Over a year after winning 27 out of 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is on edge ahead of the upcoming bypoll in Ratlam (ST) constituency. The Congress is giving this election its best shot, buoyed as it is by the result of the Bihar elections.
The bypoll follows the death of MP Dilip Singh Bhuria, and the BJP has fielded his daughter Nirmala Bhuria, MLA from Petlawad, while the Congress has renominated former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria.
Of the two Lok Sabha and five assembly seats heading for bypolls on November 21 — a sixth assembly bypoll has been postponed — Ratlam has the makings of being the most keenly contested, with both sides giving it everything they have. Even before the schedule was announced, rumours circulated that Kantilal Bhuria was set to switch his loyalties, and he had a tough time scotching these. Congress leaders believe the BJP was behind the rumours, which they read as a sign of nervousness.
Though he lost in 2014 by more than one lakh votes in a constituency of nearly 11 lakh voters, Kantilal Bhuria has a large following among tribals here. The BJP won the tribal-dominated seat for the first time in May 2014. Dilip Bhuria had won it for the Congress five times before joining the BJP in late 1990s.
Anticipating a much tougher challenge this time, the BJP has virtually staked Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s popularity in this constituency spread over Jhabua, Alirajpur and Ratlam districts. When campaigning ends on November 19, Chouhan will have addressed more than two dozen rallies. Add to this his frequent visits there since Dilip Bhuria’s death on June 24.
When Chouhan visited Petlawad on September 13, the day after an explosion in a shop claimed scores of lives, locals raised slogans against him, possibly the first time he has had to face anything like this. He sat on the ground near the explosion site, spoke comfortingly to the crowd and doled out several promises. By the time he rose, the crowd was raising slogans in his praise.
Chouhan visited the homes of many victims and asked the bureaucracy to speed up pending road and water projects. Before the election schedule was announced, the administration had already rushed through some of those projects. So seriously is Chouhan taking the election, in fact, that he chose to campaign in Ratlam rather than travel to Chitrakoot on November 14 to welcome party president Amit Shah.
Congress leaders too visited the homes of explosion. The party has made it clear how much Ratlam means to it, with party leader Sachin Pilot saying in Indore Monday, “I am confident that its result will have an impact on the country’s changing political scenario.” He was on his way to Ratlam. “The results of Delhi and Bihar are before us. It reflects that the Narendra Modi government has lost people’s faith,” he said. He brought up the Vyapam scam and said, “The people have a chance to express their voice against corruption in the bypoll.”
The Congress has got Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia besides other state leaders to campaign for it. It has been taking up issues ranging from the remarks by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on the reservation issue to the land bill to the present agrarian crisis in the state.