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|November 20, 1998||
S C Shukla faces woman candidate for the first time in his long career
Congress veteran and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shyama Charan Shukla will face a woman candidate for the first time in his four-decade-long political career.
It is the eighth time Shukla -- popularly known as Shyama bhayya (brother) - is contesting from Rajim in Raipur district, a sprawling rural constituency on the bank of river Mahanadi, with an electorate of 141,000. Except for the 1977 Janata wave, the seat had always proved lucky for Shukla.
This time he is pitted in a seven-cornered contest, taking the challenge mainly from Neena Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party and rebel Congressman Santosh Upadhyaya, contesting as an independent. Others in the fray include Pilibai of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Bahur Ram of the Janata Dal and Khilesh Kumar (independent). BJP rebel and former MLA Punitram Sahu was finally persuaded by the party leadership to withdraw from the contest.
According to observers, Shukla's absence from the electoral scene for 12 long years since 1977, when he decided to remain aloof from mainstream politics, facilitated the entry of the BJP in the traditional Congress stronghold. BJP candidate Punitram Sahu was elected in the 1995 assembly polls.
Singh, wife of a Raipur-based industrialist, is a national council member of the BJP Mahila Morcha. Observers say she was initially not well accepted by the party workers at Rajim, who considered her a rank outsider. She had to mobilise her loyal followers from Raipur to manage her campaigning.
Many staunch party supporters like Somen of Sindhouri village felt that the BJP could have given a tough fight to Shukla if it fielded Sahu instead of Singh.
Even a veteran like Shukla appears to have his anxious moments because of the goodwill earned among the electorate by rebel Congress candidate Santosh Upadhyaya, a former sarpanch of Rajim and now the president of Fingeshwar janapad panchayat.
Several villagers said they wanted their legislator should be available to them during any emergency and in that context, Upadhayaya would be preferred.
Youth Congress leader Mohan Thakur and Congress worker Anil Mishra complained about the non-availability of Shukla, who, they alleged, was busy in Bhopal and Delhi. Annoyed by Shukla's neglect of youth workers, both were now campaigning for Upadhaya.
BJP sympathisers like Dhanuram Patel of Koma village complained that the party legislator and local MP were ignoring development work and were not easily accessible. Chandra Sekhar Sahu had not yet visited his village since his election as MP early this year, he said.
However, the majority of the electorate in Rajim credited Shukla with whatever development work that had taken place in the rural constituency. But there were others, like Vasant Kumar Sahu of Koma village who said despite Shukla remaining the chief minister for three terms, the constituency lacked development.
Moreover, most of the youths remained unemployed, he added.
Political observers indicated that, as compared to the previous elections, posters and banners of the Congress nominee were in large numbers this time.
Campaigning in Rajim, Shukla said he did not find this election to be tough. Nursing the constituency all these years and coming to the rescue of the electorate during droughts and famine would keep his flag flying, he said.
Stating that the BJP's move to create Chhattisgarh state would not give it any edge in the region, he claimed that the Congress had striven to safeguard the region's interest throughout. He also discounted the possibility of the Congress rebel cutting through his vote bank, saying the independent had no credibility.
Further, Congress leader Pawan Diwan, who has his ashram at Rajim on the bank of Mahanadi and sizeable following in rural areas, is yet to join the campaigning. Upadhyaya is considered a close associate of Diwan.
On the other hand, Sahu, who is reportedly dissatisfied with the distribution of party tickets, is yet to start campaigning.
The eldest son of the first chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, late Ravishankar Shukla, Shyama Charan Shukla entered the Vidhan Sabha for the first time in 1957 when he was elected from Bindranawagarh constituency, of which Rajim was a part then.
Shukla made a hat-trick from Rajim in 1962, 1967 and again in 1972. He lost the election in 1977. He did not contest the assembly polls in 1980 and 1985.
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