With many players, Madhya Pradesh set for photo-finish (Election Curtain raiser)

November 25th, 2008 - 3:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyBhopal, Nov 25 (IANS) The stage is set for the crucial assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress for the first time facing a stiff challenge from various political forces in a state where politics has always been bi-polar. Polling will be held Nov 27 to pick a new 230-member State Assembly with as many as 3,179 candidates fighting it out. There are 35,705,136 eligible voters who can exercise their franchise at 46,812 polling stations.

Besides the two traditional rivals, the BJP and the Congress, in fray this time are three major players — Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Uma Bharti’s Bharatiya Jan Shakti (BJS) Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) — putting up a spirited fight, to the chagrin of the chief opponents.

All these parties will in varying degrees eat into the votes of the BJP and the Congress. Mayawati has put up candidates in all the constituencies, Uma Bharati in 215 and SP in 186 — not to speak of the unprecedented number of 1,374 independent candidates, many of whom are also rebels from the BJP and the Congress.

Leaders of the BJP and the Congress admit they are worried about these players and believe that Uma Bharati, who stewarded the 2003 BJP victory, would be a spoiler for the latter, while Mayawati and SP would have their nuisance value for the Congress.

BSP won two seats in the 2003 elections out of the 157 it contested and the SP nine out of 161 it fought, but both in varying degrees cut into the Congress votes in over 90 constituencies.

While the SP and the BJS are thriving on backward castes, the BSP has a Dalit base to bank upon and all the three parties have tactically fielded their candidates keeping in mind the caste factor.

Going by the candidate list of both main rivals, none has abstained from fielding candidates with charges of corruption.

If the BJP has given tickets to all the 12 ministers facing corruption charges, the Congress has put its stakes on those considered to be tainted during 10 years of its rule from 1993 to 2003.

But, both have been careful not to field any strong candidate against the stalwarts of its rival party, while there are few women candidates of those from minority communities.

The Congress tried to please all its factions in ticket distribution, while the BJP took the risk of fielding new faces and denying tickets to more than four dozen sitting legislators. This led some of them to joining Uma Bharati’s Party.

Similar has been the case with the Congress with many of its leaders crossing over to other parties. Most astonishing was the switch over of Congress spokesman Mukesh Nayak to the BJS.

The campaign has largely remained focussed on the ruling BJP making claims to good development work and the Congress disputing it with allegations of corruption against Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government.

The chief campaigners of the Congress included bigwigs Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Suresh Pachauri who criss-crossed their respective regions. The BJP banked largely on Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who addressed more than 200 public meetings and emerged the main campaigner.

In absence of any palpable wave either in favour or against any party, the campaign has remained sluggish and the candidates spent more time on door-to-door canvassing, telling the electors what their respective parties would do if voted to power.

Among the few populist measures, the BJP promised the people food grains at subsidised rate of Rs.3 per kg, farm loans at low interest rate of 3 percent and uninterrupted power supply if it is re-elected.

The Congress, besides telling the electorate about “the prevailing corruption in the present government”, promised a bonanza to farmers and poor people like interest free farm loans and free electricity, among other things.

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