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Digvijay in reach, vijay too far for BJP

Ten years ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party went to the polls in north India with a simple slogan. “Aaj paanch pradesh, kal sara desh” — five states today, all of India tomorrow. India may be firmly in its grasp but on Mission 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s party is desperate to raise its thin tally of states.

Poll surveys paint a sombre picture. The BJP is way ahead in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has a near invincible margin in Delhi. Rajasthan heads back to another spell of Ashok Gehlot, though the fight is a tough one. It is Chhattisgarh, with its bizarre twists in the tale of Ajit Jogi and Dilip Singh Judeo that may be, just may be, in the balance.

For Sonia Gandhi, a clean win will quash the chances of rebellion in other states. A resurgent Congress under Ajit Jogi is what the polls by ORG-Marg for India Today and by TNS- Mode for The Week predict.

In the Outlook-AC Nielsen survey, the Congress gets high marks on performance, but the prediction is a hung House with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) playing spoiler.

Each of the two parties wins 43 seats and polls just over four in 10 votes. There are 90 seats in all, and the Congress in 1998 won a narrow majority of 48. Of course, any specific seat-wise prediction must be put under a microscope. The ratio of vote conversion to seats is always difficult in a first-past-the-post system. Small states are even tougher to call than large ones.

The structure of voting in 1998 spurs on the Opposition. One in two Congress seats was held by less than five per cent of the popular vote.

On no account is Jogi to be written off. His hold on the administration is perhaps deeper than any other chief minister’s in recent times.

The privileged upbringing of both rivals, one of the royal house of Jashpur (Judeo) and the other from an early Indian political dynasty (Shukla), is subtly exploited in a state where Adivasis and Dalits form half the population.

Next door in Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, the only Congress chief minister to serve a decade in recent years, faces an uphill task. None of the three polls gives the BJP less than a five per cent lead. The state could see a two-thirds majority for the saffron party.

Most revealing is the Outlook poll. Electricity or the lack of it ranks as the number one issue. BJP leader Uma Bharti has tacked with the wind, making reinstatement of 30,000 sacked government employees and abolition of district government her major planks. Hindutva barely gets a nod, save the question of cow slaughter ban.

Digvijay Singh insists that the elected representatives in local bodies and his education scheme will see him through. Congress leader Suresh Pachauri believes that Mayavati could save the Congress. Dalits plus Muslims make a hefty 21 per cent, but it all hinges on the extent of the BJP’s vote share.

India Today and Outlook predict an unassailable 8-9 per cent lead. If this holds, the BSP cannot help Digvijay. Mayavati’s party can come into play only if it is a replay of the last two Assembly polls which were decided by a narrow 2 per cent margin.

At the moment, this does not seem to be happening, though there is the ghost of a chance of what pollsters call a “late swing”. Time will tell if the chief minister can pull off a miracle, but it looks harder by the day.

The Congress is set to return in Jaipur where Gehlot’s drought relief work is proving to be an electoral asset. The fight may get closer, given Jats and government employees have since come out in favour of the BJP. Sheila Dikshit, the first chief minister of Delhi to serve a full term, has half the popular vote locked up.

The indications are that the Congress will mostly hold ground. Chances of an early Lok Sabha poll then recede into thin air. A tough winter lies ahead for Vajpayee’s coalition, though Madhya Pradesh would be a prize catch of the poll season.

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