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|November 23, 1998||
Ajay Singh fights his father's battle in Churhat
Congress Working Committee member Arjun Singh has high stakes in his home constituency in the Vindhya region of Madhya Pradesh, as his son Ajay Singh is making tireless efforts to ward off the formidable challenge posed by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BJP has fielded its sitting legislator Govind Mishra to take on the Congress heavyweight's son. The others in the contest are the Bahujan Samaj Party's Shivraj Patel, thhe Sawarna Samaj Party's Dr Anusuiya Prasad Shukla, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha's Sheshmani, and Independents Dinesh Kumar and Maniklal Patel. The constituency has 139,130 voters, of whom 48.21 per cent are women.
Neither the controversial Churhat lottery scandal nor issues like onion, Pokhran, Panchayati Raj, political stability, and the government's performance dominate the poll scene in this rural constituency. Besides banking on caste equations, everybody seems to be weighing the pros and cons as to how the Arjun Singh factor would favour his son this time.
Arjun Singh's prestige is at stake as, local party workers say, this is an opportunity to demonstrate his hold on the state after his successive defeats in the Lok Sabha election from Satna and Hoshangabad constituencies in 1996 and 1998 respectively.
On his part, Arjun Singh has done everything possible to ensure that his son wrests the seat, which he had represented five times and nursed it well when he was chief minister thrice.
Political moves to balance the caste factor in this Brahmin and other backward classes-dominated constituency and efforts to check intra-party rivalry between Congress leaders belonging to different castes began even before the finalisation of names of party candidates.
After a long span, Arjun Singh sunk his differences with another Congress veteran and Assembly Speaker Sriniwas Tiwari, who has considerable influence among the Brahmin community in the Vindhya region. After meeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, both Singh and Tiwari made a public announcement about their resolve to jointly work to strengthen the organisation.
Besides this attempt to woo the Brahmin voters, Ratibhan Patel and Paras Nath Patel, who had contested in the past as candidates of the Janata Dal and BSP respectively, joined the Congress this month. With this, Congressmen are trying to drive a wedge in the BSP vote bank.
In the 1993 election, Ajay Singh did not contest the Churhat seat, but he jumped into the fray against BJP veteran Sunderlal Patwa in Bhojpur and lost the election. However, Churhat went the BJP way with Govind Singh wresting the seat from the Congress by more than 2,400 votes.
This time, Ajay Singh's election strategists, it seems, have successfully managed to ensure that no Congress rebel entered the fray from Churhat.
Congress leader Chintamani Tiwari, who had unsuccessfully contested the Churhat seat in the 1993 poll, revolted against denial of a party ticket to him and is contesting as an Independent from nearby Gopadbanas. Arjun Singh's nephew Krishnakumar Singh, a sitting legislator, is also a Congress rebel in Gopadbanas as the Congress nominated Dwarika Prasad Dwivedi to contest the seat.
'Thanks to the personal impact of Arjun Singh itself, no caste factor works when he is here,'' says Congress worker Jagdish Gupta. However, BJP district council member Vinod Kumar Patel says Singh's impact is only to such an extent that few Congressmen, who were keeping aloof due to various reasons, have joined the campaign this time.
Local Congress leaders pointed out that in the 1996 Lok Sabha poll for Sidhi (ST) seat, the candidate of the then Indira Congress-Tiwari Tilak Raj Singh had secured a lead of more than 20,000 votes from Churhat. Even in this year's Lok Sabha poll, the Congress candidate got a lead of about 2,500 votes.
BJP candidate Govind Mishra and his supporters are not at all demoralised with Ajay Singh's presence in the fray. During the last five years, local BJP workers say, the people of this constituency have realised for the first time that a legislator is easily accessible to the masses.
''This factor and Mishra's clean image are giving us the confidence that while people might vote for Arjun Singh no one could expect it to be a cakewalk for his son,'' says BJP worker Anjana Prasad Soni.
However, Congress worker Abdul Mumtaz dismissed it as BJP propaganda and asked how the people would forget the development initiatives, including electricity and drinking water in all villages, taken by Arjun Singh. Ajay Singh is also committed to the welfare of the region, he added.
Asked about the problems being faced by the constituency, he admitted that health facilities required to be improved and there was a need for opening schools for the villagers. He pointed out that Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have already constructed canals but the Bansagar project was in doldrums. ''We are pressing our candidate to take up these issues on a priority basis after winning the election,'' he added.
There is no high-profile campaign in this constituency and the candidates are mainly concentrating on door to door campaign.
The young BSP candidate, Shivraj Patel, a young lawyer, and his supporters have launched an intensive campaign to prevent, what they describe as an attempt to create a rift between the dalits and backward classes. The Sawarna Samaj Party is trying to woo the upper castes, particularly the Brahmins, in this constituency.
This is for the first time that Ajay Singh is contesting a regular assembly election. He is also familiar with the electoral tactics of this constituency as he had won two assembly by-elections from Churhat in 1985 and later in 1991.
He became a legislator for the first time in 1985 by winning the Churhat by-poll, when the seat was vacated by his father Arjun Singh following his elevation as governor of Punjab soon after the assembly election. Later, he stepped into his father's constituency again when Singh became human resource development minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government in 1991.
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