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Ministers shun scent of Uma

Bhopal, Dec. 17: The news of Uma Bharti's arrival here today sent Madhya Pradesh ministers rushing out.

Chief minister Babulal Gaur led the pack trying to avoid the suspended BJP leader. He was in Delhi meeting Union human resources development minister Arjun Singh and members of the United Progressive Alliance.

Uma, however, visited Gaur's home to condole the death of his son last month.

Over a dozen ministers, who until six months ago used to flaunt their proximity to Uma, left Bhopal after hearing about her visit. A senior minister said: 'You see, our presence here can complicate things. If we do not visit her, it would spoil our relations with her and, if we go, it could be misconstrued as indiscipline.'

On his part, Gaur issued a veiled warning from Delhi saying he was assessing the performance of his ministers and the heads of government-run corporations and public sector units. The chief minister said ministers performing below par could be replaced.

Gaur's statement on the eve of the visit served as a subtle warning to 'Uma loyalists' against 'politicising' it.

Those who claimed to have gone on 'official work' included Gauri Shankar Shejwar, unofficially considered 'number two' in Gaur's ministry, and other cabinet ministers like Kailash Chawla, Narendra Singh Tomar, Chandrabhan Singh, Jayant Mallaya, Om Prakash Dhruv, Archana Chitnis and Uma Shankar Gupta.

When Uma arrived today on a 'personal visit', two ministers, Sunil Nayak and Dhal Singh, 10 MLAs and a handful of city-level BJP office-bearers were there to receive her at the railway station.

BJP leaders hostile to Uma said the presence of 10 MLAs and two ministers was a 'telling commentary' on her declining support base. 'A year ago, she was on top, having the support of almost all 176 MLAs,' said a BJP official who was constantly on the cellphone to get details of the visit.

But the official indifference did not deter Uma's die-hard supporters from greeting her. Shailendra Sharma, a former adviser and now head of the state-run employment board, saw nothing wrong in meeting her. 'I used to receive her and will continue to do that,' he said. He and local leader Bhagwan Das Subnani said the issue of Uma's suspension concerned her and the party high command. 'We have nothing to do with that,' he said.

Barring a lone insertion in a local Hindi daily by a party leader from Uma's home district, Tikamgarh, there were no advertisements and greetings in newspapers from BJP leaders.

From the station, Uma headed to her home at 2 Civil Lines, currently occupied by her brother Swami Prasad Lodhi. She then went to the chief minister's residence to meet Gaur's daughter-in-law.

Uma delivered a lecture organised by the Pandit Ramprasad Bismil Prathishthan in memory of freedom fighters Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan.

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