The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bumpy ride to cling to crown

Ujjain, Nov. 25: The jagged roads of Madhya Pradesh are giving chief minister Digvijay Singh a headache.

Not that he is having to travel along its rugged path. Flying in a helicopter — like most other chief ministers — and descending on remote villages, Digvijay is on a mission — to make amends with recalcitrant voters.

But making amends is turning out to be more and more difficult. The voters are angry and in a mood to punish the Congress, which has held sway in the state for 10 years.

“This road has been like this for almost seven to eight years. Nobody has come here in years to repair it,” said 60-year-old Mahipal, pointing to the back-breaking stretch dotted with huge craters that leads to Malikhedi village.

The story is the same in the next village and the one after that.

Congress block leaders, braving the bumpy ride for the first time in many years, appear nonchalant. “The roads are not so bad along the entire way,” said Vir Singh Rana, the party’s block president.

However, bad roads is not the only problem the Congress has to grapple with. The severe odds of a decade-long incumbency and a catalogue of failures that it has brought along have put the party on the backfoot.

It is battling a particularly tough challenge in the Malwa region — considered a stronghold of the Sangh parivar.

In the last elections, the Congress had sprung a nasty surprise on the BJP when it snatched as many as 48 seats out of a total of 65 in the region. The BJP was left with just 16 seats.

Retaining its hold over Malwa is crucial for the Congress if it wants to hold on to power. The region holds the key to the Assembly.

Political analysts say the BJP is well poised to reclaim its political turf. In 1993, the spiralling price of onions flung the BJP out of power. Onions were being sold for Rs 40 a kilogram. “This time, shortage of electricity and bad roads are doing to the Congress what onion prices did to the BJP,” said Saudhan Singh, a schoolteacher in a village.

The usual urban-rural divide is wearing thin in the face of these two factors.

In Indore, Mahipal complains of the long power cuts they have had to endure in summer. “There would be power from 10 to 12 at night. Then it would go off for two hours and the cycle would go on and on like this,” he said.

In Malikhedi, 180 km from Indore, farmers intone the same complaint. “Look at the fields. We cannot work the pump because there is no electricity. Instead of 24 hours of electricity, now we are getting power for only two-and-a-half hours,” a farmer said.

The chief minister claims to have made great strides in the human development index in education and health — the state was badly lagging in both the areas.

“There has been some progress no doubt. But it is like a drop in the ocean since Madhya Pradesh is so backward,” a teacher said. “What is visible is there is no electricity, the roads are bad and that people are suffering,” he added.

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