The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Digvijay throne shaky, palace unshaken

Raghogarh (Madhya Pradesh) Nov. 26: The imposing “mahal (palace)” in Digvijay Singh’s constituency of Raghogarh is symbolic of his and his party’s fortunes.

The most impressive structure in the dusty town mirrors the Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s dominance of his former principality, but the badly chipped plaster and faded paint could well reflect the state of the Congress.

As a local BJP leader quipped: “The fort is very much like the Congress’ fortunes in the 2003 polls. Grand and reputed, but deep inside, badly shaken and tottering.”

But for Raghogarh, 40 km from Guna district, north of Bhopal, Digvijay is their “Diggy Raja” or “Munnu Raja”, a leader whose hold on his electoral fortress is unquestioned.

His party may be slipping in the rest of the state, but Digvijay is still king in Raghogarh. Even local BJP leaders concede in private that given the “mahal’s stature”, the fight between their national general secretary Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Digvijay is purely symbolic.

Even BJP’s nominee for chief minister Uma Bharti gave little chance to Chauhan — though unwittingly — when Uma said she looked forward to seeing Digvijay as the state’s leader of the Opposition.

The chief minister had won the seat with a record margin of 54,000 votes in 1998.

An undeterred Chauhan is campaigning resolutely, hoping for a miracle and counting on caste votes of the backward Kirars, who comprise about 10 per cent of Raghogarh’s 190,000-odd voters.

Digvijay is so sure of the outcome that he has left the campaigning here to wife Asha, the “Rani sahiba”, his brother Laxman Singh, the MP from neighbouring Rajgarh, and his trusted party lieutenants Narendra Lakhoti and Vinay Jain.

The chief minister’s campaign managers are focused on two issues: Digvijay’s feudal status and Dalit votes.

The first is understandable because the loyal subjects still consider Digvijay “Hindupati” or the defender of the faith, a description that dates back to legendary warrior Prithviraj Chauhan, from whom the family claims descent.

Some others revere Digvijay’s ancestor Maharaj Dhir Singh as the town deity, believing a visit to his shrine can cure snakebite and ward off evil spirits.

The second is necessary because, as a senior leader put it, “Digvijay is counting on the 16 per cent Dalit voters spread across the state”.

There are few posters and banners in Raghogarh but some put up in areas dominated by weaker sections have a beaming Digvijay in the company of Bhimrao Ambedkar on a blue background.

The colour, identified with the Bahujan Samaj Party, and Ambedkar’s image are deliberate. “Blue colour and Ambedkar help him (Digvijay) to be identified with the Dalit cause, which he has been championing through the state-run Dalit agenda,” the leader said.

Outside his impregnable fort, Digvijay is more in need of the blue and Ambedkar to tide over the power crisis. Almost all poll surveys predict a sort of landslide for the Bharti-led BJP.

Digvijay, however, disagrees. “I do not believe in these surveys. In 1998, I not only defied the poll surveys but an exit poll conducted by Doordarshan.”

He believes he will bag a third term as chief minister, riding on his government’s innovative schemes such as the Dalit agenda, land reforms, human resource development, party’s organisational support and Sonia Gandhi’s appeal.

Ramesh Chauhan of Semra village appeared to agree. “Hum to Diggy Raja ke saath hain (We are with Digvijay),” he said.

Raghogarh, which boasts of no industrial development, very unlike a VIP seat, is as enthusiastic about the chances of their “Raja sahib”.

They say he is ever willing to contribute generously to their weddings and all social occasions, recommending them to the finest hospitals in Bhopal and, if need be, in Delhi.

Raghogarh has a 30-bed state hospital, visited every day on an average by about 250 patients with stomach upsets, fever and the odd case of malaria.

According to Lakhoti, resources are in good supply but specialised staff is difficult to come by. The Gas Authority of India Ltd, which operates a plant in the constituency, is now building a 50-bed hospital, he said.

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