The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP grabs at royal straw, Cong soldiers in silence

Jashpur, Nov. 28: Besides the Tehelka-like scandal, Dilip Singh Judeo’s claim to fame might well be his focus on “ghar-wapasi” (re-conversion) of Adivasis who had embraced Christianity. But in the prestige battle that Kumar Saheb, thus known because of his royal lineage, is fighting in the four Assembly constituencies of his home district Jashpur, Hindutva or its Judeo-variant is hardly a plank of voter appeal.

The BJP is trying to encash Judeo’s charisma as the scion of Jashpur Palace to the hilt, pitting it against the development record of the Ajit Jogi government and even bigger promises of things to come if the Congress is voted to power. But the BJP’s problem is that the natural awe and respect the royals commanded in the region is on the wane.

“Kumar Saheb is a royal but he has helped only his people. His exalted position has hardly helped the poor tribals of the district. How does it matter if I am a Christian or a Hindu if my leader cannot care for me' The divisions in Judeo’s family have been evident for long with Kumar Saheb’s cousin backing the Congress,” said Santosh Bhagat.

But for BJP activists, Judeo’s royal antecedents still hold value so much that they can translate into votes. “The Congress is talking of development but whether it talks about roads, building of bridges, drinking water availability or employment to village labour, these are all part of central schemes. People realise this as much as they understand that top Congress leaders have framed Judeo in the CD scandal (where he is allegedly seen accepting bribe),” district BJP president Krishna Rai argued.

The district is evenly divided between the BJP and the Congress with two seats each. The BJP has Tapkara and Bagicha while the Congress controls Jashpur and Patthalgaon. But the BJP has projected Congress Jashpur nominee Vikram Bhagat, who defected from the BJP and became a minister in the Jogi government, as a “bhagoda” (runaway).

Judeo’s anti-missionary plank, however, has worked somewhat in Bagicha from where the Congress put up Anand Kujur, its sole Christian tribal candidate in all of Chhattisgarh. “There are clear instructions from the Church that all Christian tribals must vote for the Congress candidate. Such dictates of the mission have never been defied in the past. This has come in handy for the BJP and Kumar Saheb,” claimed a senior BJP activist.

Congress supporters, however, said they are banking on a silent campaign in the tribal pockets because open defiance of the royal family is a risky business in this crucial district. Jogi, too, realises that Jashpur is a prestige battle and is campaigning in the region.

The BJP does not want to be left behind. Judeo is slated to launch the attack from a place very close to Jogi’s meeting venue. “Raja Saheb has been known to turn the tide at the last moment in the past. We expect an encore. We will, anyway, top it up with the combined trip of party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and dream girl Hema Malini,” said Mukesh Sharma, a BJP campaigner.

The battle in all four constituencies is evenly poised. Leaders of both the Congress and the BJP confide that they are not confident of their victory, or defeat, like the last time because “this is an election without issues. Uncertainty is the name of the game.”

“Nothing has managed to create a wave in Jashpur — neither the CD scandal nor Jogi’s development plank. The parties have left it to the voters and in that sense it is an election which may spring big surprises,” said a Congress MLA from Jharkhand who has been campaigning in the district for more than a week.

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