Bhopal:The general election is entering its most interesting phase in Madhya Pradesh. The remaining eight seats of the state, including five reserved, are going to polls in the last and seventh phase on May 19.
Malwa-Nimar is the biggest region of Madhya Pradesh which has the highest number of Assembly seats (66). The region is also known as the cultural centre of Madhya Pradesh and birthplace of great Sanskrit poet Kalidas.
The region comprises eight Lok Sabha seats – Dewas (SC), Ujjain (SC), Mandsaur, Ratlam (ST), Dhar (ST), Indore, Khargone (ST) and Khandwa.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dominated this region for decades. In 2013 Assembly election, the party had won 56 out of 66 seats while Congress wrested nine seats. Similarly, in 2014, the saffron party won all the eight parliamentary seats, but, lost Ratlam-Jhabua in 2015 byelection with Congress.
In the recently held Assembly elections in 2018, Congress toppled the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, improved its performance in the region and won 35 out of 66 seats.
The Malwa-Nimar region, which is dominated by tribals, Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and farmers, has 1.66 crore voters, according to the Election Commission of India. The Congress, which has nothing to lose, is banking on farm loan waiver and tribal voters which are slipping from BJP’s grip, as the Assembly election data suggests and pinning hope to win three-four seats.
The BJP, however, is relying on the “Modi wave”, national security and Hindutva card to repeat the 2014 result.
To send BJP on the backfoot over the agrarian crisis, the Congress leaders have been lauding the loan waiver. Besides, Congress is also keeping the Mandsaur police firing issue alive. In June 6, 2017, six farmers had fallen prey to the bullets of police personnel when they were demanding fair price for their crops. The issue shook the nation as well as the root of the 15-year-long Shivraj government.
In case of the tribals and SCs, the Congress is countering the BJP with the Forest Right Act issue and atrocities on Dalits that have taken place during the rule of the BJP-led NDA government.
Besides, presence of Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), an exclusive political party for the tribals of Malwa-Nimar led by Heralal Alawa and its support to grand old party is making Congress stronger in the region.
Alawa is a Congress MLA from Manawar Assembly seat, and has extended its support to the Congress.
As NewsClick analysed the mood of the voters in this region, strong leadership, national security, farm loan waiver, unemployment and demonetisation emerged as the major issues.
Also read: Elections 2019: Farm Loan Waiver Takes Centre Stage In Madhya Pradesh
“I will vote for Narendra Modi since the country needs a prime minister like him,” says trader Rakesh Godda in Indore although his business has suffered due to demonetisation and GST. Godda, however, did not vote for the BJP in the Assembly elections.
Virendra Sindal of Ujjain says that the Modi factor remains intact though not as profound as it was during the 2014 polls. “People have vented their frustration against local BJP MLAs in the Assembly polls and now want to vote for Modi, irrespective of the candidates,” he said. However, a cable operator in Khandwa stated that at least 300 women he spoke to said they were not happy with Modi since they had lost their savings during demonetisation.
In Khandwa constituency reserved for an SC candidate, farmers in Mandhata Assembly seat, which the Congress won, are happy with the farm loan waiver of Rs 2 lakh. Devkaran Yadav of Khutlakala said that he has got the certificate saying that he would get Rs 1.75 lakh of his loans waived.
The Congress is countering what it claims is BJP’s concerted effort to instil doubts about their agrarian scheme by trying to convince voters that it has already waived loans of 21 lakh farmers. On the Indore-Khandwa road, farmers like Prem Singh Kalgoan Tawa of Kailari say that this is one of the fake promises politicians keep making. A BJP leader in Dewas said the party should not have adopted a “negative strategy” to invoke suspicion among farmers on the initiative that aims at tackling farm distress.
Tough fight between Congress and BJP
Anti-incumbency, poor candidates and absence of the stalwarts from the fray is worrying the BJP.
To beat anti-incumbency, the BJP has brought new faces in some of the eight seats. After denying ticket to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, the party has dropped leaders such as Ujjain’s Prof Chintamani Malviya, Manohar Untwal from Dewas and Nirmala Bhuria from Jhabua-Ratlam.
Due to a poor candidate, as per observers, financial capital of Madhya Pradesh, Indore, may go to Congress’s pocket this time after 30 years. Indore, represented by the former Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan since 1989, is believed to have tilted towards Congress as Tai (Sumitra) and Bhai (Kailash Vijayvargiya) both remain absent from the fray.
While after a snub by Modi-Shah, Mahajan surrendered her candidature, Kailash Vijayvargiya opted out citing responsibilities as the party’s in-charge in West Bengal. Pitted against Congress’s Pankaj Sanghvi, BJP candidate, Shankar Lalwani, is said to have lost the contest already because neither Tai nor Bhai is supporting him. Besides, Congress candidate, Sanghvi, is seen as a formidable contender.
In Khandwa, two former state chiefs are in the poll fray. Sitting BJP MP Nandkumar Chouhan is pitted against former Union Congress minister Arun Yadav. Both had served as party chiefs.
The Congress seems to be comfortable in seats where they have fielded local heavyweights. Many believe that BJP’s decision to field incumbent MP Chouhan against Yadav may harm the saffron party, as Yadav, who was state president of the Congress party, is popular and is a heavyweight.
Similarly, in Dewas, folk singer and state icon, Padma Shri awardee, Prahlad Tipaniya is giving nightmares to his rival, BJP candidate Mahendra Solanki. Tipaniya, who specialises in singing couplets coined by Kabir in Malawi, has earned his reputation in all over the country and abroad. Popular among Dalits in the Malwa region, Tipaniya is seen as a bigshot. In 2009, Dewas had voted for Congress, but in 2014, it altered the verdict.
In this seat reserved for tribal candidates, Congress’ sitting MP Kantilal Bhuria is contesting against BJP’s GS Damor who had defeated Kantilal’s son Vikrant Bhuria from the Jhabua Assembly seat in the 2018 polls by a margin of 18,000 votes.
In Mandsaur, which is called the epicentre of the farmers’ protest, the BJP is facing an intense fight with the Congress. Though the constituency has traditionally been a Jana Sangh-BJP stronghold, Congress’ Meenakshi Natrajan had defeated BJP veteran Laxminarayan Pandey in 2009 who had won the seats for six consecutive terms. But in 2014, she lost the seat to BJP’s Sudhir Gupta with a margin of 3.5 lakh votes.
Also read: Elections 2019: In Neck and Neck Fight, Bhopal Records Highest Voter Turnout in 40 Years