The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soldiering on for semis, solitary
- Chief minister plays lone hand as Congress cowers in face of BJP ‘carpet-bombing’

Bhopal, Nov. 25: The Congress leadership appears to have thrown in the towel in Madhya Pradesh, leaving Digvijay Singh to soldier on by himself.

The chief minister is still confident of winning a third stint in power but many party colleagues say in private the verdict of the “semi-final (the final being the general elections)” would be 3-1 in the Congress’ favour.

They mean the Congress will retain the party-ruled Delhi, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh but lose Madhya Pradesh to Uma Bharti, the BJP’s nominee for chief minister.

Compared with the BJP’s “carpet-bombing” of the state with its top-rung leaders, Digvijay is addressing as many as 20 rallies a day but without senior leaders, chief ministers of party-ruled states or Delhi-based spin-doctors by his side.

The Congress campaign is lacking in both resources and spirit and the chief minister is stretched and exhausted.

For the record, party chief Sonia Gandhi has addressed about 10 public meetings and drawn sizeable crowds, but always with Digvijay by her side to help mobilise the crowd and oversee the arrangements. So whenever Sonia is in Madhya Pradesh for a rally, the chief minister leaves his campaign trail to provide company to his leader.

This is in contrast to the BJP strategy, which allows Bharti to campaign on her own while Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, his deputy, L.K. Advani, party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and senior leaders Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and Narendra Modi fan across the state to do their bit.

Congress general secretary Ambika Soni, who is the party in-charge of state affairs, has preferred to be by Sonia’s side at her rallies instead of supervising the ground-level campaign.

The party’s answer to BJP’s Arun Jaitley, who is personally monitoring Bharti’s campaign, is Suresh Pachauri, who is seldom seen in Bhopal. He prefers to chip in for a handful of his supporters who are in the poll fray. Local party workers wonder why Soni failed to persuade a senior leader from the All India Congress Committee to counter Jaitley.

The Union law minister, who has been camping in Bhopal since November 17, has made a difference to the BJP campaign by holding two news conferences a day and staying in touch with all local and visiting journalists. Jaitley is Bharti’s direct link to “Delhi (the BJP brass)”, her media manager and spin-doctor all clubbed together.

There is a perception in the state Congress that Jaitley has managed to shift the glare to the power crisis, which has become the most important poll issue.

Congress leaders, including Digvijay, have all along maintained that the power crisis was never as severe as made out or as it was before the monsoon, when angry villagers had blocked roads and attacked state electricity board offices.

Now, however, the party feedback shows dissatisfaction over the power supply though the leaders feel the issue has not yet whipped up an anti-incumbency wave. But senior Congress leader Arjun Singh recently queered the pitch for Digvijay by apologising for the power crisis.

A whisper campaign is on at the party’s state office at Roshanpura Chowk in Bhopal that a section of the leadership does not want Digvijay to win.

The proponents of the “conspiracy theory” claim many leaders around Sonia do not relish the prospect of a third stint for Digvijay as he could throw her a leadership challenge later. If that happened, the political aspirations of many second-rung leaders such as Soni, Kamal Nath, Ahmad Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad could be hurt, they said.

A leader quoted a Persian couplet to drive the point home: “Tookur tookur deedam, dam na kashidam, gar dham kashidam, jahannum rasidam”, which roughly translates as “I am seeing all, but I cannot open my mouth; If I open my mouth, I will be banished to hell.”

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