“Doctor saheb is a very simple man,” the chief minister’s wife declared to a confidante. “He isn’t cut out for politics…”
This was shortly after the BJP’s defeat in Rajnandgaon. Like so many others, I’m sure she now feels differently about her husband. Fortune, it seems, is once again smiling on him. Dr. Raman Singh is back with not one but two bangs: Khairagarh and Malkharoda.
The BJP cadre, which had lost all hope of coming back to power after their party’s shameful defeats at Kota and Rajnandgaon, is understandably ecstatic.
Meanwhile, the state Congress president is “shocked.” He was sure his candidate from Malkharoda would “win by 25000 votes.” Instead he lost by that margin. The result at Khairagarh, where Congress had won only two months ago (by 16000 votes), took most political commentators by surprise. The theme of “People taking on the Palace” worked like a charm for a sinking BJP.
In light of this, my father has called for “introspection at all levels of the party.”
“If only Devwrat (the Lok Sabha member from Rajnandgaon) had listened to my advise,” a senior Congress leader told a journalist at Delhi, “and given the (Khairagarh assembly) ticket to an OBC candidate.”
Other ‘explanations’ too have been doing the rounds. One: Ajit Jogi didn’t really want Devwrat’s wife to win since this would have made him very powerful in Delhi. [Incidentally, victory has nothing to do with power, atleast not in the GOP.] Two: the Lodhis, numbering over 30000, voted en block for the BJP candidate who was from their community. Three: unlike the previous two times, the BJP’s campaign was not high-profile but grassroot. Four: the state government had ‘managed’ the Naxalites through a local liquor baron and a Congress Mandi adhyaksha, resulting in their victory from Salhebara, the Naxalite/tribal belt of the constituency. Five: this election was a matter of life and death for the CM. Six: the people were disappointed with Devwrat’s ‘princely’ style of functioning and lack of availability as an MP.
Perhaps, there is some substance to all of this. I, however, will restrict my observation to Explanation No. 1 (above). Certain points need to be noted. Unlike Kota and Rajnandgaon, where Papa had been specifically mandated to take total charge of the campaigns, this time he wasn’t even consulted for either the Khairagarh or the Malkharoda tickets. Even if he would have been asked, I believe his position would have been this: the local MP should decide the Khairagarh candidate, especially because this constituency had been represented by his family since Independence; likewise, the state Congress president ought to decide who contests- and wins- from Malkharoda, which is part of his home district. Further, he decided he would not campaign in Malkharoda for the following reasons: one, the candidate didn’t ask him to; two, he had no clue who the candidate was; three, his health doesn’t permit him to undertake a hectic tour program; four, his son- I- was fighting the biggest battle of our lives, a battle of life and death; five, he didn’t want it to be said- as it most certainly would be- that he ‘sabotaged’ the Congress campaign in his rival’s home-turf. The only reason he went to Khairagarh for the last three days of the campaign, was because he was asked to do so by the candidate- and he needed a reason to be nearer to me. Even so, given my Case, his ‘heart wasn’t into it.’ I mean what father would put his heart into asking for votes when his son is on trial for a capital offense?
The question, therefore, is not whether Papa wanted ‘Devwrat’s wife’ to win Khairagarh- but whether, under the circumstances cited above, he was in a position- political, physical and mental- to really make a difference?
For me, the two most worrying outcomes of these two bye-elections are as follows. First: this state government’s continuing ability to influence voting in the Naxalite belt (as seen in Salhebara). More than anything else, this factor had contributed to the ouster of the previous Congress government from the state. Secondly, the polling of the Satnami community (in Malkharoda) in BJP’s favor, as opposed to the BSP.
The need of the hour, therefore, is to reorient the Congress party’s priorities to ensure that: (a) we win in the Naxalite-dominated areas (which contains over 30 mostly tribal constituencies); and (b) the Satnamis don’t leave the Congress fold (as they did in Malkharoda).
Only a decisive change of leadership at the state level will, in my opinion, salvage the sinking morale of the Congress workers.
Fortune, afterall, cannot be allowed to smile perpetually on one man, especially one hell-bent on turning Chhattisgarh into a perpetual war-zone.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
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