Utpal Borpujari

April 28, 2009

High-flying Kamal Nath faces BJP’s grassroots leader

By Utpal Borpujari in Chhindwara (MP)

About seven km away from the district headquarters, a sizeable crowd of mostly Gond tribals gathered outside a palatial house, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a private copter at the adjacent private helipad.

Anticipation is in the air around the house in Shikarpur, as the workers get the tribals queued up. Almost all of them have small chits of paper in their hands, with various problems written on them, to be handed over to the man they are waiting for. Finally, the single-engine chopper appears at a distance, and seconds later, lands at the helipad, causing a mini dust storm. The man steps out, and the workers have a hard time in maintaining the order as a mad scramble breaks out to reach out to him.

The “man” is Union Commerce and Industries Minister Kamal Nath, who has been lording over this constituency in southern MP, bordering Nagpur in Maharashtra since the last three decades, barring in 1997 when in a byelection he had lost to BJP’s Sundarlal Patwa.

Old women fall on his feet, and old men crowd around him with their complaints, and he assures all of them that he would solve their problems, the only thing they have to do is to press the button against the hand symbol on April 23.

His followers say this is a completely different world that the high-flying Nath straddles regularly and silently without any media attention. While his detractors—mainly the BJP workers—say he does so only in the run-up to the election, when he is not busy with his globe-trotting engagements.

Even this time, Nath seems to be sitting quite pretty in his pocketborough and his BJP opponent Maruti Rao Khaose is quite invisible on the campaign trail.

Extensive campaigningBut the man himself is not taking it easy. Probably the only candidate in the whole country who does whole of his campaigning riding his own chopper on a daily basis, Nath is busy touring remote hamlets that have 300-400 voters.


He seems to be a little worried over the fact that there are 28 candidates in the constituency this time—the maximum in MP—out of which at least 12, including two other “Kamal Naths,” were fielded reportedly by the BJP to confuse voters.

“Khaose has been a three-time MLA and is a leader of the Pawar community. There must be a reason why he has been picked by the BJP,” says Nath, who had defeated BJP’s Prahlad Patel in 2004.

Of the seven Assembly constituencies that make up the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat, four went to the BJP in the Assembly polls a few months ago, but Nath’s team is quick to point out that in two of the Assembly seats, the Congress had lost by just 70 and 300 votes. Khaose says he is “sure” to break the winning streak of Nath.

“He has done nothing except making promises and impressing the simple people here with his helli-hopping,” says Khaose, whose party has projected him as a man of the masses who is doing his campaigning even riding bullock carts as against Nath’s copter-riding persona.

BJP workers are said to be working in the constituency silently at the grassroots level for quite some time now. “People have seen through Nath’s false assurances,” says Dashrath Singh, a middle-aged man from the Gond-dominated Amarwara area.

(published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-04-2009)



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