Jhabua: The Assembly bypolls in Jhabua has become a centre of attraction these days in Madhya Pradesh, with the ruling Congress viewing the seat as hope of stability. On the other hand, for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been winning the seat since last two terms, it has become a matter of pride.
Congress is leaving no stone unturned to get closer to the majority to run the government smoothly. Since a fortnight, the entire cabinet of the Congress government has been camping in Jhabua and visiting people door to door seeking votes for five time MP and former Union Minister Kantilal Bhuria. CM Kamal Nath, too, has visited the region to hold road shows.
Not only that, Congress is also resorting to emotional appeals to win the election. Addressing a rally, on October 16, former CM and Upper House member Digvijay Singh appealed by saying, “Kantilal is one of the tallest leader of tribals in the region and this is his last election. So, don’t make him lose and give him a winning farewell.” He also announced his own retirement from elections in the same rally, but, said that he will continue to work for the party.
On the other hand, BJP has sent dozens of star campaigners including Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargava to woo the voters, but, former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been singly running BJP’s campaign effectively. He has been seeking votes for 35-year-old Bhanu Bhuria.
Jhabua Assembly seat is reserved for Scheduled Tribes as the district is dominated by Bhil tribe. The polling is on October 21 and results will be announced on October 24 along with Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly election results.
Jhabua had been Congress’s stronghold earlier, but, BJP has been winning the seat since last two elections – 2013 and 2018. In both elections, there was infighting between Congress leaders leading to their candidates’ defeat. However, the scenario is different this time. Unhappy with the party’s decision, a BJP leader, Kalyan Singh Damor is in the poll fray, who may dent the right-wing party’s vote bank.
Also read: MP Bypolls: Why Is Jhabua Crucial for Congress?
In the 230 seats Assembly, the ruling party has 114 MLAs, two short from majority. With a support of four independent, two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and one Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA, Kamal Nath is heading the government in Madhya Pradesh. Meanwhile, the BJP has slipped to 108 seats, as GS Damor resigned after winning the parliamentary election from Ratlam.
The Assembly has 2.78 lakh voters divided into 356 polling booths. Use of liquor and cash to woo indigenous voters during the election, specially in tribal-dominated seats is a well known fact. Keeping this in mind, the Election Commission has been maintaining a strict vigil.
Jhabua district lies in the western part of Madhya Pradesh. The district shares borders with Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is one of the most backward districts of the state, where people have been struggling to get even basic facilities. Migration, development and malnutrition are rampant in the region.
Despite BJP’s attempts to turn the focus of elections to religion and nationalism, farm loan waiver has taken centre stage in this bypoll.
The Congress has been claiming that loans of 21 lakh farmers have been waived, but, the BJP has been denying it. First, during the parliamentary elections and now in bypoll campaigns. In all the rallies, the saffron party leaders have been terming Congress’s claims as fake.
On October 17, State Agriculture Minister Sachin Yadav tweeted and claimed to have waived farm loans of BJP candidate Bhanu Bhuria’s parents, which was up to 1 lakh each with official documents.
Brushing aside his claim, Bhanu Bhuria denied any such loan on his parents’ name. “Congress’s claim of waiving farm loan of my parents is nothing but hollow. They have never had any such loan, ” Bhanu said, adding that the government made the same false claim about former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s family.
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Prior to this, BJP had tried to turn the focus into an issue between India-Pakistan. Veteran BJP leader and leader of Opposition, Gopal Bhargav had termed Congress candidate as Pakistani and BJP’s as Indian during his rally. “It is an election between Pakistani Kantilal Bhuria against Indian Bhanu Bhuria. Now you have to chose,” he had said. Later, the EC had served him a notice after Congress lodged a complaint and sought ban on his rallies.
However, Gopal Bhargav continued to issue such statements. In the next rally, he claimed that if BJP wins this seat, Shivraj Singh Chouhan will be the Chief Minister again. The following day, he turned against his own statement. Talking to media persons at Indore, he said, “It was nothing but a political statement.”
BJP has always experimented on this seat. The saffron party has denied a ticket to sitting MLA Shantilal Bilwal, and opted a young leader, Bhanu Bhuria, who is the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha’s (BJYM’s) district president.
Bhuria is the son of former Congress leader, Balu Bhuria, who deserted the grand old party to join BJP. It is believed that Bhanu is close to Ratlam MP, GS Damor, who had defeated Congress veteran Kantilal Bhuria in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and his son Vikrant Bhuria in Assembly elections.
On the other hand, Kantilal Bhuria is a five time MP and former Union Minister of Tribal Affairs during UPA-2. Since he represented the parliamentary constituency five times, their is a huge anti-incumbency against him. Residents claim that they have given him enough chances to develop the area, but the veteran Congress leader failed to do anything. As a political newbie, Bhanu has nothing to lose, but, Kantilal’s political career is at stake in this election.
Political commentators believe that Kantilal Bhuria has an advantage against first-timer Bhanu, who has a strong presence in Ranapur block. Bhanu has been a Janpad Panchayat member in Ranapur in the past. Being the BJYM district head, he also enjoys sizeable support among the youth.
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The rebel BJP MLA Kalyan Singh Damor is a senior leader, who has held major posts in the party. There were several supporters within BJP who believed him to be the perfect candidate, but, after denial, he filed nomination as an independent candidate. He may dent BJP’s permanent vote bank.