Bhopal: Of the seven parliamentary constituencies of Madhya Pradesh -- Rewa, Satna, Khajuraho, Tikamgarh (SC), Damoh, Hoshangabad and Betul (ST) -- which are going for polls on May 6 in the fifth phase of the seven-phase general elections, May 6, 2019, the BJP is facing a tough fight on three seats from Congress.
The three seats -- Satna, Damoh and Khajuraho -- are traditionally the saffron party’s bastion. In the 2014 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won all seven seats with a huge margin.
Irrespective of local issues, caste, nationalism and the ‘Modi factor’ have overtaken the campaign in these constituencies. The fourth phase, in which six constituencies of the state had gone for polls, was dominated by tribal and Scheduled Caste voters. But, in the fifth phase, it is upper caste voters who dominate these regions, which is why both the parties are leaving no stone unturned to woo them.
Besides, illegal sand mining and dying water bodies are two major issues in three parliamentary constituencies -- Khajuraho, Satna and Hoshangabad.
The politics of these constituencies circle around these two issues, which are missing from the Congress and BJP’s poll campaign. The illegal sand mining lobby is too powerful in the region, and both the parties have shown no courage to take them on.
The impact of illegal mining in the catchment area of Tawa, Narmada and Ken river, the lifeline of Bundelkhand and central Madhya Pradesh, have led to such grave damage in the area that the water table in several districts has dropped by two to five feet in the past six months.
In this BJP bastion, Congress has fielded Rajaram Tripathi, a former MLA against BJP’s three-time sitting MP, Ganesh Singh. Though, the area is dominated by upper caste and OBC (Other Backward Classes) voters, Congress expects brahmin and thakur votes will go in its favour as it has fielded brahmin candidate for the first time. But the BJP is banking on OBCs, SCs and Scheduled Tribe voters and has fielded its sitting MP, Ganesh Singh, who belongs to patel community, an OBC.
Since the past two elections, Singh has been winning the Satna seat with a small margin of around 4,500 and 8,500 votes. He has been facing resentment within the party after the BJP’s central leadership announced his candidature. The constituency has a large number of thakur votes and Congress’ Ajay Singh, former Leader of Opposition in the Assembly and former chief minister Arjun Singh’s son, has a strong hold over thakur votes, and has been extensively campaigning for Congress candidate Tripathi.
Spread over eight Assembly segments in three districts of Chhatarpur, Panna and Katni, the Khajuraho constituency is backward and is reeling under issues like unemployment and water scarcity. Migration for greener pastures is one of the major issues in Chhatarpur and Panna — the districts where illegal sand mining is posing a serious threat to Ken river.
As people yearn for a solution to problems like water, migration, jobs and neglect of tourism, the poll narrative is largely based on BJP’s campaign on ‘rashtravad’ (nationalism) and Congress’s focus on the slogan ‘chowkidar chor hai’ (watchman is a thief). Besides, both the parties are trying hard to woo brahmin voters who are about four lakh in number.
The neglect of tourism in Khajuraho and Panna tiger reserve is also a major issue. All the roads connecting the international tourist destination of Khajuraho with the rest of the country have been in bad shape for the past over 15 years. With poor air and rail connectivity, there has been a continuous decline in footfall of foreign tourists.
The seat, which was dominated by BJP’s Union Minister Uma Bharti, this time is seeing a fight between two fresh faces. The BJP has given a ticket to VD Sharma, while Congress has fielded Kavita Singh.
Tagged as an ‘outsider’, a large number of people in Khajuraho are still not able to identify with Sharma, but he is banking heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘nationalism’ rhetoric. On the contrary, Singh, who belongs to the royal family of Chhatarpur, is being received well in the villages of Bundelkhand. With her head covered, she can be seen touching the feet of the elderly brahmins in a bid to corner their votes.
Sharma is also facing huge resentment by his own party workers ever since his candidature was announced, with some workers even burning his effigy and demanding a ‘local candidate.
Singh’s husband, Vikram Singh Natiraja is an MLA from Rajnagar Assembly of Khajuraho parliamentary seat. Besides, her maternal home is in Gunnoar Assembly seat, which will benefit Congress.
The BJP seems comfortable in Panna, Pawai and Mudwara seats, with its traditional vote bank but the party has been finding it tough to defend its candidate’s ‘outsider’ tag.
A politically significant Lok Sabha seat in MP’s Bundelkhand, the Damoh Lok Sabha constituency has consistently voted for BJP since 1989.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s Prahlad Singh Patel defeated his Congress opponent Choudhary Mahendra Pratap Singh by a margin of 2,13,299 votes.
For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has once again fielded Patel, while the Congress has given a ticket to Pratap Lodhi.
The maximum number of voters in this Lok Sabha seat belong to the SCs, followed by lodhis and kurmis. There is a strong possibility of division of lodhi votes as the Congress and BJP candidates are from the same community.
According to a senior journalist Narendra Dube, Patel spends most of his time in Delhi and his ‘arrogance’ is damaging his image. Besides, he does not share cordial relations with former state finance minister Jayant Malaiya and Gopal Bhargawa, both big leaders of the region. The Leader of the Opposition now, Bhargawa is an MLA from Rehli, one of the Assembly segments of Damoh.
As of now, the poll math seems to be in favour of Congress after it won four out of eight Assembly segments, but the caste equation seems to favour BJP. The party had won three Assembly segments in the elections held in November 2018, while the Patharia seat was won by Bahujan Samaj Party’s Rambai.
Patel does not belong to Damoh, but, his opponent, Lodhi is getting the benefit of being a local. Congress has almost all seats in under its kitty from this Lok Sabha seat. Hence, the contest will be tough between the two parties.