'Gold digger' on a sticky wicket

Last Updated 20 April 2014, 20:58 IST

Whatever he may do for the rest of his life, Union minister Charan Das Mahant will always be remembered as the man who sent India on a gold hunt based on a dream in the 21st century.

A seer dreamt of loads of gold buried near a fort and conveyed this to Mahant. The junior minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet convinced his colleagues and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to undertake a dig in a small dusty town in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district.

But Daundia Khera was no El Dorado. Amidst the media frenzy, the two-month excavation yielded nothing, leading Mahant and the ASI red-faced and searching for explanation.
Six months down the line, the gold-dig still haunts Mahant, who is battling for political survival at Korba, Chhattishgarh's power capital. The former chief of the Chhattishgarh Pradesh Congress committee is at the receiving end of jibes of BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Raman Singh.

“I had no dream. I only conveyed to the government what I was told by the 'sadhu' (ascetic),” he told journalists, meekly offering an explanation for the search.

Earlier this week, he received Rahul Gandhi's support when the Congress vice-president came to Korba for a rally. But what Mahant needs more is the backing of the Ajit Jogi camp, as the two leaders are not on the best of terms.

“(Chhattisgarh's first chief minister) Jogi may undercut Mahant's vote and offer behind-the-scene support to Hirasingh Markam of the Gondvana Ganatantra Party,” said Abhishek Soni, a local youth. But local Congress leaders in Bilaspur—110 km south-west of Korba—claim that unlike the present PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel, Mahant was never in direct confrontation with Jogi, who may be assisting Mahant in his campaign.

Jogi had helped Mahant indirectly five years ago. In the wake of delimitation, Jogi's pocket-borough, Marwahi, went to the Korba Parliamentary constituency. “Marwahi alone gave a lead of close to 60,000 votes to Mahant, which will happen again,” said a Congress leader at Bilaspur.

Mahant is pitted against the BJP's Bansilal Mahato, an Ayurvedic doctor who was favoured because his son Vikas Mahato—a government contractor—is considered close to the chief minister. Interestingly, Mahant and Mahato fought another Lok Sabha poll battle in 1999 at Janjgir; Mahant won.

Nestled between Hasdeo and Ahiran rivers, the Korba district is not only produces power but also coal and aluminium, which made it an industrial hub. The forest-rich parliamentary constituency has eight assembly segments, including Rampur, Korba, Katghora, Pali-Tanakhar, Marwahi, Bharatpur-Sonhat and Manendragarh.

In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP had cornered four of them, while Congress bagged the rest.

(Published 20 April 2014, 20:58 IST)

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