Preceded by controversies related to electronic voting machines (EVMs), Ater and Bandhavgarh (ST) assembly constituencies in Madhya Pradesh go to polls on Sunday.
These bypolls, being held immediately after assembly elections in five states, will decide the fate of 21 candidates in Ater and five in Bandhavgarh, although the Congress continues to claim that the EVMs are vulnerable to manipulations.
Much to discomfiture of the Congress, the Election Commission (EC) through its inquiry found no anomaly and tampering with the EVMs and VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) used for a demonstration by Madhya Pradesh chief electoral officer Saleena Singh on March 31.
The Congress had alleged that multiple lotus symbols were printed after buttons on the EVM were pressed during the demonstration.
More than 4 lakh voters in the two constituencies will cast their votes at more than 550 polling stations, mostly in rural areas. The voters include nine from the third gender as well -- two in Ater and seven in Bandhavgarh.
Ater in Bhind district, which has earned a bad name for its poor sex ratio, has a gender ratio of 772.53 females per 1,000 males, whereas in Bandhavgarh, dominated by Scheduled Tribes, the ratio is 930.07.
Percentage wise, female voters account for 43.58 of the total voters in Ater and 48.18 in Bandhavgarh, as per EC data.
In Ater, Arvind Bhadoria from the BJP and Hemant Katare from the Congress are the main contenders, while BJP candidate Shivnarayan Singh and Congress candidate Savitri Singh lock horns in Bandhavgarh.
Interestingly, if Katare is trying to ride a sympathy wave in Ater after the demise of his father Satyadev Katare, Shivnarayan is making efforts to cash in on his father Gyan Singh’s image in Bandhavgarh.
Satyadev, who was the leader of opposition in the state assembly and represented Ater, died of cancer last year. Gyan Singh, who was a minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan cabinet, was elected to the Lok Sabha in a bypoll to Shahdol seat.
Chief minister Chouhan attacked Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia during his election meetings in Ater, given Scindia’s immense influence in the constituency.
However, Chouhan’s remarks that the Scindias had sided with the British government before independence didn’t go down well with his own party workers and leaders and he had to backtrack from the statement.
On his part, Scindia refused to comment on such “mean remarks” and raised issues of malnutrition, crimes against women and backwardness of the region during the BJP regime to corner Chouhan.
In the fight of the titans, the candidates took a backseat during the election campaign.
Chouhan further faced embarrassment when his ministerial colleague, Omprakash Dhruve, was found overstaying at a hotel at Umaria on Friday night despite the election campaign coming to an end in the evening.
Bandhavgarh falls under Umaria and given the imposition of prohibitory orders in the entire district, he should have left by evening. He was taken to Kotwali police station by a police team and later forced to leave the district.
State Congress president Arun Yadav said, “The ruling party is misusing the government machinery. My demand is that one each of paramilitary force jawan be deployed with Dial 100 vehicles and 108 ambulance vans.”
State BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat said, “The Congress leaders’ charges are a result of their frustration. They are yet to recover from the shock they received during the elections in Uttar Pradesh in particular. The BJP is going to win both the seats.”