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Where the `Uma factor' alone matters

By Vinay Kumar

BADA MALEHRA (M.P.) NOV. 22. This dusty town on the Chhatarpur-Sagar road is bereft of the trappings of a high-profile Assembly constituency, even if the main contestant is Uma Bharti, the BJP's chief ministerial candidate. Swami Prasad Lodhi, her brother and sitting MLA, vacated the seat for her.

The question doing the rounds here is: will Diggy Raja take sanyas after a decade of Congress rule or will the sanyasin find herself in the chief minister's gaddi. The flags, banners and graffiti in Bada Malehra loudly proclaim Uma Bharti's candidature. Her opponents — Jagdish Shukla of the Congress and Kapoor Chand Guhara of the CPI — are no match for this high-pitched projection of the sanyasin as the chief minister-in-waiting.

Keeping the backwardness of the Bundelkhand region in mind, the BJP has coined the slogan: "Ek hi nari, ek hi nara, Bundelkhand bane sabse pyara"(Only one woman and one slogan of making Bundelkhand the most beautiful region).

The Congress has come up with: "Jan, jan se naata hai, sarkar chalaana aata hai"(We have links with the people and know how to run the government) and "Prajatantra ki chhaon mei, panchayat har gaon mein" (Under the shadow of democracy, village-self rule in each village).

Daughter of the soil

Though people concede Uma Bharti's failure to develop the region when she was a Central Minister, they still want to see her wearing the chief minister's crown. Also, it is for the first time that a woman candidate from Bundelkhand has been projected as future chief minister.

Kailash Rai is a local fruit-seller. He does not want to make his political leanings known. Press him further, he says he will vote for Uma Bharti as she has the potential of becoming the chief minister.

In a State rich in natural resources and forest cover, where a sense of identity is hard to establish, local identities have suddenly become significant. And when there has not been any chief minister from the region, she looks a hot contender. This sentiment is echoed by many.

Uma Bharti has been on a whirlwind tour of the area and has addressed several election meetings. The main thrust of her speeches has been development of the region.

However, though appearing to be on her side, people openly express their resentment against her brother, Swami Prasad Lodhi, who is testing the waters this time from Bhind region, purely on the basis of caste equations.

All things considered, her dream run may face a roadblock — the CPI veteran, Kapoor Chand Guhara, who represented this seat in the Assembly between 1980-85, is widely respected and well known. "Five years ago, Uma had camped here for 12 days so that her brother could sail through and the promises which she had made then to the people have fallen flat. Why she did not choose her hometown of Tikamgarh? Why she has suddenly discovered a love for Bada Malehra?" asks Mr. Guhara, who has been campaigning quietly in the rural areas.

With three decades of public life behind him, he has stood by the local people and bonded with them. Over the past two years, he has been going barefoot to all the villages. "I have given up wearing footwear till development is taken up in this region," he says The CPI has steadily increased its share of votes and if things fall in place, it may push the Congress to the third spot.

There is no Judev cash-on-tape factor here. People say that only factor is worth considering and debating — the "Uma factor".

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