Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan appears to have learned his lesson from the embarrassing defeat his party suffered in the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha (ST) constituency, and is now diverting all his attention to dealing with the problems faced by tribals in the state.
Chouhan visited Jhabua on Monday, even spending a night with the tribals, and will be heading to Shahdol and Umaria districts on Wednesday. On his agenda is an open interaction with the residents of the two districts to better understand their problems and assess the implementation of various government schemes on the ground-level.
The chief minister’s change of heart comes after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a massive and unprecedented defeat in the recent Ratlam-Jhabua by-poll.
A party source said Chouhan’s decision to visit Jhabua, a part of Ratlam-Jhabua parliamentary constituency, assumes significance because it reflects how seriously he takes the defeat and that he wishes to rectify any mistakes the party and the government may have committed.
Scheduled tribes make up more than 21% population of Madhya Pradesh and as many as six Lok Sabha and 47 state assembly constituencies are reserved for them - therefore, it is pertinent to have their support to win elections.
According to a party source, the Ratlam defeat had come as a shock to the chief minister as the by-poll was held for the Lok Sabha seat barely one and a half years after the BJP routed the Congress in the general elections in 2014. What was even more worrying was that the party had failed to garner sympathy votes despite having fielded Nirmala Bhuria, the daughter of Dilip Singh Bhuria —whose demise necessitated the by-poll.
Dilip Singh Bhuria had for the first time in 2014 won the seat for the BJP against Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria; he had, however, won from the Jhabua seat five times in a row for the Congress between 1980 and 1996. It was also a first for the BJP since its formation in 1980.
Kantilal Bhuria was able to turn the table on the BJP after just one and a half years.
Though most BJP leaders have already washed their hands of the loss, claiming that Jhabua had traditionally been a Congress stronghold until 2014, they have every reason to worry if the mood of the tribals has started swinging against the ‘saffron brigade’.
State BJP media in-charge Dr Hitesh Bajpai said, “Merely one election cannot be a barometer to judge the party’s strength in the tribal belt or the entire state.”