The Ratlam bypoll has become a battle of prestige for Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who doesn’t want the Petlawad blast, Vyapam scam and his party’s Bihar debacle to take the better of him, according to political observers and party insiders.
The election campaign for Ratlam, which goes to polls on November 21, ended on Thursday evening. The Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Nirmala Bhuria against Congress’ Kantilal Bhuria. Nirmala is the daughter of Dilip Singh Bhuria, whose demise has necessitated the bypoll.
Chouhan toured the constituency for about a week till Thursday, addressing public and party workers’ meetings followed by his ministerial team’s retain-Ratlam campaign.
Political observers link this to his desperation to win the seat as he finds Petlawad blasts, which killed 80 people, Vyapam scam and his party’s poor performance in the recent Bihar state elections as a major challenge.
However, BJP insiders say Chouhan doesn’t want himself to be rated in Delhi circles as a leader who is losing his charisma and hence the efforts.
Political observers feel that the poll history of Ratlam, earlier known as Jhabua constituency, also worries the ruling party. During the past 65 years, non-Congress parties have won the general elections only thrice - 1971, 1977 and 2014.
Dilip Singh Bhuria had been five-time MP from Jhabua Lok Sabha seat on the Congress ticket. He switched his loyalty to the BJP and won the 2014 Lok Sabha poll by defeating the Congress candidate Kantilal Bhuria.
In 2003 assembly elections, the BJP had made a clean sweep in the state by dislodging the Congress government led by Digvijaya Singh. But in 2004 Lok Sabha polls, held barely six months after the assembly elections, Kantilal defeated the BJP candidate from here.
In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Kantilal had retained the seat again, which the BJP could snatch from the Congress only in 2014 on the Narendra Modi wave, observers say.
Another point of worry for the party is that the locals don’t see that the Modi magic will work for Nirmala in Ratlam. They rate development higher than other issues but do give points to the chief minister’s public meetings.
Locals want a railway line and are upset with a proposed shifting of the industrial corridor to Indore.
Addressing a public meeting, Kantilal had sarcastically remarked that the election was between “Chouhan’s Bhuria and Kantilal Bhuria”.
The state BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat says that there is no doubt that the his party will win on the seat as the people know that the Congress had failed to develop the region in the past 60 years while there has been a significant development during chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s regime.
More than 17 lakh voters are expected to cast their vote on November 21, which include 8.83 lakh female voters.