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Chouhan team in for tough fight

Bhopal, Nov. 23: More than half the ministers in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP cabinet of Madhya Pradesh could struggle to retain their seats in Monday’s polls, despite projections of a sweep by the party.

Eighteen ministers face a tough fight, party workers’ feedback from their constituencies suggests. They include Kailash Vijayvargiya, who fancies himself as “number two” in Chouhan’s 33-member team.

Yesterday, with just one day to go before campaigning ended, Vijayvargiya requested Chouhan to spare some time to canvass for him in his Mhow constituency in Indore. The PWD and IT minister had earlier brought senior party leaders Shahnawaz Hussain, Najma Heptulla and Hema Malini to campaign for him.

The other ministers locked in close contests include Sartaj Singh, Anup Mishra, Narottam Mishra, Uma Shankar Gupta, Jayant Malaiya, Ajay Vishnoi, Vijay Shah and Ranjana Baghel.

The perception that they wouldn’t have it easy this time stems from voters’ complaints about unfulfilled promises, factionalism, presence of rebels in the fray and adverse caste equations. Some are up against contenders who have made it a prestige fight.

An example is Vijayvargiya, whose Congress rival Antar Singh Darbar got Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia to campaign for him. Scindia has declared Darbar’s contest a personal battle. The Gwalior scion has defeated Vijayvargiya twice in recent years in elections to the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association.

Most pre-poll surveys have forecast a comfortable win for the BJP, with tallies ranging from 126 to 150 — well above the 116-majority mark in the 230-member Assembly.

Chief minister Chouhan will romp home with ease, party workers say. In a sign of confidence, they point out that he has hardly campaigned in Budhni and Vidisha, the two constituencies from where he is contesting.

But feedback from the ground in Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior and Jabalpur is not as encouraging. People expect a close finish and the margin of seats between the BJP and the Congress to be around 15 or even less.

In Bhopal, regarded as a long-time BJP bastion, heavyweights like home minister Uma Shankar Gupta and former Union minister Arif Beg are finding the going tough.

At many street-corner meetings, Gupta was seen explaining to unhappy voters why the capital’s crime graph has shot up and what has been done to reverse it.

Beg, the lone BJP Muslim nominee who had once served as Union minister under Morarji Desai, has to persuade people why Narendra Modi’s projection as prime ministerial candidate wouldn’t affect Chouhan’s “pro-Muslim” tilt.

In the 2003 and 2008 polls, the BJP had bagged five of the city’s six seats. This time, the buzz is it could be tied with the Congress at 3-3.

A former state chief secretary said the absence of a “wave” had made Chouhan’s mission difficult. Some others agreed that many BJP ministers and MLAs were grappling with anti-incumbency.

But a political analyst in Bhopal, Girija Shankar, thinks otherwise. “There is no such thing as anti-incumbency against sitting MLAs and ministers. People vote according to party lines, ideology and the image of the chief minister. The December 8 results will vindicate this.”