Ahead of Dantewada bypoll, Cong and BJP lock horns over ex-collectorhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/ahead-of-dantewada-bypoll-cong-and-bjp-lock-horns-over-ex-collector-6015073/

Ahead of Dantewada bypoll, Cong and BJP lock horns over ex-collector

The bypoll was necessitated by the assassination of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi two days before the Lok Sabha elections were to be held in the district in April.

Former Collector and BJP leader O P Choudhary and (right) BJP’s Ojaswi Mandavi in Dantewada. (Express)

On September 23, Dantewada Assembly seat will go to polls again, 10 months after the BJP won the seat — the only seat of 12 in Bastar that the party won.

The bypoll was necessitated by the assassination of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi two days before the Lok Sabha elections were to be held in the district in April.

In a contest likely to be fought between the BJP and Congress, both candidates are relying on the names of their husbands — both killed in Maoist attacks. While the BJP candidate is Ojaswi Mandavi, wife of Bhima Mandavi, the Congress candidate is Devti Karma, wife of slain Congress leader Mahendra Karma. Yet, on the streets of Dantewada, another name is causing friction between the parties — former Dantewada collector and now BJP leader O P Choudhary.

Choudhary joined the IAS in 2005 and shot to fame during his tenure as Dantewada collector when he won the Prime Minister’s Excellence in Administration Award for the Education City in Dantewada. He was also collector of Raipur district, before he left the service ahead of Lok Sabha polls and was inducted by BJP president Amit Shah. He fought the Lok Sabha polls from Kharsia unsuccessfully.

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High stakes for both BJP and Cong

For the BJP, a defeat in the Dantewada bypoll will mean losing the only seat they had in Bastar, with 11 others already with the Congress. For the Congress, a defeat will mean reinforcement of an idea that there has been a comedown from the heady heights of 68 seats they reached only last December. A win is important to show that the Lok Sabha election results, where they won only 2 of 11 seats, was only because of national politics and not a deeper political malaise within the state.

Choudhary has been in Dantewada for the past two weeks, campaigning for the BJP. He has also received attention from the Congress, including a complaint against him to the Election Commission. A senior Congress leader said, “Any collector has a network of sarpanches, contractors, and the media that he can take favours from.”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Choudhary said, “I was collector of Dantewada for more than two years. I had the opportunity to understand the people…. People have trust and goodwill if you work selflessly.”

Much of Choudhary’s tenure coincided with the BJP government in the state and the UPA government at the Centre. “People can judge how interested or committed an individual was. I received the PM Excellence in Administration Award from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the category of the award was individual,” he said.

Senior Congress leaders said the BJP’s projection of Choudhary was a sign of a “hollow campaign”. “This is a clear sign they have already admitted defeat….They are ensuring that if they lose, Choudhary will be to blame,” said Congress leader R P Singh.

After Choudhary entered politics, Congress raised several questions over his tenure in Dantewada, alleging financial irregularities and a “land scam”. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel even claimed Choudhary was an “exploiter of adivasis”.  R P Singh said, “For Choudhary to say that he built Jawanga Education City, it is a lie. It is a UPA government contribution. Secondly, when a district administration gets an award, it is a collective award for the team.”

Responding to the Congress, Choudhary said, “These allegations are normal in politics… In a Maoist-affected district like Dantewada, when you do something big, like an education city or a livelihood college, or things will get stuck, then small issues in procedural things can happen. But intention is important. Secondly, on allegations of financial irregularity, these are baseless. They say the land under question was worth crores, when it was worth Rs 20 lakh. For a Rs 20 lakh land deal, how much corruption will one do? This means the allegation is pure politics.”