Lok Sabha election in Madhya Pradesh: Ahead of Phase 4 voting today, all eyes on Chhindwara, Balaghat and Jabalpur
Three constituencies in Madhya Pradesh are hot seats that will be watched closely as the state votes in Phase 4 of the Lok Sabha election today.
Chhindwara has been a family turf of the Naths for almost four decades.
A sensitive constituency in terms of Naxalism, Balaghat shares a border with Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
Congress’ Vivek Tankha has been active in rural areas right from the beginning.
Although the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency has garnered all the limelight this election in Madhya Pradesh after the BJP fielded Sadhvi Pragya Thakur as its candidate, three other constituencies in the state are hot seats that will be watched closely as the state goes to polls in Phase 4 on Monday. Of six constituencies that will vote on Monday, Chhindwara, Balaghat and Jabalpur will have special focus of the poll pundits for various reasons.
Chhindwara will witness Chief Minister Kamal Nath's son contesting for the seat from where his father was elected nine times.
Balaghat, on the other hand, is a Naxal-affected district of the state, and given the Naxal violence ahead of the elections in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh, this constituency will be on high security alert.
Jabalpur constituency, in the meanwhile, will see a tough contest between state BJP president Rakesh Singh and Congress candidate Vivek Tankha – a known name in the legal fraternity.
The other constituencies of the state voting on 29 April are Sidhi, Shahdol and Mandla.
Chhindwara has gained a unique distinction of being the only constituency in Madhya Pradesh from where both the father and son are contesting.
While Kamal Nath, who is also a nine-time Lok Sabha MP from Chhindwara since 1980 with a break of two years, will be contesting for the first time in the Assembly bypolls on 29 April, his son Nakul Nath is a Congress nominee for the Lok Sabha polls, in place of his father. Both father and son are campaigning together on the development plank.
Nakul Nath, making his debut, has been pitted against BJP’s tribal leader and former MLA Nathan Shah Kavreti. He has been promising to continue the development work started by his father in his constituency.
Chhindwara has been a family turf of the Naths for almost four decades. Kamal Nath got defeated only once – in 1997 by-election against former chief minister and BJP leader Sundar Lal Patwa. Prior to it, in 1996, his wife Alka Nath contested on his behalf and won. After that, there was no looking back for Nath.
After his becoming chief minister, Kamal Nath, needs to qualify as an MLA within six months from the date of becoming chief minister. The Assembly bypoll was necessitated after Congress MLA Deepak Saksena vacated the seat for him. BJP has fielded a young leader of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) Vivek Sahu against him.
As Union minister, Nath had brought development by setting up industries and skill-development centres in Chhindwara district, which is close to Nagpur. However, many locals and the Opposition allege lack of employment opportunity in the constituency.
“Chhindwara model of development is being discussed all over. As former Union minister for commerce and industries, and also surface transport, Kamal Nath did a lot of development for his constituency. And this will go both in his and his son’s favour,” Abhilash Khandekar, political commentator and senior journalist, who has been covering central Indian politics for nearly three decades, told Firstpost.
Tribal district Balaghat is affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). A sensitive constituency in terms of Naxalism, Balaghat shares border with the states of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, where Maoist insurgency is at its peak in districts such as Bastar and Gadchiroli respectively. Though Balaghat hasn’t witnessed Maoist ambush or triggering of blasts in recent times despite increase in movement of the ultra Left cadre in the past one year, it is used more as a safe hideout by Maoists, who after causing disturbances in Bastar and Gadchiroli, move to this district.
With heavy deployment of central paramilitary forces, the security is very tight, especially in two Assembly segments – tribal-dominated Baihar and Lanji, which are dominated by Lodhi community – and this has become a challenging task for the administration to conduct polling peacefully.
With the BJP rejecting the candidature of the sitting MP Bodh Singh Bhagat and giving ticket to former state minster Dhal Singh Bisen, the party is facing rebellion at the local level. Bhagat, who’s popular in the constituency, is now contesting as an independent candidate, enjoying a large support base. He has also invoked the names of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi to garner support in his favour.
Congress has fielded Madhu Bhagat, who like Dhal Singh, Bodh Singh and Madhu, is from the Pawar community. The BSP candidate Kankar Munjare is a veteran leader and enjoys good support among Lodhi community, which is the second largest in the district. Due to the SP-BSP alliance, he will also get the benefit of traditional BSP votes. Four leaders in the fray have made the contest in this copper-rich constituency — with Malajkhand as Asia’s deepest and largest copper mines — not only different from the past but tough as well.
Jabalpur, a British-era town (now city) in the Mahakoshal region of the state, with army cantonment and Ordnance factories, will witness a clash of two heavyweights – three-term BJP MP and state president Rakesh Singh and head of AICC legal cell and former additional Solicitor General, Vivek Tankha.
The contest will be tougher, unlike in 2014 as there’s dissent from within a section of state BJP against Singh and allegations of no major development in the region.
Residents of Jabalpur who had attended Prime Minister Naredra Modi’s public rally said that during his address, the prime minister didn’t name Singh.
“Modiji said when you cast your vote, remember you are voting for me...your vote goes to me. He didn’t name Rakesh Singh anywhere. If Singh loses, it won’t be due to Congress, but due to the BJP itself. Here there’s anger within a section of BJP against Singh,” a Jabalpur-based lawyer told Firstpost.
Also known as the ‘cultural capital (Sanskaardhaani)' of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur — according to the local population — failed to get any major development projects in the last 15 years of Rakesh Singh as MP. Out of four urban Assembly seats, three are with the Congress; similarly, out of four rural Assembly seats in this constituency, three are with the BJP.
Congress’ Vivek Tankha – who was one of the youngest advocate generals of Madhya Pradesh — has been active in rural areas right from the beginning.
“There’s widespread complaint against Rakesh Singh for not doing much for his constituency. Despite being a parliamentarian for three terms and also a state BJP chief, he failed to bring any major project in this region. Congress is likely to gain from its victory in the Assembly election,” added Khandekar, the author of Shivraj Singh and Rise of Madhya Pradesh.
Importance of Sidhi
This election will also provide an opportunity to Congress candidate Ajay Singh, also known as ‘Rahul Bhaiyya’, from Sidhi constituency to revive his fortune. The stakes are high for this former Leader of Opposition in Madhya Pradesh Assembly, who’s the son of stalwart Congress leader and former chief minister and Union HRD minister Arjun Singh. He lost Lok Sabha polls in 2014 from Satna and Assembly election in 2018 from his home turf Churhat. It’s going to be a make-or-break election from Singh this time as he has been fielded against the BJP’s sitting MP Riti Pathak.
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