After a fierce battle between the ruling BJP and the Congress in the form of words, public rallies, roadshows and attacks and counter-attacks, the last leg of campaigning for Kolaras and Mungaoli bye-polls in Madhya Pradesh came to an end on Thursday.
Now it will be door-to-door campaigning only. The election is on 24 February and results will be announced on 28 February.
Right from the morning, heavyweights from both the camps tried their best to woo voters in their favour. While for the BJP, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his battery of ministers addressed a public rally in Kolaras, for Congress senior leaders like Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kantilal Bhuria, Ajay Singh ‘Rahul’, Arun Yadav among others made a strong pitch in favour of the grand old party of India.
These two assembly seats—Kolaras and Mungaoli under Guna Lok Sabha constituency—got vacated after the deaths of Ram Singh Yadav and Mahendra Singh Kalukheda of the Congress.
The BJP strategically fielded Yashodhara Raje Scindia, a senior minister in Chouhan’s cabinet to steer the party campaign against her nephew Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of Congress stalwart leader late Madhavrao Scindia, who’s spearheading Congress campaign in this bypolls.
Major challenge for Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Kolaras and Mungaloi bypolls have posed a major challenge for the chief minister. Farmer distress might prove to be a major deterrent for the BJP government. The much-hyped ‘Bhavantar Yojna’—the government scheme meant to compensate farmers—has failed to cut ice among farmers.
"It’s a gimmick. What we are offered under Bhavantar Yojna is less than the actual minimum support price. Even after the farmer agitation in Mandsaur and elsewhere, we’re yet to get the right price. Farmers have to wait at mandis with tractor-load of produce for days to sell it off. There’s a lot of frustration among farmers. The supply of electricity is also irregular making situations worse," said Bhupesh Singh, a Kolaras-based farmer.
BJP’s electoral plank of 2003—Bijli, Sadak, Paani (Electricity, Road, Water)—that ensured complete routing of Congress party from the state, has failed to impress voters too.
After taking over as chief minister in November 2005, Chouhan ensured efficient infrastructure. The highways and roads, including rural roads; got a makeover. However, in the last few years, the conditions have deteriorated. A journey by road from state capital Bhopal to Guna that took four-and-half hours in 2010, now takes more than six hours due to the bad condition of roads.
There is a palpable tension among the ruling BJP. As a result, Chouhan made campaign trips every alternate day, while the entire BJP organisational apparatus has hit battleground Kolaras and Mungaoli.
"BJP has done a lot for the state, but at present, there’s a lot of dissent among farmers. There is a disconnect between the top leadership and the masses. The space has been taken over by bureaucracy and they have failed to deliver many of the promises made by the chief minister. The ground-level workers in BJP are equally annoyed and maintaining a distance. Arrogance has seeped into the system which is unfortunate. This will adversely impact the bypolls," a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary from Madhya Pradesh told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.
Hope for Congress
After consistent electoral rout since 2003, Congress won two bypolls in 2017—Ater and Chitrakoot Assembly seats—and now it’s bubbling with confidence. The leaders have been found to be highly vocal at public gatherings.
All the top Congress leaders from Madhya Pradesh have joined hands displaying solidarity in public engaged themselves in an aggressive campaigning. The party’s performance in Gujarat and its recent victory in Rajasthan bypolls have acted as a booster to its confidence.
“Congress will sweep the election with a thumping majority in these two by-poll seats. People have got frustrated with the Shivraj Singh government. Farmers are equally angry as they have been neglected,” Congress general secretary and Madhya Pradesh in-charge, Dipak Babaria told Firstpost.
Both the bypolls have become a prestige issue for Guna Lok Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia as Kolaras and Mungaoli Assembly seats are in his constituency. His presence was actively felt on the ground as he could be seen shuttling between Mungaoli and Kolaras holding series of roadshows and public rallies, besides other Congress heavyweights.
Like Babaria, Scindia too is confident of Congress’ victory this time. And he has reasons to believe so.
"In the last 14 years, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government hasn’t undertaken a single development activity in Kolaras and Mungaoli. Roads, electricity, infrastructure, school education and health are in poor state. The chief minister made tall promises to farmers, but nothing materialised on the ground," Scindia said during his roadshow.
Comment that gave advantage to the Congress
Moreover, a controversial comment by the Yashodhara Raje Scindia has proved damaging for the BJP, but a blessing in disguise for the Congress.
While seeking votes in Kolaras in Shivpuri district by invoking the legacy of her mother late Rajmata Vijayraje Scindia -- a formidable BJP doyen, Yashodhara Raje Scindia on 18 February remarked, “Chulhe ki yojna kyun nahi aayi aapke paas? Yeh Kamal (lotus) ki yojna hai. Aap Panje ko vote doge, aapke paas aayegi nahi. Aap Kamal ko doge, aapke paas aayegi. Seedhi baat (Why didn’t the LPG connection scheme come to you? Because it’s a BJP scheme. If you vote for Panjaa (Congress symbol Palm), you won’t get the benefit. Straight and simple).”
Under prime minister’s Ujjwala Yojna, the Central government aims to replace unclean cooking fuels with LPG connections for the Below Poverty Line (BPL) across the country.
While this controversial statement went viral on social media, it gave a handle to Congress party. The leaders registered a complaint with the Election Commission and aggressively took it up with the voters on the ground, trying to convince them of ‘BJP’s vindictive attitude’ towards poor.
Ahead of Madhya Pradesh Assembly election by this yearend, Kolaras and Mungaoli bypolls would prove to be a litmus test both for the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress. Chouhan has to prove his mettle as chief minister. Wait till 28 February.
Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 21:59 PM