Ticket trouble

Print edition : November 21, 1998

In Madhya Pradesh both the Congress(I) and the BJP face dissidence by leaders who were denied the ticket and who oppose the grant of the ticket to senior leaders' relatives.

IN the run-up to the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, the principal adversaries, the ruling Congress(I) and the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, find themselves bedevilled by similar problems. One such is dissidence triggered by a sense of aggrievement over the denial of the party ticket to some claimants. The leaderships of both parties face charges that relatives of senior leaders have been nominated, overlooking the claims of more deserving aspirants. On this score the BJP appears to have "surpassed" the Congress(I).

As a result, the BJP, which should have otherwise benefited from the anti-incumbency mood, finds that even its one-time loyal workers across the State are dispirited. This is expected to have an impact on the effectiveness of the BJP's electoral campaign and perhaps even on its performance in the elections.

The BJP is contesting all but one of the 320 seats; in Dongargarh in Rajnandgaon district, a constituency reserved for the Scheduled Castes, Sushilram Take of the Republican Party of India (Khobragawai) will contest on the BJP symbol. The Congress(I) is contesting 318 seats, leaving two seats - Khairlanji in Balaghat district and Rampur, a constituency reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, in Korba district in the Chhatisgarh region, to the RPI (Khobragade).

The wrangling within the BJP came out into the open when former Chief Minister V.K. Saklecha resigned from the party in protest against the denial of the ticket to him and his followers. Saklecha is contesting as an independent with the support of the Samajwadi Party in Javad in Mandsaur district. He says that he will mobilise other BJP "rebels" after the elections and "expose the BJP's doublespeak". He accused former Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa and the party's national president Kushabhau Thakre, who hails from the State, of "isolating" him in the party. The two leaders, he said, followed the "Congress culture" by distributing the party ticket to relatives of senior leaders.

Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and Congress(I) leader Sushil Kumar Shinde releasing the party's manifesto in Bhopal on November 9.-A.M. FARUQUI

Saklecha had resigned from the BJP on a similar issue in the 1980s but returned to the party in 1990. Ever since, however, he has faced only humiliation within the party. In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, he was the party's nominee in Satna, but both he and All India Indira Congress (Tiwari) leader Arjun Singh lost to the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate. In the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, Saklecha did not get the ticket.

Curiously, however, even though Saklecha resigned from the party he did not distance himself from the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva line; he merely said that he opposed the approach of a few leaders in the party.

A majority of the followers of Patwa and former president of the State unit of the BJP Lakhiram Aggarwal have secured the ticket. The two leaders also appear to have made peace with former Chief Minister Kailash Joshi, a potential rival for the Chief Minister's post. Joshi, who appears to have reconciled himself to a secondary status in the party, is contesting from Baghi in Devas district, from where he has been elected eight times. According to observers, Joshi's chances of victory this time are somewhat dim; in the 1993 elections he defeated Congress(I) candidate Shyam Holani by a margin of 401 votes, and Holani is once again pitted against Joshi.

Patwa and Aggarwal also sought to pacify another potential rival, Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Uma Bharati, by acceding to her demand for the allocation of the party ticket to her nominees, including her brother Swami Prasad, who is contesting in Malehara in Chhatarpur district. Uma Bharati hopes that in the event of the BJP winning a majority, she would be able to challenge Patwa for the chief ministership with the support of BJP MLAs who belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Patwa parried questions from mediapersons on who would become Chief Minister if the BJP secured a majority. Leader of the Opposition Vikram Verma, who some people believe is a "natural claimant" to the post in the event of a BJP victory, is seeking re-election from Dhar.

In the opinion of some observers, Patwa, who is contesting from Bhojpur, near Bhopal, is most likely to become Chief Minister if the BJP secures a majority. Aggarwal hopes to become Chief Minister of the proposed Chhatisgarh state, but is likely to face a challenge from the of the State unit of the party, Nand Kumar Sai, who belongs to a tribal community and was initially the choice of Patwa and Aggarwal for the post. According to BJP insiders, whichever the party that comes to power in Chhatisgarh, it will have to nominate a tribal leader as Chief Minister. Otherwise, MLAs belonging to the tribal communities in the region, who would account for 46 of the 90 Assembly seats, are likely to come together irrespectove of party lines, they say.

THE rank and file of the BJP are dismayed at the blatant attempts by Patwa and Aggarwal to ensure that their supporters secured the party nomination. In Bilaspur, for instance, the BJP has fielded Lakhiram Aggarwal's son Amar Aggarwal, rather than a local leader. The Congress(I) candidate is Krishna Kumar Yadav, son of B.R. Yadav, a former member of the Digvijay Singh Ministry who won the seat in 1993 but failed to get the ticket this time following his indictment by the State Lok Ayukta in a corruption case. The Congress(I)'s decision to field Krishna Kumar Yadav has angered many local party workers, who are believed to be backing Anil Tah, a Congress(I) rebel candidate who is known to be close to party MP Ajit Jogi. Tah is likely to be supported by BJP dissidents as well.

Most of the office-bearers of the Bilaspur district unit of the BJP resigned in protest against the choice of candidates. Badridhar Diwan, a former MLA, resigned as president of the district unit of the party after he failed to get the party ticket. Diwan complained that he had not been consulted on the nominations. The BJP general secretary in charge of the campaign in Madhya Pradesh, Narendra Modi, tried in vain to persuade Diwan and the other office-bearers to withdraw their resignations. Diwan claimed that over 100 party workers who held various posts in the party had also resigned. The protests in Bilaspur, which was once a training centre for Sangh workers, have rattled the leadership. Party workers said that they felt cheated by the leadership and would not campaign for the official nominees.

Some of the other controversial nominations are those of Anoop Mishra, nephew of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee (from Lashkar West constituency in Gwalior district), and Karuna Shukla, Vajpayee's niece (from Baloda Bazaar in Raipur district; she was elected in 1993). Relatives of Patwa and those of another former president of the State unit of the party, Lakshminarayan Pandey, have also been nominated. Shyam Bais, elder brother of Union Minister and BJP MP from Raipur Ramesh Bais, is the BJP candidate from Mandir Hasod in Raipur district. Shyam Bais has lost the seat twice earlier to the Congress(I).

The BJP is evidently seeking to cash in on the popular sentiment in favour of a Chhatisgarh state by claiming credit for the proposed creation of a separate state. It also hopes to gain advantage from the announcement of a Bilaspur railway zone.

Former Chief Minister and BJP leader Sunderlal Patwa campaigning in Bhojpur.-A.M. FARUQUI

CHIEF MINISTER Digvijay Singh claims that compared to the BJP, the Congress(I) has nominated for the elections fewer relatives of top leaders. However, the Congress(I) does not have an altogether clean record in this matter: Arun Vora, son of former Uttar Pradesh Governor Motilal Vora, is the Congress(I) candidate in Durg.

The Congress(I) denied the ticket to 90 MLAs and seven Ministers; in a few cases, however, their relatives were chosen. The party is projecting the establishment of panchayati raj institutions in the State as one of its major achievements. Many panchayat members and sarpanches were denied the ticket for the Assembly election; the party evidently felt that as grassroots-level leaders they would be more susceptible to the "anti-incumbency factor".

The BSP has fielded 160 candidates and asked its supporters in the other constituencies to vote for those candidates who were better placed to defeat the BJP. Observers believe that the Congress(I) will be the obvious beneficiary in the constituencies where the BSP is not contesting. In addition, in a few seats the BSP's presence may indirectly help the Congress(I): anti-Congress(I) votes that might otherwise have gone entirely to the BJP would now be divided between the BJP and the BSP. Of the BSP's candidates, 50 are Dalits, about 80 belong to OBCs, about 25 belong to the Scheduled Castes, five belong to minority communities and two to forward communities. In 1993, the BSP won only 11 seats and is not expected to improve on its performance. Many of its supporters in Morena and Rewa have reportedly crossed over to the Congress(I). However, it remains to be seen whether the Congress(I) can retain its support among the weaker sections.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which won one seat (Sirmore in Rewa district) in 1993, is contesting 12 seats, and the CPI, which had two MLAs in the dissolved Assembly, is contesting 32 seats. The Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha, which won one seat (Dondi Lohara) in 1993, will contest nine seats. Among the other minor parties in the fray are the Ayay Bharat Party (led by former Congress(I) Minister Mukesh Nayak) and the Gondvana Ganatantra Party, which has some support among the tribal communities of Chhatisgarh. The Samata Party, a constituent of the BJP-led coalition at the Centre, is contesting many seats after the BJP rejected its request for an alliance in the State claiming that the Samata Party had no support base in the State.

In its manifestoes released separately for Chhatisgarh and one for the rest of Madhya Pradesh, the Congress(I) promised to provide for the right to recall representatives of local bodies and empower the gram sabhas to enforce prohibition in their respective areas. The BJP manifesto promises to implement a scheme to provide housing to the urban poor, called Atal Awas Yojana, and to provide school uniforms for girls free of cost. It also promises to bring in legislation to provide for the death sentence to rapists, and the abolition of profession tax.

The Congress(I) campaign highlights the Digvijay Singh Government's achievements in the last five years and seeks to capitalise on popular discontent over the rise in prices. In the rural areas, it is highlighting the BJP-led Government's failure to deliver on the Prime Minister's promise to compensate farmers to the tune of Rs.5,000 an acre for crop failure.

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