Ratlam bypoll: Prestige at stake for both BJP, Congress after twin explosions in Petlawad

Bhopal: Coming close on the heels of Bihar Assembly poll debacle for the BJP, the by-election for Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh has aroused the nation’s curiosity on two counts. First, the Grand Alliance partners of Bihar, the JD(U) and the Congress, have squared up against each other in less than a fortnight. Second, the ruling BJP in the state has entered the fray with some trepidation due to public ire over the twin explosions in Petlawad which led to 80 deaths. Petlawad has remained on the boil for quite some time. The local electorate is agitated over the government’s inept handling of the crisis.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The state government has faced charges of protecting Rajendra Kasawa, the main suspect in the blast, who had illegally stored detonators and gelatine stick in his shop. Kasawa has been missing since the blast. He has been shown in the media as an active member of the RSS and a key financer of the BJP. While the police are still looking for Kasawa his family insists he has perished in the blast. His family has been detained and is to be subject to lie detector test.

The Bihar shadow can’t be wished away particularly with the JD(U), which otherwise has no significant presence in the state, seeking to hot up the scene. Party president Sharad Yadav campaigned for alliance candidate Vijay Haari for two days in the tribal constituency. Though the main contest is between the BJP and the Congress in Ratlam, the JD(U), buoyed by the success of the grand alliance in Bihar, tried to put up a similar front by roping in the CPI, the CPM, the Gondwana Gantantra Party and the Bahujan Sangarsh Dal in the state to provide an alternative. The speculation is over how much the Congress is affected by the new combine. Local observers feel the combine could marginally eat into the BJP vote too.

Nearly 60 percent polling — a drop of about four percent from the 2014 general elections — was reported from the Ratlam-Jhabua constituency reserved for Tribal candidates. Dewas assembly seat saw 62 percent polling, down six percent from 2013 assembly elections. The death of BJP leader and Jhabhua MP Dilip Singh Bhuria necessitated the by-election.

Kantilal Bhuria, the former Union minister and state Congress president, who has lost only one election in three decades, is facing stiff resistance from Nirmala Bhuria, daughter of Dilip Singh. Bhuria lost to Dilip Singh, a former Congressman who had switched over to BJP during the ‘Modi wave’ in 2014. As a Congress candidate Dilip Singh won the Lok Sabha polls from the Jhabua constituency five times from 1980 to 1996. A fragmented Congress has had a poor record in the state election over the past few years while Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has emerged as a rallying point for the BJP.

The Congress has put up a united face with all senior leaders, including general secretary Digvijaya Singh, former Union Minister Kamal Nath and party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia and state unit chief Arun Yadav campaigning vigorously. The Congress, which has been winning the polls from the seat since 1951, except in 1971, 1977 and 2014, hopes for a fair chance this time around and expects Kantilal Bhuria to wrest the seat from BJP.

Chouhan also has had to keep stressing on continued reservations for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Tribes after the Bihar fiasco as the Congress kept reminding the voters about RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks. The failure of crops and discrimination in the disbursement of compensation has also become an issue. “As long as Narendra Modi is prime minister and I am chief minister, no one (‘koi mai ka laal’) can end reservation,” Chouhan kept repeating at different venues. The chief minister and his colleagues have also been banking on the development plank. “In the by-polls, people normally vote on local issues and we are hopeful that Congress will get good results,” says Digvijaya Singh.

Updated Date: Nov 22, 2015 10:14 AM

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