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|November 23, 1998||
Chhattisgarh statehood is a hot political issue
The issue of statehood for Chhattisgarh is being exploited to the hilt by both the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as the region, considered crucial for power, sends as many as 90 legislators to the 320-member Madhya Pradesh assembly.
While the BJP is taking credit for fulfilling its promise of a separate state and blaming the Congress for the backwardness of the mineral-rich region, the Congress is leaving no stone unturned to convince voters that it was the first to initiate the demand for statehood and the BJP was raising the issue only for political gains.
The ''son of the soil'' issue, locally articulated as ''Chhattisgarhia'' versus ''non-Chattisgarhia,'' is simmering to some extent in certain pockets of the region, a strong bastion of the Congress. As many as 54 legislators from the region belong to the Congress and 28 to the BJP.
State BJP unit president and tribal leader Nand Kumar Sai says the party, if voted to power, would make a ''true Chhattisgarhia'' the chief minister of the new state.
In Mandirhasod constituency adjoining Raipur, Union Minister Ramesh Bais's brother Shyamlal Bais (BJP) has dubbed his Congress rival and state Public Relations Minister Satyanarayan Sharma a ''non-Chhattisgarhi.'' Sharma had won thrice from the constituency and is seeking a fourth term, while Bais lost two elections from the same constituency.
Burdened with spiralling prices of essential commodities and damage to crops following unseasonal rain during the harvesting season, the electorate, both urban and rural, seems to be less enthusiastic this time.
Local issues, the image of the candidate, and caste dominate the scene in most of the constituencies in Chhattisgarh.
To highlight their grievances and the demand for an irrigation dam, the voters of 32 villages in Devbhog area of Raipur district have threatened to boycott the November 25 elections.
As the Naxalite threat looms large and the tribal pockets in Bastar and Rajnandgaon remains the hotbed of the ultras, tight security measures are being taken to ensure fair and peaceful elections. Like in the past, various Naxalite dalams, which have ganged up, have given the poll boycott call this time too.
Congress veteran and former chief minister Shyama Charan Shukla (Rajim), Nand Kumar Sai (Tapkara) and state BSP unit president Dauram Ratnakar (Pamgarh) are among the prominent candidates in the region.
Most of the constituencies in Chhattisgarh will witness direct contest between the Congress and the BJP, while in some constituencies both the BJP and Congress rebels are in the fray.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, the Communist Party of India, the CPI-Marxist, the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, the Ajeya Bharat Party, the Chhattisgarhi Samaj Party and the Gondwana Gantantra Party have also put up candidates in several constituencies, though these parties have influence in some areas only.
In Bilaspur district, General Administration Minister Rajendra Prasad Shukla, a strong contender for chief ministership in the event of Chhattisgarh becoming a state, is seeking election for the fourth time from Kota.
Both the Congress and the BJP are saddled with the problem of rebels.
Derhu Prasad Dhritlahare had to be removed from the Digvijay Singh cabinet few days ago after he declined to retire from the contest in Maro constituency, where he is now contesting as an independent.
Another Congress MLA, Mayaram Negi, who was also denied ticket, is the Ajeya Bharat Party candidate from Bhatgaon.
In Balodabazar constituency, BJP rebel Purushottam Sahu is contesting against party's official nominee and sitting legislator Karuna Shukla, niece of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The kin of several prominent BJP and Congress leaders managed to get tickets, causing resentment among the ranks.
In Raipur city, the Congress has fielded a green-horn, Paras Chopra, a protege of Shyama Charan Shukla, while the BJP has renominated a war horse, Brijmohan Agrawal, who is seeking a third term.
Both candidates have promised to make Raipur a ''model capital'' with Chopra going to the extent of saying that he would resign if he failed in his attempt to develop the city. Agrawal, however, says he would not have to resign as he is confident of ensuring the city's development in the event of the BJP coming to power.
With the Election Commission keeping a close watch on the expenditure of the candidates, there are few cut-outs and banners which usually adorn the landscape during election time. The BJP, however, has deployed one helicopter for its star campaigners in the region.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, who arrived in Raipur to campaign for their party candidates, had to cancel several public meeting due to rain.
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