The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Uma and the hunt for a missing rival

Chattarpur/Bhopal, Nov. 10: Leading a cavalcade of over 100 cars, jeeps and trucks that brought nondescript Chattarpur town to a standstill, Uma Bharti today filed two sets of nomination papers after seeking the blessings of Mothe Mahavir, as Lord Hanuman is referred to in the local language.

Within minutes, Uma’s opponents began to close ranks. The Samajwadi Party’s Madhya Pradesh chief, Gauri Singh Yadav, withdrew from the contest at Bada Malera, which lies east of Jhansi, so that the Opposition’s votes are not divided.

But if Gauri Singh had banked on the ruling Congress — and the main challenger to Uma — taking the fight into the BJP chief ministerial candidate’s camp, that party was busy posse-hunting for the candidate it wished to put up.

An unknown Jagdish Shukla is now the Congress’ candidate for the seat, but chief minister Digvijay Singh wants to replace him with someone who can give Uma a semblance of a fight. His choice is All-India Congress Committee spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi, but — until this evening — the problem was of finding him.

A reluctant Chaturvedi had gone underground — well, almost. If not Chaturvedi, Digvijay would like to pit Uma (Yadav) against Uma.

The Yadav Uma is a young, gritty leader from the backward castes who has threatened to join the BJP if Shukla remains the candidate, but would not object to Chaturvedi because of his seniority. Shukla’s claim to fame is the tag of being a Chaturvedi protégé.

For all these questions to be settled, Digvijay had to first hunt Chaturvedi down. Faced with the unattractive proposition of taking on Uma Bharti, Chaturvedi has been incommunicado for the past four days. His brother Alok, however, said he was merely campaigning for his son Nitin, a candidate in neighbouring Chandla.

Congress sources said Chaturvedi had abandoned his two mobile phones and snapped contact with Digvijay and AICC functionaries, so much so that the services of intelligence officials of Madhya Pradesh were engaged to track him.

This afternoon, Alok received a call where an unidentified person left a cryptic message that Chaturvedi should get in touch with AICC general secretary Ambika Soni “as soon as possible”. By evening, contact was re-established.

Apparently, sleuths were tailing Chaturvedi and his associates for the past 48 hours as Digvijay kept persuading Sonia Gandhi, Soni and others about the need to change the candidate.

Anyone in Chaturvedi’s shoes would do what he has done — hide — because of the daunting prospect of a face-off with Uma Bharti. But allowing the other Uma to jump into the ring at the expense of loyalist Shukla is not a happy alternative either, also for fear that a backward caste Congress candidate at Bada Malera will annoy influential Brahmin voters in his son’s constituency.

As the Congress hunted for a qualified candidate, Uma Bharti started her hunt, predicting the end of Digvijay’s “feudal raj” and evoking enthusiastic response. A local BJP leader could not help commenting, “It looks didi has already become chief minister in the hearts and minds of Chattarpur”.

Uma has been working hard to shed her image as an Ayodhya rabble-rouser, focusing instead on development, as her party wants her to. Even Uma Bharti can be reasonable. The BJP’s state manifesto will be released on November 15 by finance minister Jaswant Singh to reinforce the message that the lady means business.

Her associates have prepared a “vision document” with the aim of projecting the sadhvi as committed to good governance.

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