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|November 23, 1998||
Prospective CM takes on royal family scion in Dhar
Leader of the Opposition and a strong claimant for the chief ministership, Vikram Verma of the Bharatiya Janata Party is striving hard to regain the tribal-dominated Dhar segment of Madhya Pradesh from where he has won four times.
Being the home town of BJP president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' Thakre, winning the seat has become a ''prestige issue'' for the party.
The segment, which lies between what is said to be Asia's largest industrial centre, Pithampur, and the salubrious tourist site of Mandu, will witness the ''keenest contest'' in western Madhya Pradesh.
The main ''poll stars'' in the fray are Karan Singh Pawar of the Dhar royal family and Verma.
The BJP does have an edge in the region as the electorate. The nine elections since 1957 have returned Congress nominees just thrice.
Among the six non-Congress nominees, Basant Rao Pradhan had been elected twice and Verma four times.
Verma's foray into this segment in 1977 under the Janata Party banner proved to be a ''success'' and he defeated Congress nominee Surendra Singh by more than 15,000 votes.
After retaining the seat in 1980, Verma, however, tasted defeat in 1985 when he was defeated by Congress nominee Mohan Singh Bundela by 11,882 votes.
In 1990, the voters restored their confidence in Verma; he avenged his earlier defeat, winning 15,506 votes more than his Congress rival Surendra Singh.
Verma retained the seat in 1993 although the margin of victory over his Congress rival Karan Singh Pawar had thinned down to 6,456 votes.
Despite the slender margin of victory in the 1993 assembly election, the BJP delivered positive results in the last two general elections.
While in 1996, the BJP was ahead by 25,979 votes, in 1998 the margin dwindled to 8,543 votes.
While Verma is confident of widening his margin this time round, the Congress is working on a strategy to sway the voters in its favour.
Verma claims to have visited all the villages in the region and established a close rapport with the people.
''The uncertainty over the next chief minister will be resolved later, but presently what is really important is that I have established an emotional family relationship with inhabitants of this region,'' he says.
Pawar, on the other hand, quips, ''I am not under any strain about being face-to-face with a chief minister in the offing.''
Both candidates are non-controversial, but while the BJP is putting up a show of unity, the Congress has to grapple with "disgruntled elements'' like Mohan Singh Bundela.
Disenchanted over being denied a party ticket, Bundela, who had won the seat for the Congress in 1985, may prove to be a thorn for the party. Besides, being chairman of the district co-operative bank, he has a strong hold on the rural masses. His son is contesting as an Independent nominee from Badnawar assembly segment in the district.
As Wednesday approaches, both the BJP and Congress are working hard to overcome their shortcomings in ''weaker regions''. While the BJP is concentrating on boosting its image in the rural areas, the Congress is busy trying to make a dent among the urban lot. Verma's oratorical skill has spelt additional benefit to the saffron camp.
While the Congress does not have any concrete issues to take to its voters, the BJP has been vehemently raising issues like the recent demolition of an illegal hotel belonging to the kin of a state minister.
Opening of a railway line is another burning issue in the segment as the constituency does not have rail links 50 years after Independence.
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