Begumganj, Nov. 27: When Digvijay Singh’s father was two years old, he fell over the parapet of the Raghogarh Fort. The fall is very steep but he survived without a scratch.
A bush broke the fall. Later, it was found that underneath the bush was a rock naturally shaped like Lord Hanuman. As thanksgiving, a temple was built on the spot. Since then whenever any member of the family leaves home, they make it a point to pay obeisance at the Hanuman temple.
In keeping with the family tradition, Digvijay, twice the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and now attempting a hat-trick, goes to the temple before setting out for yet another day of hectic campaigning. I am accompanying Digvijay on his campaign trail.
As he gets into his helicopter, he looks remarkably fresh. He proudly shows me the landscape dotted with water-harvesting ponds and bunds.
“More water has meant more irrigation pumps which in turn means a greater demand for electricity. Then people use ‘hooks’ to steal electricity by tapping it directly from the overhead lines, leading to overloading, a fall in voltage and burning of distribution transformers,” the engineer in him explains. He admits though there is a shortage of electricity in the state.
Our first stop is Lateri. His approach to campaigning is matter of fact. He first wishes people “Id Mubarak” and then says bluntly: “If in the last 10 years I and my party have done something for you, then vote for the Congress. Otherwise, don’t.”
At Narsinghgarh, he travels through the town in an open jeep. Party workers jostle to garland him. A beaming man wearing only a vest and a pair of ageing shorts throws flower petals at him. An old woman with no teeth and with thick glasses struggles to get near him. She is carrying a home-strung garland. Digvijay stops to greet her. To an old Muslim with his henna-dyed beard, he says, “Id Mubarak mian”. The jeep is soon laden with marigolds.
Digvijay is an easy orator. He reasons, reassures and makes people laugh. Referring to some recent statements of Uma Bharti he says: “Umashri says Digivijay is a monster (raakshas)' Do I look like a raakshas' She says I am Ravan. Which Sita have I abducted' She says I wear a shining white cap but my langot (underwear) is missing' Is this how a sanyasin should talk' I ask — how could she have witnessed such a scene'” The people are in splits.
He tells the people that he has kept all his promises — primary schools were set up at distances of one kilometre each, middle schools at every three kilometers, unemployment benefit was promised and provided, jobs were reserved for the backward castes and women, land rights given to the rural Dalits and the urban poor, one light connection was given free to every rural household and the use of a five horsepower irrigation pump was made free.
He accuses the BJP of not keeping its promises, whether of building a Ram temple, abolishing Article 370 or bringing about a uniform civil code. He recounts how the prices of kerosene, diesel, fertilisers and cooking gas have gone up manifold.
“When you buy a pitcher, don’t you knock on it to test whether it is pucca or not. Then are you not going to test your chief minister' Here is Digvijay standing before you — a properly fired pitcher, a pucca ghara,” he says and the people clap.
He ends all his campaign speechemphasisinges by his connection with the villages, his respect for all religions and his experience in running a good government. He says: “Gaon gaon se naata hai; sab dharmon se nata hai; aur sarkar chalaana ...'” The crowd shouts, “Aata hai!”
Back in the helicopter I ask him what explains his confidence since the opinion polls are against him. “The trouble with your tribe is that you are totally urbanised. You are cut off from the Indian reality,” he says.
He explains that there are 40 lakh people in Madhya Pradesh involved in the Gram-Swaraj programme. “They have a stake in my victory. So there is the Congress party and there is my own party in the villages,” Digvijay chuckles.
So what does he conclude from this' “My gut feeling is that I will swing it this time,” he says.