BJP to encash Chouhan's popularity in MP

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Bhopal, Oct 24: Facing anti-incumbency against some sitting legislators, including few ministers, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to encash Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's ''popularity'' to retain power in Madhya Pradesh, party sources said today.

BJP which wrested power with a historic three-fourth majority in the 2003 election ending 10-year Congress rule is finding it difficult to retain all seats due to anti-incumbency factor against certain legislators and ministers.

BJP incharge of Madhya Pradesh Ananth Kumar also admitted existence of ''rebel'' factors against few party leaders at individual level, but claimed there was no 'wave' against the BJP government. ''The party would deal with the anti-incumbency issue on its own'', he added.

Another major task for BJP was to dish out a substantial majority after its record victory in 2003, when it bagged 173 of the total 230 seats. While claiming that the BJP was optimistic to rope in a clear majority, Mr Kumar said ''the 173 seat tally was a very good target to pursue''.

Optimism in the rank and file of BJP can be guaged from the fact that a number of sitting MPs also opted to contest the Assembly election.

The current political atmosphere was in favour of BJP because of Mr Chouhan's increased popularity due to good governance and development across the state, party sources quoted as the plus factor in favour of BJP, while they said the present financial crisis coupled with price rise and spurt in terrorist activities would go against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

BJP leaders claim that Mr Chouhan, who hailed from a farmers family, was more popular in the rural areas as he was accustomed with the problems of villagers. Besides, organising of different ''Mahapanchayats'' (conventions) for different sections with the aim of consultations before announcing incentives, concessions and new schemes benefitting a large section of the society had increased his popularity, party sources claimed.

About a dozen Mahapanchayats were organised for different categories of people right from village-level Kotwar and Patwaris to senior bureaucrats, besides Aanganwadi workers, artisans, farmers, youth, teachers, small scale industries, Scheduled Castes and Forest dwellers.

To give a personal touch, though at government cost, Mr Chouhan organised most 'panchayats' at his official residence. Few lakh people turned up at the 'Kisan Mahapanchayat'' in which several concessions relating to agriculture pump dues were announced.

Various welfare measures like free cycle scheme for village girl students, free text books and uniforms for all sections, marriage assistance for poor girls under the Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojana have helped boost the party image among the common masses, the sources added.

Discounting the likely impact of Uma Bharati-led Bharatiya Jan Shakti on the BJP's prospects, party leaders feel BJS was ''irrelevant'' as far as Madhya Pradesh was concerned.

A major section in the BJP still feel that Ms Bharti's whirlwind tours to encash the ''unpopularity'' of Digvijay Singh government, wich was in power for a decade, had helped BJP to garner a large number of seats in 2003. Maintaining such a high target was very difficult, the sources admit.

The sources said BJP took the risk of changing chief ministers thrice in less than two years. Mr Chouhan succeded Mr Babulal Gaur, who replaced Ms Bharti.

Mr Chouhan was made a chief minister when he was not even a legislator nor having any major support base in the party. In the last three years, Mr Chouhan, of course, won the confidence of both party workers and the top leadership as well, the sources said, adding many leaders who left the party along with Ms Bharti had returned to BJP.

With the main opposition Congress yet to project any leader as chief ministerial nominee, the BJP has an advantage over projecting Mr Chouhan as the CM in the next tenure also, the sources claimed.

Government employees, whose annoyance with the Digvijay Singh government, had seemed to have contributed a lot in ensuring BJP victory in 2003. The Chouhan government had nurtured that sector by doling out sops in the form of hiking dearness allowance and interim relief, BJP sources added.

UNI

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