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The Rediff Election Special/Archana Masih in Raghogarh

November 21, 2003







You probably haven't heard of Gaucha nadi.

You probably haven't heard of Shivraj Singh Chauhan either.

Gaucha nadi flows near Raghogarh, the impregnable seat of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

And this afternoon, Chauhan, a four time Member of Parliament and Singh's challenger in this election, has halted at the quiet banks of the river for lunch.

A few of his supporters sit near the temple by the bank, eating curry, baked whole wheat breads and laddoos.

Chauhan, the MP from Vidisha, sits cross-legged on the floor bending over his pattal [plate made of dried leaves] of lunch.

He has been brought by the party to Raghogarh to 'gherao' Digvijay Singh, says Chauhan.

"I know I have the strength to defeat him. By fielding me the party has conveyed the message that we have a serious candidate against Digvijay Singh."

The task is hard and his fight the toughest in the state, but the all India general secretary of the BJP is confident he will pull this one off for the BJP.

Digvijay Singh has not lost Raghogarh since he first won it as a young man in 1977 and has no intention of doing so in this do-or-die battle to become the state's chief minister for the third time.

Huge Congress banners, many calling him Raja Digvijay Singh -- referring to his family's royal lineage -- fly out of homes, shops and petrol pumps. Zippy election slogans tuned on popular Hindi film songs like Mitwa, oh mitwa from Lagaan and popular remix Kaanta laga rent the Raghogarh air.

Yet Shivraj Singh Chauhan is unfazed.

"Politics is not my pleasure or my business, it is my dharma," he tells the people of Jamner village, 40 odd kms from Raghogarh.

"I have been sent by the party to stand up to the corruption that has been perpetuated by Digvijay Singh. It is so painful to discover that none other than the CM's constituency is the least developed in all of Madhya Pradesh."

Jamner is a dusty, poor village and Chauhan stands in its central market area, near the Sankat Mochan Mandir, on a dais propped on drums.

Like a seasoned politician, he speaks with vigour and quotes from the Shastras.

He draws references from his past -- his imprisonment by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, his involvement in the famed JP movement and his beginnings as a kisan ka beta [farmer's son].

"I ask you what sukh [comfort] do you have in your Raja's raj," he throws his arms into the air, "you were promised free electricity but you have been permanently freed off electricity!"

There are persistent digs at the state of roads -- "the craters called roads" -- water and unemployment.

Lack of teachers, doctors.

Excess of corruption.

Parched fields and empty stomachs.

"Utho bhaiyon, uthon behnon [rise my brothers and sisters] do not accept this form of torture. I have come to remind you of your strength -- no raja, no CM can stand against you."

Sitting beside him on the make-shift stage is Mohanbabu Sahu. An old hand of the BJP in the region, he says his name as the likely candidate against Digvijay Singh was rejected by the party headquarters in New Delhi in favour of Shivraj Chauhan.

"I am not feeling bad at all. We needed a strong candidate here and Atalji himself ordered this in the interest of the party, so what's there to feel disappointed?"

In a house under a tamarind tree behind the meeting area, Chauhan later counters the minuses that one expects have hounded him since the announcement of his candidature.

1. The outsider's tag

"I have no hesitation in saying that people may not know me in the villages, but I am a known person in Vidisha and the state. But people tell me that they want a change."

2. Does he really think he will defeat Digvijay Singh?

"I have never felt, even once, that I will lose. Never"

Polling day is two weeks away. Till then Chauhan is determined to make a dent with Diggy Raja's electorate.

Party workers say he has had an impact because Digvijay Singh has already spent more time in Raghogarh compared to earlier campaigns. 

A pointer that sounds preposterous to Digvijay Singh's younger brother and Rajgarh MP Laxman Singh: "It is no contest. Chauhan will lose his deposit. Digvijay Singh comes here to file his nomination and holds two public meetings, that is all."

In his vigorous style, Shivraj Chauhan had earlier told the people of Jamner that regardless of whether they accepted or rejected him, he was here to stay.
If he does he will go down in MP's electoral history, if he doesn't, there's always Vidisha.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda. Image: Uday Kuckian


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