Ratlam-Jhabua bypoll: Congress ends losing streak, Shivraj Chouhan loses face

The Congress ended a 19-month victory drought in Madhya Pradesh by handing the BJP a humiliating defeat on Tuesday to wrest back the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha seat

Chandrakant Naidu November 25, 2015 08:21:45 IST
Ratlam-Jhabua bypoll: Congress ends losing streak, Shivraj Chouhan loses face

Bhopal: The Congress ended a 19-month victory drought in Madhya Pradesh by handing the BJP a humiliating defeat on Tuesday to wrest back the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha seat.

Former Union minister and state Congress chief Kantilal Bhuria, who held the seat in the previous Lok Sabha, defeated Nirmala, daughter of Dileep Singh Bhuria by 88,877 votes. Dileep Singh’s death in June prompted BJP to field Nirmala an MLA from Petlawad where a twin explosion had claimed 80 lives in September.

Counting on the sympathy factor the BJP had turned the Jhabua poll into a battle between Kantilal Bhuria and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The Bihar debacle had added extra interest for BJP in the state where Chouhan was once projected as Narendra Modi’s rival for prime ministerial candidacy. Chouhan staked his prestige in the region addressing over 20 rallies in a fortnight. As in the Bihar elections, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on the issue of reservation seem to appear to have influenced the voters in the predominantly tribal constituency. The by-election to the seat was being seen as crucial for the BJP after its rout in the Bihar Assembly elections.

RatlamJhabua bypoll Congress ends losing streak Shivraj Chouhan loses face

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

The sympathy factor did work in the by-election for Dewas Assembly constituency where Gayatri Raje, the widow of the previous incumbent Tukojirao Puar, defeated the young Congress aspirant Jaiprakash Shastri by over 30,000 votes.

Local observers believe the victory can be attributed to Kantilal Bhuria’s own popularity as much as the disillusionment with the state government.

Though the victory is a shot in the arm from the Congress, it can claim only a fraction of credit for the victory. The party remained fragmented as ever. As PCC chief Bhuria had antagonised quite a few Congress men and he lost connect with the local electorate which otherwise rarely let him down. He has apparently made up with the constituency in the time since he lost.

Between them Dileep Singh and Kantilal, the two Bhurias, have monopolised the region. Dileep had won the polls for the first time on BJP ticket in 2014 by defeating Kantilal by a margin of 1,08,452 votes. He had earlier won from the same seat six times as a Congress leader. Kantilal had earlier won the Lok Sabha polls from the Jhabua seat on four occasions. It remains to be seen if the Ratlam-Jhabua win can revive the Congress’ fortunes in Madhya Pradesh, where it has been out of power since 2003.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was projected as the party’s face in the last Assembly elections, still nurses the grievance of non-cooperation by the other camps. The party rank and file in the state believes he is reluctant to be drawn in the state politics and is content with the Delhi circuit. His other problem is with the feudal protocol that prevented him from campaigning in Dewas. The Congress has to show a greater sense of purpose if it wants to keep the momentum going.

Though the election was fought on development plank the BJP had little to offer by way of explanation for its failure to press for a railway line in the region. The local electorate is unhappy with the shifting of the proposed industrial corridor out of the region. A defeat may afford the chief minister’s rivals within the party to embarrass him. Chouhan, is already isolated in his battle over the multi-crore Vyapam scam.

The two by-elections effectively showed the BJP’s sway over Dewas and Ratlam (city). Barring Ratlam (city), the BJP trailed in all seven segments of the Lok Sabha constituency. The slipping rural vote points to growing disillusionment among the rural voters whom Chouhan had been able to impress so far. The Chouhan government has won the Krishi Karman award for agricultural productivity for three successive years even in the face of adverse weather conditions like excessive or insufficient rains. There were charges of figures being fudged to show high production with farmers from neighbouring states freely unloading their produce in the state markets. Has justice caught up with the Chouhan government?

While rejoicing over the Dewas victory, BJP activists said the Ratlam-Jhabua loss was largely because the Congress traditionally had a strong base there. The BJP had won it because of Dileep Singh’s personal popularity.

"We are determined for the development of Ratlam-Jhabua area and will do everything to fulfil the dreams of the tribal brothers and sisters. We accept the mandate given by the people in Ratlam-Jhabua seat with all humility and honour it," Chouhan said in a tweet.

Of the eight candidates in fray Kantilal got 5,36,743 votes while Nirmala bagged 4,47,911. Janata Dal (U) candidate Vijay Haari polled 21,549 votes. The JD(U) made a surprise entry in the fray in the context of the Bihar elections where it had allied with the Congress. Haari’s tally fell substantially short of the 24,342 votes consigned to NOTA (none of the above) option.

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