The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP sorts out Chhattisgarh election tangle

New Delhi, Oct. 6: The BJP hopes to have wrapped up the last of its unfinished tasks before the Assembly elections in the five states with the decision — albeit unofficial — to project Dilip Singh Judeo as its chief ministerial candidate in Chhattisgarh.

The Chhattisgarh vacuum was bothering the BJP because, while it had identified its candidates for three of the states going to polls in November-December, a perception was gaining ground that the party could not find a suitable counter to Ajit Jogi.

Today, when BJP spokesman Prakash Javdekar announced that Judeo would spearhead the Ashvamedha yatra that would roll through 36 of Chhattisgarh’s Assembly constituencies and cover more than 18,000 km, BJP sources claimed the leadership issue was clinched.

Javdekar chose to keep up the suspense by maintaining that he had “said neither yes nor no” when asked by media if Judeo was the candidate. “As strategy, we have decided not to announce a name till the end. Judeo is a popular leader and as such he is leading the rath yatra,” the spokesman said.

Sources said the choice of Judeo and the rath yatra plan signalled the decision to play the Hindu card in Chhattisgarh. Ashvamedha is a throwback to the mythical horse of Ramayana. Only the horse’s captors could claim the title of Chakravarti Raja.

The underlying message of the yatra, sources said, was that Judeo alone could dethrone Jogi. The chief minister — by the BJP’s own admission — has turned out to be a tough nut to crack despite the party’s efforts to pin him down on issues such as alleged fake tribal origins, misgovernance and highhandedness.

Judeo, who hails from Bastar, was known for his programmes purportedly held to reconvert tribals who had become Christians and bring them back into the Hindu mainstream. The decision to project Judeo is, thus, an indication that religious conversion will figure on the BJP’s poll agenda in Chhattisgarh.

Poll preparations are expected to gather momentum after the BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu and his team of office-bearers — most of who are also away — return to the capital later this week.

However, the first round of surveys for identifying “winnable” candidates was over in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, sources said. The survey, they said, signalled the need to change a “substantial” number of sitting MLAs and bring in “younger, fresher” faces, despite the BJP being in Opposition in these states.

In keeping with this trend, the choice of Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje to lead the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elections was “paying off”, asserted the sources.

However, there was a question mark on the choice of Madan Lal Khurana for Delhi, they said. “Although he had a good stint as a chief minister, he seems to have lost his touch in the years he was marginalised. Despite his best efforts, he is not regaining it,” said a Delhi leader.

In Delhi, the party has banked on anti-incumbency and the alleged rift in the Congress to put up a fight.

In Madhya Pradesh, while the BJP has the satisfaction of seeing the factions close ranks courtesy Uma Bharti’s Parivartan yatra, sources conceded that chief minister Digvijay Singh’s proverbial skill to manage elections was an imponderable.

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