But hyper-activity aside, Digvijay Singh still doesn't look like a winner. He's more the embattled defender. But so potent is the Diggy mystique that Congress workers, while admitting the trend of public opinion favours the BJP, believe that the Raja will somehow pull it off a third time. Diggy makes light of his near-legendary infallibility. "Do you see a halo?" he jokes.
In election-obsessed MP, one meets two kinds of people: those who tell you it's a tough fight and those who say the BJP is winning. The former, in deja vu mode, remind you that the electoral 'hawa' was blowing unmistakably BJP-wards in 1998 too. All the surveys predicted a clean sweep. But psephologists had egg on their faces when Diggy Raja was sworn in for a second term.
But things are different this time. Digvijay doesn't have a Big Idea. His USP in 1998 was Panchayati Raj. It paid off, with a little help from BJP's overconfidence. Trumpeting his commitment to empowering panchayats, decentralising administration, taking up land reforms and investing in health and education, he came across as an innovative administrator and a visionary. Diggy Raja is spinning the same spiel to lesser effect, now that the flaws in the panchayati raj system are beginning to surface. All his achievements have paled before public anger over the power crisis and terrible roads.
Surprisingly, when the Congress CMs of the other three election-bound states concentrated on roads and power, Digvijay chose to ignore them. The result: he is being pilloried for mismanagement. Says Union law and commerce minister Arun Jaitley: "In terms of human development, MP is at the bottom. Where is the investment in the social sector?" On the power front, Digvijay admits he miscalculated. "We were anticipating investment which didn't materialise. Who knew Enron would fail?" He's now trying to rectify the error with fast-track power and road projects. Too late to be of comfort to the voters.
The BJP's caricature of Digvijay as 'Shree Bantadhaar' (Mr Ruin) has struck a chord. How did a canny CM get into this mess? A clutch of Digvijay's senior bureaucrats are being held responsible. The CM's high comfort level with the bureaucracy is both an asset and a liability. As the babus have no electoral stakes, they cannot be counted on to be responsive to public concerns.
One notable feature of this election is BJP CM nominee Uma Bharati's well-engineered campaign. The rss-led Team Uma has been mapping strategy and churning out slickly produced brochures and ad campaigns. And though the going seems to be getting better by the day, rss regional pracharak Anil Dave advises workers to be cautious. "We must not fall into the trap of overconfidence," he says.
The BJP has been concentrating exclusively on "pani, bijli, rozgar", plus roads. It is development issues all the way—Hindutva finds no mention in this campaign. "This election is 60 per cent power, 20 per cent roads and 20 per cent water," says Indore mayor and sitting BJP MLA Kailash Vijayvarghia. The Ayodhya case in which Uma Bharati has charges framed against her (now stayed) is not an election issue. But it could raise its head and put a question mark on her chief ministership should there be an adverse court ruling.
Neither is corruption, despite the Dilip Singh Judeo episode. The footage of the BJP's chief minister-hopeful in Chhattisgarh accepting bribe on camera is only grist for the gossip mill, not likely to affect the electoral outcome here.Uma is dismissive: "Ajit Jogi is a master of forgery. This must be one more effort." On her part, she has levelled corruption charges against Digvijay and his crony Subhash Gupta. The CM has struck back by slapping a defamation case. But for the voters, all this is just a sideshow.
Geographically, two regions of the state will determine Digvijay's fate: Malwa and Madhya Bharat. The latter is where the BSP factor may play a role. Digivjay's own constituency, Raghogarh, is festooned in BSP-blue banners. The question that will only be answered at the polling booth is: where will the BSP vote go? Will it be transferred to the Congress lock, stock and barrel, or be split between Mayawati and BSP rebel Phool Singh Baraiya?
The other key region is Malwa, where a pro-BJP undercurrent is back. Traditionally a BJP stronghold, it fell to the Congress in 1998. "We'll hold on to Malwa," says the Raja. But he has been concentrating on the Vindhya and Bundelkhand regions more. "If we breach 32 seats in Malwa, we will win," says Vijayvarghia.
In Malwa's Dhar town lies the modest home of Srimal Jain, Digvijay's favourite palmist. So, is he going to win? "If I could see both his and Umaji's palms, I would have the answer. But I haven't seen hers." Even he isn't hazarding a guess as to whether it will be "teesri baari, very sorry" for Diggy Raja.