Upcoming byelections to Kolaras and Mungaoli in Madhya Pradesh are crucial in many ways, including their projection as a battle between Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his challenger Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose Guna Lok Sabha constituency include both these assembly segments.
Kolaras in Shivpuri and Mungaoli in Ashoknagar go to polls on February 24, following the death of the sitting Congress MLAs. The outcome could decide whether the Congress chooses to project Scindia as CM candidate or goes by the tradition of naming none.
Scindia has often stressed the need to project a face — while underscoring that he is not batting for himself. Congress in-charge of MP Deepak Babaria, however, has discounted the possibility of any such projection before the assembly elections due later this year.
Chouhan, who has completed 12 years in office, and his ministers have campaigned extensively in these two constituencies. So has Scindia, who at one point reportedly said he is single-handedly taking on the entire government machinery. Guna, represented by Scindia since 2002, was one of the only two seats in MP won by the Congress in 2014.
State minister Yashodhara Raje Scindia, an aunt of Jyotiraditya who represents Shivpuri constituency in the assembly, had initially kept away from Kolaras but plunged into the campaign when BJP candidate Devendra Jain filed his nomination, choosing to ride pillion on a two-wheeler.
Yashodhara is seeking votes in the name of her mother, BJP’s Rajmata Vijayaraje, grandmother of Jyotiraditya Scindia. While the Scindias have campaigned in one another’s constituency in the past, they generally choose not to take names of family members.
In a bypoll early last year in Ater, the chief minister had attacked the Scindia family for not standing with Rani Laxmibai and choosing to align with the British during the 1857 conflict. He wanted to target Jyotiraditya but reportedly ended up hurting Yashodhara. This time, Chouhan has been careful to attack Jyotiraditya’s record as commerce minister in the UPA government but not the family.
“Your vote will get you two MLAs, the candidate and me,” Yashodhara tells voters in Kolaras. The chief minister uses the same line when he campaigns in Mungaoli. Scindia’s followers, for their part, use the slogan “Ab ki baar Scindia sarkar”.
In the high-pitched battle, the actual candidates have been getting fewer mentions in speeches by leaders.
Former minister Mahendra Singh Kalukheda’s death necessitated the bypoll in Mungaoli. where Baisahab of BJP is taking on Brajendra Singh of the Congress. All 264 booths in the constituency of 1.91 lakh voters are rural. The BJP has promised to make Mungaoli a Smart City.
In Kolaras, a constituency of 2.44 lakh, the BJP’s Devendra Jain is pitted against Mahendra Singh of the Congress. Only 29 out of 311 polling stations in Kolaras are urban.
BJP Rajya Sabha member Prabhat Jha claims the Congress will lose both seats. Calling Jyotiraditya feudal, he claims the Congress leader never goes to the CM with demands and expects the latter to come to him. In addition to the image of Chouhan, he says, pro-poor schemes such as the Rs 1,000 per month being given to members of Saharia tribe whose children usually suffer from malnutrition will see the BJP through. He alleges Congress leaders such as Kamal Nath, Arun Yadav and Ajay Singh have found no place in campaign material.
Congress spokesman Pankaj Chaturvedi says the party will retain both seats. “Why is Yashodhara Scindia not campaigning in Mungaoli,” he asks, alleging BJP leaders are not keen to call one another for campaign.