Most observers and those involved in campaigning here tell you privately that a saffron surge is sweeping across BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. “The lotus is in full bloom in MP,” they say. However, Chhindwara constituency seems to present a curious case.
In the rest of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is out in full force to fight its main rival, the Congress, and is leaving no stone unturned to win despite electoral winds blowing in its favour.
But it’s Chhindwara where the BJP seems to have gone weak-kneed. Congress’s Kamal Nath (63) holds the record of getting elected seven times from here.
The BJP has fielded Marotrao Kapse (60), a political lightweight. In fact, until the BJP announced his name, many in the state political circles had not even heard of him. This has given rise to speculation that the BJP is keen to let Nath reclaim the seat and return to the Lok Sabha and represent the state’s interests effectively.
Nath is banking on the development he has initiated here, including a SEZ in Chhindwara and other industrial developments in the region, while the BJP is relying on CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s clean and popular image and the party’s impressive progress card on providing infrastructure and other welfare measures.
On Tuesday, Nath visited eight villages, covering around 500 km. The day began at his Shikarpur farmhouse in Chhindwara and ended at Junnardeo, a small township, where he was greeted by his wife, Alka, son Nakul and daughter-in-law for a road show.
“I have covered the entire constituency twice by now,” he said. “This election is going to a cakewalk for me.”
Nath is known for his administrative abilities and the knack for maintaining cordial relations with fellow politicians across party lines. The Congress is thus confident Nath will live up to his formidable reputation as the most popular leader by winning again.
With victory over his low profile opponent almost certain in a constituency he has assiduously nursed, Nath’s only concern this time will be to better his 2004 record — a margin of 65,000 votes over then BJP leader Prahlad Patel.
“What is most remarkable is most people here do not speak ill of Kamal Nath,” says Pankaj Daheriya of Harai, adding that “though the main fight is said to be between the Congress and BJP, for all practical purposes, it is Kamal Nath — more than the Congress — who is the dominant factor.”
For the Congress, Chhindwara is perhaps the safest seat in the state as it has been winning it since 1952, barring the 1997 bypolls. This constituency returned a Congress candidate even during the 1977 Janata Party wave.