The fight between the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party to win MP's tribal-dominant Ratlam-Jhabua parliamentary constituency in the forthcoming by-elections gained steam as the two parties mobilised ground troops to reach out to voters, selling promises of a better future.
The western Madhya Pradesh's Scheduled Tribe-reserved seat which is witnessing keen tussle had fallen vacant after death of BJP MP Dilip Singh Bhuria in June this year.
Though the Congress party is yet to declare its candidate, speculations are rife about who would get the coveted ticket. Four-time MP and ex-Union minister Kantilal Bhuria has addressed a series of public meetings with AICC general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh Mohan Prakash and state Congress president Arun Yadav in the past week.
Buoyed by the sway it holds in rural areas, the Congress party, which is in power in panchayat bodies here, is challenging the BJP's state and central leadership.
"What has the Centre and state done (for you)? Made empty promises? Unemployment exists on large scale. If people will not earn, what will they spend?" Bhuria and Mohan Prakash said while addressing a public gathering in Jobat recently.
Bhuria, who lost the last Lok Sabha polls by 1.03 lakh votes, is keen to win back the seat BJP won for the first time in 2014. "BJP hasn't done anything concrete ever since it came to power in the state 12 years back," Jhabua district Congress committee spokesperson Harsh Bhatt said. "We all support Kantilal Bhuria ji."
On the other hand, the BJP has mobilised its polling booth-level committees to make door-to-door contacts. Its ongoing training sessions at the mandal-level too have been oriented towards winning the by-elections. Also, the party seems poised to take advantage the sympathy wave generated for BJP (Petlawad) MLA Nirmala Bhuria, late Dilip Singh Bhuria's daughter.
Over the past 15 days, she has accompanied chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan to public functions in the constituency, a possible sign that she could get the ticket. But the fight isn't over until it's over.
"The Congress is no challenge for us, but we take every election seriously. This election is no exception," said Jahbua district BJP president Shailesh Dube.
Earlier this week, the chief minister addressed farmers at a mini-antyoday fair in Ranapur, 18 kilometres from Jhabua, and announced slew of multi-crore development projects including roads, hospital, schools, reservoirs and barrages.
"The CM has a good image in rural areas. But there is infighting within BJP to get the ticket. Giving the ticket to the wrong candidate would prove (disastrous) for the party," said a senior BJP leader from Ratlam, wishing anonymity.