The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Star power vs air power

Bhopal, Nov. 17: Uran khatolas, political heavyweights and Hindi film actors are set to descend on Madhya Pradesh as campaigning for the December 1 elections enters a crucial phase.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Sonia Gandhi are some of the politicians who will be doing the rounds of the state. Actors Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Sunil Dutt, Raj Babbar, Govinda and Dara Singh have also been roped in to draw the crowds.

But by far, the biggest crowd-pullers in this backward state are likely to be the Bell helicopters and B-200 aircraft that will ferry the heavyweights across the state.

The uran khatolas are the most sought-after and preferred mode of transport in Madhya Pradesh, not just because they are novel, but also because they are the fastest and safest way of getting around.

In many dusty and sleepy villages in the Chambal, Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand regions, the appearance of a helicopter is regarded as a celestial occurrence.

Cash-rich parties like the Congress, BJP and Nationalist Congress Party, not-so-affluent outfits like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party as well as low-budget parties like the CPI and CPM all have helicopter and aircraft rate-cards in their offices.

Want a B-200 plane' It will cost Rs 60,000 an hour plus Rs 13,000 for fuel and “incidental expenses” like landing and parking fees. A helicopter is available on demand at Rs 46,000 an hour in addition to fuel and incidental expenses.

The Madhya Pradesh Congress has hired three Bell helicopters and one B-200 aircraft. This is in addition to the uran khatolas hired by the Congress for its chief Sonia and leaders like Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh and Kamal Nath, among others.

The Congress has reserved a helicopter and plane for Digvijay Singh, the party’s most popular and visible face in the state. During his 10 years in power, the chief minister has covered almost every taluk in the state. But he is still keen to visit all 230 constituencies once more to shore up the party’s prospects.

The Congress has also sought the services of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, actors Dilip Kumar and Sunil Dutt and most Congress Working Committee members to counter the oratory of the Prime Minister, his deputy as well as Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj and other BJP stalwarts.

For once, both sides are relying on “in-house talent” instead of roping in celebrities as a one-off. The BJP is better served in this department, with popular stars like Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Hema Malini and Dara Singh available for canvassing.

The Congress has Dutt, Dilip and Govinda, who has been sounded out for a Rajya Sabha ticket sometime late next year.

Congress campaign managers would have liked to rope in Priyanka Gandhi as their star campaigner, but she is yet to take the plunge politically. Party sources say Sonia’s daughter will have a secondary, but crucial poll-time role. She will be helping her mother with her speeches, lending them some “punch”.

Hindu hriday samrat Modi will be in Madhya Pradesh tomorrow to canvas in the Malwa region bordering Gujarat. Malwa sends 65 MLAs to the Assembly and tends to play a crucial role in determining who will rule in Bhopal.

But the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Uma Bharti is contesting from Bada Malehra in the Bundelkhand region and if crowned, would become the first chief minister from the region.

Party chiefs say Modi will play a “different” role in Madhya Pradesh. He will harp on “development”, not religion, sources said today.

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