, play a crucial role in deciding the winner. The constituency has an electorate of more than 1.2 million, with a dominant sprinkling of Brahmins, Mahajans and Rajputs.
And then there are the 100,000-odd Muslim voters, who now find themselves being wooed by both the Congress and BJP.
The Congress is stressing that the Muslims would not be safe under a BJP government, drawing the people's attention to the BJP election manifesto wherein it has reiterated its stand to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya and take steps for enforcing a Uniform Civil Code.
The BJP supporters, for their part, claim that the Muslims would be not only safe but also become progressive under their government. In this context, they cite the examples of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is in power.
Available indications suggest the Congress is ahead in the Udaipur rural, Vallabhnagar, Nathdwara and Bhim assembly segments, while the BJP leads in the Udaipur city, Mawli and Kumbalgarh segments. And in Rajasmund, it is expected to be neck and neck.
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