The upcoming bye-election for the Jhabua Assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh has posed a tough challenge for the Congress government in the state as the party wants to regain its hold in the tribal district which used to be a Congress bastion till it went to the BJP for the first time in 2014.
Scheduled to be held on 21 October, the bye-election to Jabhua (reserved under Scheduled Tribe category) has been necessitated by the resignation of MLA Guman Singh Damor from the BJP after he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Ratlam-Jhabua parliamentary seat.
The bye-election result will decide the fortune of Congress’ tribal leader from Madhya Pradesh and a five-time MP Kantilal Bhuria, who was also a Union minister during the UPA government.
It’s a make-or-break situation for both Kantilal as well as his party. Especially because a bye-election often goes in favour of the ruling party in the state and there can’t be a better opportunity for the Congress, which is the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh at present, to add to its tally.
In the 231-member Assembly (one member is nominated), the Congress has 114 MLAs and the BJP has 108 MLAs. If Congress wins Jhabua, its tally will go up to 115 and simultaneously secure Kantilal Bhuria family’s fortune, which apparently has hit a low at present after losing two consecutive elections — the 2018 Assembly election and the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Why winning is important for Kantilal Bhuria?
Kantilal, who’s considered a strong tribal leader in Madhya Pradesh lost the Ratlam-Jhabua parliamentary seat to Damor in the recently-concluded 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Known earlier as just Jhabua, the reserved parliamentary constituency was renamed as Ratlam-Jhabua in 2008, with eight Assembly segments.
It was a Congress stronghold from 1957, except in 2014 when Dileep Singh Bhuria won the seat for the first time for the BJP. Dilip was a Congress MP from 1980 to 1986, but later switched over to the BJP. After his death in June 2015, Congress won the seat back in a bye-election and Kantilal again became the MP.
However, the defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election was a huge setback for the veteran Congress leader. More so because, earlier, Kantilal had failed to secure a win for his son Vikrant Bhuria, a debutant politician and doctor by profession, who was fielded as Congress candidate in the 2018 Assembly election from the Jhabua Assembly seat. Kantilal wanted his son Vikrant to carry forward his legacy as a tribal leader.
Both these defeats reflect the Kantilal’s inability to feel the pulse of the voters, who had been loyal to him in the past. The grassroots connectivity that Kantilal enjoyed seems to have declined.
Known for his proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, which ensured a ticket for him in the bye-election, Kantilal has been facing resistance from a section of leaders within the party which didn’t want his nomination due to his defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Javier Medha, an ex-Congress MLA, who declined BJP’s offer to be a candidate and had contested as an independent candidate in the 2018 Assembly election, has been posing a challenge to Kantilal. It’s said that the Katnilal Bhuria camp was instrumental in Medha’s defeat in the 2013 Assembly bye-election.
If Bhuria has to win, he ought to placate Medha, a Scindia loyalist, and other disgruntled local leaders.
Amid a power-tussle between Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath and Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kantilal also harbours the ambition of becoming the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, if the party high command wants a tribal face as a chief minister in future.
“Kantilal is a strong leader and a prominent tribal face of Congress in the state. He has held almost all important positions within the party and is the apt candidate for the post of chief minister if the Congress wants a tribal chief minister in Madhya Pradesh,” a Congress worker belonging to the Kantilal Bhuria camp told Firstpost.
This is an important factor that could influence Kantilal's performance in the bye-election.
Role of Kamal Nath
Nath will also play a crucial role in this bye-election to ensure Kantilal’s victory. According to sources, if Congress wins this seat, the chief minister will go for an expansion of the state cabinet.
“If Kantilal wins, he’s expected to be a part of the cabinet, with an important portfolio. The process has already begun as top leaders are working on what portfolio should be given to Kantilal,” a Pradesh Congress Committee source said.
Meanwhile, Nath along with five ministers from his cabinet and seven MLAs conducted an 18-kilometre-long roadshow and addressed a public rally in Jhabua in favour of Kantilal on 9 October, the next day of the Dussehra festival.
The Congress leadership has asked senior ministers and leaders in the state to campaign in Jhabua as well.
Challenge for BJP
The challenge for the BJP is to retain the Jhabua seat as the Congress, led by Nath, is on an all-out war to win back this seat. The BJP has fielded a comparatively younger 36-year-old Bhanu Bhuria, district president of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and a non-controversial candidate. Former chief ministr of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the star campaigner for the BJP and will hold a couple of rallies.
The result of the Jhabua bye-election will be announced on 24 October.
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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2019 20:50:10 IST