Madhya Pradesh goes to polls against Hindutva backdrop

By Sanjay Sharma, IANS,

Bhopal : Madhya Pradesh goes to polls Thursday morning against the backdrop of a shrill campaign, which from development issues slided into exchange of verbal fireworks between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress over terror attacks in the country.

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The BJP, which was hardselling its government’s development claims in the state, put the issue on the backburner just as the election campaign in the state was drawing to a close and focussed on Sadhvi Pragnya Singh Thakur, arrested for her alleged involvement in the Sep 29 Malegaon bombing.

Its senior leader and prime minister hopeful Lal Krishna Advani questioned the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad over the blast, in which six people were killed and for which 10 people including the sadhvi and a serving Indian army officer, have been arrested.

Addressing election rallies, Advani alleged that Pragnya Singh was kept in illegal detention for 16 days without a woman constable.

“The woman, who had become sadhvi, was tortured in illegal detention. Her disciple was asked to beat her and, on his refusal, he was tortured. All this is in the affidavit filed by her,” Advani repeated at all meetings.

“Not only this, during the illegal detention, there was no woman constable with her, which is contrary to Indian laws.”

The Congress, which is the main opposition in the state, was put on the defensive. The party said the investigation agencies did their own job and it had nothing to do with it.

Advising the BJP not to play politics on the issue of terrorism, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi in his public meetings stressed that the BJP was raking up the issue of terrorism to hide its failures.

“It was they (the BJP leaders) who went to Kandahar (Afghanistan) to set the terrorists free, who later attacked our installtions,” Rahul Gandhi said.

He said it was the Congress which had fought terrorism and was still combating it effectively. “The BJP government has failed to bring about development, a promise it made when it rode to power in Madhya Pradesh.”

He reiterated that the ruling party (BJP) which wants to divide the people on communal lines was unable to implement the programmes for which it got the funds from the centre.

“Instead of trying to fulfil its promises, the BJP spoke of terrorism. If there is no development in Madhya Pradesh, there are no roads, no electricity and no water, is it because terrorists have blocked the road to development? Is it because of terrorists that there are no teachers in schools? Are terrorists uprooting electricity poles?” Gandhi asked.

In the war of words between the two main rivals, the BJP and the Congress, the real issues concerning the people of the state got lost as the parties held up a mixed bag of national issues and populist measures.

The BJP tried to deflect public attention from a possible anti-incumbency factor working against its government and portray this election as a referendum on the performance of the Congress-led government at the centre. It blamed the Congress for rising inflation, economic recession and growing incidence of terrorism.

The Congress, on the other hand, fell back to disputing the BJP allegations and accusing the state government of corruption and allegedly failing on various fronts.

The party which promises to weed out “rampant corruption in the state” hopes to get votes on the issue of bungling in its National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the state, the Congress said.

The party alleged that 75 percent of the money allocated to the state under the scheme was siphoned off by corrupt government officials.

But Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan says: “It (corruption) is not an issue in the polls”. The BJP has done a lot of development work in the state and “we are confident of victory.”

The BJP has promised the people, food grain at subsidised rates and farm loans at low interest rates if it is re-elected. It has also promised uninterrupted power supply in the state. The Congress has also made similar promises.