The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unlikely friends in election embrace

Raipur, Nov. 24: The personal animosities of Vidya Charan Shukla and Mayavati are the driving factor behind the electoral equations in poll-bound Chhattisgarh.

Shukla’s hostility is directed towards chief minister Ajit Jogi of the Congress and Mayavati’s towards the BJP.

With Mayavati iterating “our main enemy is the BJP; do anything to defeat the BJP”, the party, in a rather desperate move, has fallen back on a tacit understanding with Shukla, a former Congress heavyweight.

This may suit Shukla fine, though his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is supposed to keep away from both the Congress and the BJP, because as he says: “After all, the BJP and my party have a common enemy: Ajit Jogi.”

The remark follows a cold stare when he is asked about the unwritten pact with the BJP, and his retort: “Nothing that I know of.”

Shukla, significantly, does not protest when BJP’s Romesh Vyas, who is the Union mines minister, says in front of him at a private programme: “To overthrow Jogi, we are with V.C. Shukla.”

The rationale is similar to that of the unwritten alliance between Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress.

Seniors in the BJP foresee a chance of victory for the party in 18 Assembly constituencies that it has never won, including Kota, Dharamjaygarh, Ambikapur, Surguja and Dandilohara.

All are Congress pocket boroughs and the BJP hopes to wrest them in a “friendly contest” with Shukla’s NCP, which by splitting votes will shift a share of backward and upper-caste votes to the BJP.

Besides, there are 10 other seats — including Sauri, Jashpur, Tapkara and Tohragaon —where the party, with Shukla’s blessings, seeks to ensure a sweep as the Congress has won them only once since the 1977 polls.

The BJP has resorted to the tactic as even an aggressive campaign, marked by vituperative slogans, has failed to reassure the party of its chances in the December 1 polls.

It has been targeting chief minister Jogi by crying “jaali jaati, jaali aaye…petrol pump ke liye jaali shapath patra (fake caste, fake income…fake affidavit for a petrol pump)”, in a reference to the dispute over his tribal status, alleged disproportionate income and a relative’s fake affidavit.

The state Congress’ chief spokesman, Rajendra Tiwari, says “that (Shukla’s tacit alliance) is the result of an ideological adulteration”.

But the 77-year-old “Vidya bhaiya”, as Shukla is called in Raipur, could not have forgotten the evaporation of his support in the Congress when key leaders of his faction were inducted into Jogi’s team.

The humiliation would have rankled more as the “Shukla brotherly clan” — Vidya Charan and elder brother Shyama Charan — had held sway in the region ever since their father Ravishankar Shukla became the first chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Once a formidable candidate for the Congress, Shukla snapped ties with the party this April and joined Sharad Pawar’s NCP.

The Shukla-Jogi rivalry hit rock bottom when Ramavtar Jaggi, an NCP treasurer, was killed early this year.

Jaggi’s son had filed an FIR alleging the involvement of the chief minister’s men in the murder.

So now, “both the BJP and Vidya bhaiya are united in animosity against Ajit Jogi”, says V.K. Jain, a retired social researcher in Raipur.

The challenge before the BJP, perceived to be pro-upper caste, is to draw tribal and Dalit votes by ultimately co-opting Shukla’s support base as the communities hold the key to electoral victory.

Tribals constitute over 35 per cent of the state’s population and Dalits 12.19 per cent, according to the 1991 census, and a total of 44 constituencies are reserved for both.

Shukla may just be able to help as he has now managed to cobble together a respectable group with tribal leaders such as Arvind Netam by his side, his associates say.

The Congress, in a counter move, has strengthened its ties with the BSP that has fielded candidates in 54 of the 90 seats in the Assembly.

Of the 54 seats, the BSP would have a friendly contest with the Congress in 34 to prevent the BJP from making inroads into Dalit belts.

In the 1998 polls, the BSP had won three seats and was placed third in 20 others.

With Mayavati spitting fire at the BJP at a campaign rally in the state last week, she appears as strongly opposed to the BJP as Shukla is to Jogi.

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