Madhya Pradesh votes for the first time in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as Jabalpur, Chhindwara go to the polls

The fourth phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, to be held on Monday, April 29, is the first time the people of Madhya Pradesh will go to the polls to vote for their members of Parliament. Six constituencies in the state are going to the polls on April 29: Balaghat, Chhindwara, Jabalpur, Mandla, Shahdol, and Sidhi. In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 27 of 29 parliamentary constituencies in the state, and secured the majority in the Lok Sabha as well. In 2009, and in 2004, even when the BJP failed to secure a majority in the lower house, the party still won the majority of constituencies in the seat. In 2009, the BJP won 16 constituencies, with one going to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and 12 going to the Congress. In 2004, despite the reversal of its fortunes, and the failure of its major India Shining campaign, the BJP still managed to win 25 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh
However, the BJP’s fortunes seemed to have dimmed in Madhya Pradesh since late 2018, with the Congress winning the most seats–114–in the assembly elections, and forming the government, with Kamal Nath being appointed to the chief minister post. The BJP won 109 seats in the state election. In 2014, as The New Indian Express noted, the BJP handily won five of the six Lok Sabha constituencies going to the polls on Monday, but five years later, and just a few months after the state election, “the tables have turned,” it said.
The New Indian Express highlighted that, before the previous Lok Sabha elections, voters in the six constituencies had broadcast their preferences in the 2013 state elections in Madhya Pradesh, with the BJP securing 28 of 47 assembly seats, and the Congress winning 18. However, this time around, the trend seems to have reversed. Per The New Indian Express, in the 2018 assembly elections, the Congress won five of eight seats in Balaghat,  won all seven seats in Chhindwara, Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s constituency, and secured six of eight seats in Mandla. The BJP and Congress each won four seats in  Shahdol and Jabalpur, with Sidhi being the only constituency where the BJP defeated the Congress, The New Indian Express noted.
Following the 2018 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and other states, including Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, IndiaSpend had noted that farm distress seemed to have played a major role in the BJP’s decline, noting that in 2016, as many as 1,321 farmers in Madhya Pradesh killed themselves, the highest since 2013, according to government data. Moreover, the BJP recorded its worst ever performance in assembly seats reserved for Scheduled Castes or Schedule Tribes: it lose 25 of 82 of reserved seats, IndiaSpend noted, highlighting that in Madhya Pradesh, tribals comprise 21% of the total population, and people from Scheduled Castes account for 16%.
A survey conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in October to December 2018 found that for 62% of voters in Madhya Pradesh, employment was a key issue in the Lok Sabha elections, with voters prioritising it over agricultural issues, corruption, and terrorism, the Times of India reported. The survey also found that for nearly 40% of voters, the second priority was “remunerative prices for farm produce,” while nearly 33% of voters ranked their third concern as improved healthcare through more hospitals and primary health centres, the Times of India said.
In March, The Hindu noted that with the BJP’s “Hindutva edge blunted, the Congress hopes to focus the campaign on economic and livelihood issues” in Madhya Pradesh, highlighting the “massive crash” in agricultural commodity prices in the last five years, especially those of chickpeas, black gram, and soya beans, which has prompted anger among farmers.
Here are the constituencies going to the polls on Monday, April 29:
Per FirstPost, Balaghat, which is in southern Madhya Pradesh, at least one-fourth of Balaghat’s population comprises members of Scheduled Tribes, according to data from 2011. Balaghat is also largely rural, with only 15% of its population residing in urban areas, FirstPost said.
FirstPost noted that the BJP has consistently won the Balaghat Lok Sabha seat since 1998, when Gauri Shankar Bisen won; he won again in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections as well. In 2009, KD Deshmukh of the BJP won the seat, and in 2014, Bodh Singh Bhagat secured the seat for the BJP. However, Bodh Singh Bhagat was removed from the BJP over accusations of anti-party activities, per Times Now, and is now contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate. Times Now reported that he “was expecting the party to rename him as the candidate for the 2019 elections but was instead asked to extend his support to the official candidate.” Dhal Singh Bhisen is running from the BJP, against Parawada MLA Madhu Bhagat, from the Congress. Kishore Samrite, formerly of the Samajwadi Party, is also an independent candidate, making this a four-way race.
Per Times Now, Balaghat primarily depends on manganese production to fuel its economy, and contributes around 80% of the country’s manganese. It also has other minerals, such as bauxite and copper.
Although Chhindwara has not been reserved for candidates from Scheduled Tribes in the past six decades, there is a significant presence of tribal people in the constituency, with nearly 30% of its population comprising members of Scheduled Tribes. Although the constituency is generally rural, “it has nevertheless reaped benefitsof better infrastructure, which is often dubbed ‘Chhindwara Model’ of development,” FirstPost stated.
This is a key constituency in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with the Congress having fielded Nakul Nath, the son of Kamal Nath, as its candidate here. Nakul is one of the wealthiest candidates in this election, with assets worth more than Rs. 600 crores, per the Times of India. His campaign platform has emphasised unemployment, and he told the PTI, “My aim is to bring industries so youth and talented manpower does not leave the region. I want that the people of the area get jobs here itself,” later adding, “…my priorities for you are new investment, education, jobs, health for the old and irrigation facilities for the farmers”. He has also spoken of reopening coal mines and establishing a university, per the Hindustan Times.
Nathan Shah Kavreti of the BJP, a tribal leader and former MLA, is running against Nakul, and has alleged that Kamal Nath “has been winning the seats because of money power and by misleading the public with false assurances in the name of his closeness to the Gandhi family,” the Hindustan Times reported. “The father and son’s defeat is certain this time,” he told the Hindustan Times, which noted that the Congress won all seven assembly seats in 2018, including the three reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates.
Notably, ThePrint reported on MP Vishwakarma of the Rashtriya Aamjan Party (RAP), who is a candidate in Chhindwara’s Lok Sabha race, as well as the assembly bypoll, and is aiming “to defeat both Kamal Nath & his son on the same day”. His key electoral plank is to work to reopen Chhindwara’s coal mines, and redistribute money to those who were swindled in a 2010 chit fund scam, ThePrint said.
The BJP has won the Jabalpur Lok Sabha constituency since 1996, per FirstPost. Rakesh Singh has been the MP since 2004. Jabalpur is “knowing for hosting a military cantonment and being one of the first urban areas in India,” FirstPost noted, saying that per 2011 data, 60% of the constituency’s population resides in urban areas. The constituency encompasses the entire Jabalpur district, and also has a significant number of people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as well as Muslims, FirstPost said. The BJP has once again fielded Singh, who is running against Vivek Krishna Tankha of the Congress. In 2014, Singh defeated Tankha by more than two lakh votes, per The Hindu.
The Hindu opined that the Jabalpur constituency’s importance could be assessed “simply counting the number of public rallies addressed by the star campaigners of the BJP and the Congress,” noting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to speak there on Friday, April 26, and that Congress president Rahul Gandhi spoke at a meeting previously. The Congress “buoyed by its recent Assembly election victory,” is aiming to retake Jabalpur, per The Hindu. Jyotiraditya Scindia and Chief Minister Kamal Nath also spoke there during the campaign.
In his speech, Gandhi concentrated on the Rafale deal, and argued that it had taken jobs from public sector concerns manufacturing defence products, The Hindu reported, noting that issue resonates because, according to Congress leaders, jobs at Jabalpur’s ordnance plant have declined over the years.
The Hindu noted that Jabalpur, the capital of the Mahakaushal region, was once a BJP bastion, but voted in a Congress MLA in the recent state elections, adding that was anti-incumbency against the previous BJP government and its MLA. Congress pledges like loan waivers for farmers and cutting the cost of electricity were appealing, The Hindu stated, adding, “Just as the promise of cheaper electricity resonated with urban voters, the prospect of debt relief helped win the votes in the rural areas.” It noted the current trend of anti-incumbency, similar to what was seen in the assembly elections.
The Economic Times noted that the race in Jabalpur is, on the ground a race of Modi against “an informal Mahagathbandhan“. Tankha’s candidacy being backed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the Samanya Picchda Evam Alpsankhyak Samaj (SAPAKS), “an anti-reservation front that had played the disruptor with protests against Modi government’s amendment to the SC/ST Act,” the Economic Times reported.
Singh has played the BJP’s “trump card,” i.e. Modi, and recalled his targeting of terrorists while speaking to ET, saying, “I hope people vote for development because then, it would be a vote in BJP’s favour”. Per Singh, Tankha, who was previously MP, did not do anything. “Whatever you see today is because of the BJP. Otherwise, Jabalpur was just a very big village.” Meanwhile, Tankha asked where there was development, telling ET, “For every problem a person has taken to Rakesh Singh, he has told them, ‘Ye mera vishay nahi hai’ (This is not my subject). So I have unveiled a document that says, ‘Yeh mera vishay hai.’ Now I am a people’s candidate. Everybody wants me.” Writing for Newsd, Shams Ur Rehman Alavi noted that the lack of development was a major issue in Jabalpur, and that Tankha’s campaign was concentrating “on the failure of elected representatives on this account.” He acknowledged the anti-incumbent sentiment, but stressed that BJP remains strong in Jabalpur, saying that it would be difficult for Congress to wrest the constituency from the ruling party.
The Mandla Lok Sabha constituency is reserved for candidates from Scheduled Tribes. It covers parts of four districts: Dindori, Mandla, Narsingpur, and Seoni. Both the Dindori and Mandla districts have the highest tribal populations in Madhya Pradesh, FirstPost noted, adding that almost 54% of Mandla’s population is comprised of tribals; this figure is 64% for Dindori.
Faggan Singh Kulaste of the BJP has consistently secured victories in the Mandla constituency since 1996, barring 2009, when the Congress’s Basori Singh Masram won. Kulaste won against the Congress’s Omkar Singh Markam in 2014, defeating the latter with a margin of more than 1.10 lakh votes, the Hindustan Times noted. He is running again this year, against Kamal Maravi of the Congress. In late March 2019, the Times of India reported that BJP workers had opposed Kaluste’s candidacy.
The Times of India described this year’s Mandla race as one between a “veteran” and an “outsider”. Kulaste has won the seat multiple times, but Maravi, who moved to the Congress from the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) some years ago has received opposition from local party leaders, in spite of “being projected as a leader with a strong base among tribals” in the constituency, the Times of India noted. It highlighted that the “resurgent GGP” received nearly two lakh votes in the eight assembly seats that comprise the Mandla constituency in the recent state elections, and said that if this trend continues, the GGP could sway the result in the Lok Sabha race. The BJP itself was only able to secure two of the eight assembly segments in Mandla in last year’s state election, with the Congress securing the other six. In 2013, Maravi, who, per the Times of India, is reportedly Kamal Nath’s pick, ran as a GGP candidate from the state’s Bichhiya assembly seat, but was defeated.
The Shahdol constituency is reserved for candidates from Scheduled Tribes, with Dalpat Singh Paraste of the BJP serving as its MP for three terms from 1999 to 2016, when he died. In 2009, Rajesh Nandini Singh of the Congress won the seat, while in the 2016 bypoll, Gyan Singh of the BJP won; he is the current MP, the BJP has replaced him in the Lok Sabha race. In late March, Gyan Singh told the Times of India, “I will file a nomination as an independent candidate and will stick to my commitment. The party has dropped my name without any prior discussion. My silence has been mistaken as my weakness”. In a recent interview with News State, Gyan Singh criticised the BJP, and alleged that he was cut from the party’s ticket for not being involved in corruption. The Shahdol constituency has a tribal population of more than 40%, per FirstPost, and also borders the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh.
Notably, Shahdol is seeing race “between two turncoat woman politicians,” as The New Indian Express noted. Himadri Singh, who is the BJP’s candidate, had previously run in the 2016 bypoll as a candidate from the Congress. She is running against Pramila Singh of the Congress, who has previously served as BJP MLA.
Per NewsClick, Shahdol is a significant seat for the BJP, “and the growing disenchantment of the tribal voters for the party has been a cause of concern.” Moreover, if the race between the Congress and the BJP is a close one, the GGP, which has a base in the constituency, could influence the result. In 2016, it had won around 70,000 votes in Shahdol, NewsClick noted. According to NewsClick data, the constituency has nine lakh voters who are members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, of the total 16.46 lakh voters. The dominant castes–Brahmins and Thakurs, as well as minorities, comprise around 3.5 lakh voters.
Sidhi is one of the biggest constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, covering the Sidhi and Singrauli districts as well as some parts of the Shahdol district. FirstPost, citing 2011 census data, said that nearly 27% of the population of the constituency is from Scheduled Tribes. 
Singrauli is a hub for power and cement manufacturing, per NewsClick, but lacks railway connectivity, leaving roads the only option for transport. Moreover, the roads are badly managed here, causing long journeys, NewsClick noted, adding that the lack of water, poor roads and railways, displacement, education, and healthcare are key issues in this constituency. Voters from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) comprise nearly 80% of the votes in Sidhi, per NewsClick. Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste voters are around 50%, of which 37% are Gond voters, while voters from Other Backward Classes are nearly 29%, per NewsClick.
In Sidhi, Ajay Singh ‘Rahul’ of the Congress, who is the son of former Chief Minister Arjun Singh, is contesting against sitting BJP MP Riti Pathak. Pathak won in 2014, defeating Indrajit Kumar of the Congress by more than one lakh votes. Ajay Singh ran in the 2018 state elections, from Churhat, the “family stronghold,” per The New Indian Express, but was defeated. Senior advocate and political observer Umresh Tiwari, who is from Sidhi, told NewsClick, “BJP MP Riti Pathak is facing anti-incumbency, and some senior party leaders have either quit or are opposing her candidature. As the election dates are approaching, the voice of dissent is growing louder. If the BJP succeeded in controlling the rebellion, the party can win”. Journalist Jaganath Dwivedi opined to NewsClick that “In Sidhi, BJP and Modi are contesting the election, and not Riti Pathak. But on the other hand, Rahul Singh is fighting the election not Rahul Gandhi or Congress”.
NewsClick also reported that recently, former BJP MP Govind Prasad Mishra, who won from Sidhi in 2009, quit the BJP over Pathak being awarded the ticket again. Moreover, sitting BJP MLA Kedarnath Shukla “has been openly opposing her candidature which may hurt the saffron party,” NewsClick noted.



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