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As Madhya Pradesh gears up for assembly elections 2018, the cry for change rises

In poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, there is an almost unanimous response from the all-Dalit group: “Badlaav, there will be change.”

india Updated: Nov 23, 2018 23:45 IST
HT correspondent
HT correspondent
Hindustan Times, Sagar/Chhatarpur/Shahdol/Umaria
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Union MInister Narendra Singh Tomar.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Union MInister Narendra Singh Tomar.(PTI file photo)
         

Naryoli, the only one among Sagar’s eight assembly seats reserved for scheduled castes (SC), takes its name from an eponymous village, to reach which you take a narrow approach road off a state highway.

On this day, a group of young residents are sprawled around a tree. Ask them about the ‘chunaavi mahaul’ (election environment) in their neighbourhood ahead of the November 28 Madhya Pradesh elections,and there is an almost unanimous response from the all-Dalit group: “Badlaav, there will be change.”

It is this word that has come to increasingly define the pre-election mood across districts in the Bundelkhand and Vindhya regions of Madhya Pradesh where the common refrain is that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s tally looks likely to dip and the Congress’ set to increase.

Bundelkhand has seven districts and fills 26 seats in the MP assembly, out of which the BJP won 20 in 2013 and the Congress six. Vindhya is home to seven districts as well and sends 30 representatives to the assembly. The last time around, BJP won 16 seats, Congress 12 and others the remaining two. So, from these two regions, the BJP had won 36 seats and the Congress exactly half five years ago.

The desire for change could be traced to local fatigue after a decade and a half of BJP being in power in MP, disillusionment and anger against the local MLAs, a backlash after ticket distribution; anger among various groups - farmers, small traders, the young - over policy failures, Dalit alienation and the state government’s inability to convert its welfare schemes into political support; and the limited, almost non-existent, impact of Narendra Modi’s persona in these elections, in this region in particular.

Also read | Madhya Pradesh assembly elections: BJP banks on welfare schemes to retain core voters

The BJP believes it can override all the challenges with three elements - by playing on memory, math, and the continued support of the formidable, heterogeneous, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) .

Back in Naryoli village, Lalit Kumar Chaudhary, who belongs to the Schedule Caste Ahirvar community, and works in a medical shop in the town of Sagar, argues that it is time for change.

BJP’s Pradeep Lariya has been an MLA for a decade from this constituency.

“I agree the BJP has given roads and electricity, but it does not mean they should be in power forever. Our village road is still not done and it is difficult for us to walk in the monsoon,” Chaudhary explains.

“If Congress comes to power now, they too will have to do more than BJP -- otherwise they will not return.” He says the BJP must also be judged on its policies. “Who did demonetisation harm? The poor or rich. It is the poor.”

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) had made everything more expensive for the poor, he said.

Bijay Chaudhary is riding with a BJP flag on his motorcycle. He is at first hesitant to put forth his point of view, but then opens up.

You may also like | In Madhya Pradesh’s opium hub, farm distress trumps all

“You have to see that they (BJP) are trying to take care of everything from birth to death. A pregnant woman is given an allowance; students are given facilities; electricity is subsidised for labourers and small farmers; even when a person dies, an allowance is given. Isn’t this good?” Chaudhary’s voice appears to be an isolated one, in this village at least.

Anti-incumbency brewing against BJP

Gulganj is a bazaar in the Bijawar assembly segment of Chhatarpur district. In 2013, Pushpendranath ‘Guddan’ Pathak of the BJP won this seat.

But the going may get tough for him if one goes by the voices of people across castes at a local tea shop in the main bazaar.

A farmer, Puran Singh, complains that farmers in this region did not get the drought relief that had been promised to them in the past.

“The nearest Mandi (farm market), where we are told we can get benefits from the government’s Bhavantar scheme, is 50 km away. How can a farmer with limited means go all the way, come back when you don’t even get immediate cash payment nowadays? Pathak has done nothing to raise our voices.”

The Bhavantar scheme was introduced by the government to meet the gap between market price and the federally fixed minimum support price, but the need to pass quality tests, long waits at the mandi, delays in payment and the perception that traders have benefited more than farmers from it have diluted its impact in this belt.

The BJP is aware that local candidates will matter significantly. It is to offset local anti-incumbency that it made some changes - though not to the extent that many had expected - by dropping around 30 candidates. This has had a mixed impact.

In Chhatarpur district’s Bada Malhera assembly segment, Munni Lal Yadav is a BJP supporter and flies the party flag over his house in the Rajpura village. He feels the party will win but only because it changed the local MLA.

“Rekha Yadav was the winner last time. She did nothing for the constituency and even supporters like us could not have helped her win. But the party has now given the ticket to Lalita Yadav who was the MLA from Chhatarpur -- and she has a good reputation.”

Also read | Madhya Pradesh assembly elections 2018: BJP did nothing for farmers, says Rahul Gandhi

He ironically uses the word used by Congress supporters - ‘badlav’ - and says, “This change will help us win again.”

But intra-party change is not easy either. In Vindhya’s Shahdol district, it may have backfired. Even as Prime Minister Modi addressed a rally in the district on November 16, the BJP leader who won the Jaisinghpur seat in 2013, Pramila Singh, shifted to the Congress because she had been denied a ticket. This is reflective of a larger issue the Bharatiya Janata Party is confronting, with over 50 rebel candidates in the fray.

Sagar’s Surkhi seat witnessed a close contest in 2013, where the BJP’s Parul Sahu just edged past Congress’ Govind Rajput, an influential local leader. This time around, the BJP has put up the Sagar MP’s son, Sudhir Yadav.

But if the mood in Rahatgarh bazaar of the constituency is anything to go by, Rajput could just win this time around. And that is because of the restlessness even among the BJP’s traditional voters.

Rup Chand Jain, who sells agri-implements and fertiliser, complains that small traders like him still suffer from the impact of demonetisation and the introduction of GST.

“BJP got arrogant. We have always been with them. But they need to learn a lesson. And that can only happen with a jolt. Badlav will be good.”

For full coverage on Madhya Pradesh assembly elections 2018 click here

First Published: Nov 23, 2018 23:45 IST