Jagdish Malviya, a middle-aged shopkeeper in this village of less than 2,000 people, put up a spirited defence of the Congress while engaging in a battle of wits with youngsters who plonked themselves on raised platforms in front of his small shop.
Sandeep Patel, in his mid-twenties, asked for a quick show of hands to settle the argument. Except Jagdish, they all raised their hands in support of the BJP. They rubbed it in by pointing to BJP flags on Jagdish’s house and said that he is a minority even in his own residence.
A little over hundred metres away, former Union minister Arun Yadav, who was the subject of the discussion between Jagdish and others, is engaged in an even tougher battle. Yadav is taking on Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is so confident of victory that he has announced that he won’t return to the constituency to campaign after filing his nomination.
Yadav was the Pradesh Congress Committee chief till April, when the party replaced him with Kamal Nath. Making his displeasure clear, Yadav had announced that he won’t contest either the Assembly or Lok Sabha elections. But party chief Rahul Gandhi convinced him to change his mind and asked him to take on Chouhan in the hope that a formidable opponent, also an OBC, will peg the CM back in his constituency.
Chouhan made Yadav’s job further difficult by comparing his much-younger rival with a sacrificial lamb. “They first removed him as PCC chief and forced him to contest to make him a martyr,” he said while “expressing sympathy” with the Congress leader who represented Khandwa in Lok Sabha.
“I am not contesting reluctantly,” said the son of former deputy CM Subhash Yadav, adding that “people are in a mood for change”. Yadav is from another part of the state and said the BJP is ridiculing him as an outsider because they have nothing else against him. Yadav has promised farmers that a Congress government will waive loans up to Rs 2 lakh and halve their electricity bills.
Addressing small gatherings, Yadav has accused the CM of corruption, of ruining the Narmada by allowing rampant illegal sand mining and “giving this part of the state on contract”. When asked about the CM’s confidence, Yadav said Chouhan has engaged his entire family in the campaign and calls people to the CM House in Bhopal even though he may not visit the constituency himself.
“He was a minister in Manmohan Singh government and as PCC chief was instrumental in creating an atmosphere of anger against the CM,” former Budhni MLA Rajkumar Patel told a small crowd while introducing Yadav on his first visit to this village. “Did the CM ever come to this village after winning? He will,” Patel said, pointing to Yadav.
Chouhan had won the last election by a margin of more than 84,000 votes. He won the seat for the first time in 1990 before being asked to contest the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat, of which Budhni is a segment. He kept winning the parliamentary seat till he was made the CM and won Budhni again in a bypoll in 2006. His margin got bigger in the two successive elections.
“Even a councillor does not want to be away from his seat during election. Look at the CM, he has left it to workers. We don’t even know where Yadav resides,” said senior BJP functionary Mahesh Khandelwal at the party’s Nasrullaganj office. “There is no leader bigger than Chouhan in MP so he has decided not to come here.”
Besides local leaders, the CM’s campaign is managed by his wife Sadhna Singh and son Kartikeya who operate in different areas.
Sitaram Nath, a 60-year-old from another village nearby, credits the CM for turning the area “into Kashmir”, a reference to the dams and irrigation facility. Villagers attribute every scheme, central or state, to the CM.
A couple of videos that recently did the rounds showed a group of locals confronting Chouhan’s wife and son and questioning the lack of basic amenities in their area. BJP leader Veerendra Agrawal blamed the videos on Congress supporters, who he said conspired to show the CM and his family members in bad light.