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|September 28, 1999||
Chandra Shekhar fights 'Atal wave'
Suphal Kumar in Ballia
Samajwadi Janata Party president Chandra Shekhar, the great survivor of Indian politics, is fighting an 'Atal wave' and a resurgent Congress in an attempt to enter the Lok Sabha for the seventh time (fifth in succession).
Chandra Shekhar, the young turk of yesteryear, is touring the Ballia Lok Sabha constituency with usual confidence, focusing more on national issues than the local ones.
It is this sense of grandeur, one might say delusion of grandeur, deeply seated in the local psyche, which almost decisively influences the voting behaviour of the electorate, and always favours Chandra Shekhar.
Active participation of Ballia's social and political leaders in the national movement and the famous 'Ballia uprising' in 1942 are still fresh in the minds of the people, including the younger generation.
The SJP president is being challenged by three main contestants -- Ramkrishna Misra (Bharatiya Janata Party), Dr Ramdev Verma (Bahujan Samaj Party) and Digvijay Singh (Congress).
In the 1998 election, Chandra Shekhar had scraped through with a slender margin of 29,000 votes over his nearest rival Ramkrishna Misra. His old rival Jagannath Chowdhary (Congress), who had defeated him in the 1984 election, stood fourth with 33,453 votes. This time the Congress has fielded a young candidate Digvijay Singh. He can cause some anxious moments for the SJP president as he belongs to the rajput caste.
In 1998, Chandra Shekhar had polled 260,488 votes, closely followed by the BJP's Misra with 239,924 votes. The BSP also registered its strong presence by gathering 96,868 votes.
Chandra Shekhar never mentions caste equations in his campaigning but everybody else including the SJP election managers indulging in caste calculations.
Samajvadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's support to Chandra Shekhar has been very crucial in overcoming the saffron surge in the last election.
The star campaigners of the BJP and the Congress are yet to visit Ballia. On the other hand, Mulayam Singh Yadav has addressed an election rally here to seek votes for his mentor.
The BJP election organisers claim that Ramkrishna Misra would get a major chunk of the Brahmin, trading class and sympathy votes.
The BSP candidate is banking on the support of Koery, Kurmi and dalit communities. He is confident of increasing the votes polled by the party in the last election.
Congress candidate Digvijay Singh is banking on the Sonia Gandhi factor which had revived the hopes of the party in eastern UP though the party's support base has been eroded in the last decade.
Despite being Chandra Shekhar's constituency, Ballia suffers from chronic underdevelopment. Lack of industrialisation has caused serious problems of unemployment and poverty.
The BJP and Congress campaigns highlight the neglect of Ballia by Chandra Shekhar but people appear unconvinced that any substitute will improve the prospects of the region.
In every village there are some people who recall the help and support provided by Chandra Shekhar in their hour of crisis. This personal touch helps the former prime minister.
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