The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ajit’s Nine bides time in Panchmarhi

Panchmarhi, May 29: The Pandavas had hidden here during their year-long agyatvaas (living incognito), preparing for the final assault.

Today, nine MLAs belonging to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) arrived in the cover of darkness at 12.30 am at this hill resort with no mobile phone network to avoid “poaching” by Mayavati.

In faraway Delhi, party boss Ajit Singh is formulating his assault on the BSP-BJP combine to take revenge for being forced out of the Union Cabinet. He is holding frantic parleys with Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav to stitch an alternative coalition before formally withdrawing support to the Mayavati regime.

The MLAs, susceptible to “worldly goods”, have been shunted from any possible lure to a “sightseeing tour” under Congress tutelage in Madhya Pradesh, travelling from Sanchi to Bhopal to Mandu and now to Panchmarhi.

Panchmarhi is an ideal hideout in many ways. Away from media glare, it is a quaint cantonment where any outsider — who might attempt to reach the isolated group — can be easily spotted during the current tourist off-season.

The MLAs are holed up in Hotel Inderprastha, owned by a local Congress activist. During the day, they preferred to watch TV, surfing channels ranging from HBO to FTV with one faithful glued to Astha that telecasts religious sermons.

In the evening, the MLAs stepped out to enjoy the sights and sounds of romantic Panchmarhi. Their first destination was the Mahadev temple, where they prayed for half-an-hour. They then made in time to a hilltop to watch the sunset.

The news here is that the MLAs would stay for a couple of days. The group of nine is tight-lipped on their next destination. But sources close to them said they will go “back” to Delhi while others said they could head for Nagpur in Maharashtra, depending on instructions from “Bhai Sahib”, as Ajit Singh is addressed.

The RLD members are guests of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. Chief minister Digvijay Singh, who is in touch with Ajit Singh and Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, is said to be personally monitoring their movements.

Digvijay’s interest in the developments of the coalition drama in Lucknow cannot be underestimated. He has his own political calculations in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, which influences voting pattern in Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. In Digvijay’s scheme of things, the fall of the Mayavati regime prior to the November Assembly polls would boost Congress prospects.

However, if Mayavati survives in office, the chief minister would have a hard time explaining to his Dalit voters in Bundelkhand why he tried to “destabilise” a government headed by Mayavati.

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