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|February 19, 1998|
Eight-time winner Shukla seeks another triumph
Vidya Charan Shukla is once again making a determined bid to enter the Lok Sabha where he has held a seat continuously since 1957, except for two brief spells of less than five years.
Moving between Mahasamund and Raipur, the former Union minister has won eight of the nine general elections he has contested since 1957, losing only in 1977 when the anti-Congress wave propelled the Janata Party to power in the aftermath of the Emergency.
Shukla, however, contends that he lost due to pre-poll rumours about the stabbing of an Opposition candidate. In 1996, he was denied a Congress ticket following his alleged involvement in the hawala case.
Giving a tough fight to the seniormost politician in Madhya Pradesh in Sunday's election at Raipur is Bharatiya Janata Party nominee Ramesh Bais, who is contesting for the fifth time, having won and lost twice each.
Bais defeated Shukla's confidant Dhanendra Sahu by 50,000 votes in 1996.
In the 17-corner contest, another noteworthy candidate is Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Narsingh Mandal, who recently quit the Congress.
Raipur fell to the Opposition for the first time in 1977 when Shukla was defeated by Purushottam Kaushik, who later become a Union minister. In 1980 and 1984, the Congress returned, only to be defeated by Bais in 1989. Again, in 1991, Shukla won the seat.
The sprawling Raipur constituency, having an electorate of 1.15 million, has eight assembly segments -- five held by the BJP and three by the Congress in the Vidhan Sabha.
In relentless campaigning, both the Congress and BJP are wooing voters belonging to the predominant Sahu, Kurmi and Satnami communities, who comprise 35 per cent of the population.
Giving a definite fillip to the otherwise low-key campaigning has been the visits by BJP prime ministerial candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress star campaigner Sonia Gandhi. Both addressed huge election rallies, boosting their respective party campaigns.
Although Sonia's rallies galvanised the faction-ridden Congress to a great extent, a large section of grassroot workers are yet to be mobilised for active campaigning, observers feel.
Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's confidant, Madhya Pradesh Minister for Mineral Resources Satyanarayan Sharma is Shukla's chief campaign manager. Shukla also has his band of loyal workers who are at the helm of affairs in the Raipur Municipal Corporation.
Bais contends that despite their presence in the RMC, the city lacks basic civic amenities like roads, drains, and safe drinking water. He has also charged Shukla and his brother, former MP chief minister Shyama Charan Shukla, for not doing much to remove the backwardness of the Chattisgarh region in eastern Madhya Pradesh.
Campaigning for Bais is Vajpayee's niece, Karuna Shukla, the BJP MLA from Balodbazar, who denies charges that the candidate is inactive.
V C Shukla, whose campaign was delayed as his candidature was announced only at the last minute, also needs to take along with him all the local factions, many of whom are close to Sitaram Kesri.
The inclusion of a separate Chattisgarh state in the BJP's manifesto has drawn flak from the Congress which says that its rival is not serious about it.
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