Rediff Logo News Star News Banner Find/Feedback/Site Index
February 25, 1998


Campaign Trail/Archana Masih

In Guna, Congressmen hope the Palace's influence has waned at last

Why do you want to meet Devendra Singh?" stressed the Congress candidate's spokesman, "You ask me, I'll tell you everything you need to know about him."

Advocate A L Lohati thrust a haath chaap pen into our hands and quickly pulled a photocopy of the official authority letter signed by the Congress candidate.

On his maiden campaign trail as a Lok Sabha candidate, we are told Devendra Singh is inaccessible.

"He is in the interiors, even television people wanted him -- but we had to turn them down," says the enthusiastic spokesman.

Five senior Congress workers are quick to rattle off their candidate's achievements and political credentials -- right from the days he served as class representative in school.

"Since he is a local -- a farmer's son -- he has a very good chance. In previous elections, Guna has always had very weak Congress candidates," says one Congress worker.

Describing him as the best Congress leader in the state after Madhya Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav, his supporters say Singh is strong enough to take on the sitting MP, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Vijaya Raje Scindia.

Singh, an MLA for ten years, expects to cash upon his long held position as president of the local grain market, where farmers from villages nearby bring their grain and auction it to traders.

As its president for a long time, Singh is banking on the tradercommunity in a farmer-dominated electorate. The trader community is dominated by Brahmins, Jain and Agrawals.

However, local BJP leaders think otherwise. "It is an illusion because most of the business community is known to support the BJP," says Brajmohan Kheria.

Congress workers feel things have never been so good for the party in Guna -- considered a Scindia fortress. The Rajmata has won the seat five times, while her son, Madhavrao, has won it thrice.

"Nearly 80 to 90 per cent of the panchayats are controlled by the Congress," says Tillu Jain, a local journalist.

Party members point out that previous Congress candidates did not have the resolve to win against the Rajmata. "They thought it was their good fortune to lose against her," says Lohati. "Somehow or the other, they were dominated by the influence of the Mahal." The Mahal, aka, the Palace in Gwalior, from where the Scindias have ruled this area for more than 200 years.

In 1996, for instance, K P Singh was fielded at the last minute when Congress candidate Ram Singh Yadav withdrew his nomination.

Citing another reason for the erosion of the BJP hold in the region, local Congress workers believe Guna's electorate is no longer under the Mahal's influence, because the ailing Rajmata -- she is ill and under treatment at a Delhi hospital -- has not done anything for the constituency.

"For long the BJP has taken the Guna electorate for granted," continues Lohati, "In fact it is Madhavrao who does more for Guna than the Rajmata."

However, Congress workers concede that Devendra Singh would not have had even a glimmer of a chance had Yashodhara Raje -- the Rajmata's youngest daughter -- stood on the BJP ticket.

"She is popular here -- she is of a younger generation and has the support of most party workers," says one Congressman. The Congress, they reveal, was all set to give the ticket to Jyotiraditya, Madhavrao's elder son, had his aunt, Yashodhara Raje, stood on the BJP ticket.

Yashodhara Raje filed her nomination, despite opposition within the BJP, but her papers were rejected on technical grounds.

There was also some dispute about her citizenship. Since Yashodhara Raje was granted Indian citizenship only on December 23, 1997, she could not be included in the voters list for the next 180 days under the existing rules.

While Devendra Singh's associates and supporters have put up a number of posters, they complain that no major Congress leaders have come to Guna to campaign for him. On the other hand, the BJP has sent a series of party luminaries, with Shatrughan Sinha visiting neighbouring Shivpuri on Monday.

Meanwhile, a local autorickshaw driver whose windscreen bears a Congress sticker says he was forced to paste it. "I could not refuse because they are powerful people," he says, "But they will not be there when I cast my vote in favour of the phool (the BJP symbol)."

Campaign Trail

Tell us what you think of this feature