In Madhya Pradesh’s tribal stronghold Jhabua, anti-incumbency worries all sides
Three years down the line, the scenario has changed in Jhabua Alirajpur districts, part of the Jhabua parliamentary constituency. Rebels have queered the pitch for official Congress and BJP candidates fighting the upcoming assembly polls.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Madhya Pradesh sent just two Congress leaders, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, to Parliament. It was in a bypoll a year later that Kantilal Bhuria became the party’s third parliamentarian from the state.
The by-election was caused by the death of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Dileep Singh Bhuria, who had defected from the Congress to give the saffron party its first-ever victory on the seat. Before that, the Congress had lost Jhabua only once, in the post Emergency 1977 polls. Dileep Singh was hugely popular in the area. But his daughter, Nirmala Bhuria, couldn’t make the grade against Kantilal, who defeated her by nearly 80,000 votes.
Three years down the line, the scenario has changed in Jhabua Alirajpur districts, part of the Jhabua parliamentary constituency. Rebels have queered the pitch for official Congress and BJP candidates fighting the upcoming assembly polls. There is resentment against Kantilal Bhuria, a former state Congress president, seen by many as working for his family rather than the people or the party.
Two of the five seats in Jhabua (3) and Alirajpur (2) are being contested by his siblings: son Vikrant and niece Kalavati who are candidates in Jhabua proper and Jobat in adjoining Alirajpur.
Disenchanted party men burnt Bhuria’s effigies across the Lok Sabha constituency after the Congress announced its candidates. Concomitantly, his son’s prospects are hazy in the fight made triangular by party rebel Xavier Meda. The latter has the support of influential village sarpanchs determined to teach the Bhurias a lesson.
The BJP’s GS Damor isn’t sitting pretty either. A former public health engineer, he too is perceived as a paratrooper accommodated at the cost of the party’s sitting legislator.
Of Jhabua’s three assembly seats, the outcome seems predictable in only Petlawad. Nirmala Bhuria may retain the seat she held when she contested and lost to Kantilal after her father’s death. In the third seat, Tandla, the Congress’s Vir Singh Bhuria may breathe easy. There, the BJP’s Kalsingh Bhabhar faces a candidate fielded by a group that had backed his aborted independent challenge to the party in 2013.
In the previous polls, the BJP won four of the five seats in Jhabua and Alirajpur, the fifth voting for one of its rebel leaders. Had it not messed up its candidates, the Congress would’ve had little to lose and a lot to gain in this tribal belt. It had, after all, regained in the parliamentary bypolls the ground it lost in the assembly elections.
In fact, Kantilal gave the game away when he asked — rather than told — journalists about his party’s chances. “People here want a change but the Congress refuses to change [its ways]. Its bad candidates have created contests on seats the party could’ve won without ado,” said Sachin Bairagi, a local journalist.
This is not to suggest that the BJP isn’t stymied by renegades. But it’s hopeful that the Narendra Modi card will help it quell or negate internal rebellion. Slated to visit Jhabua on November 20, the Prime Minister has popular connect with tribals, thousands of whom migrate every year to Gujarat for work. Bordering Gujarat’s Panchmahal and Vadodara districts, Alirajpur-Jhabua is dominated by the Bhel tribe, large sections of which acknowledge having benefited from the Pradhan Mantri Avas Yojana (PMAY). What spoiled, so to speak, the social welfare broth was alleged bureaucratic corruption. Several beneficiaries claimed to have bribed officials for getting the ₹1.5 lakh to which they’re entitled in three instalments under the housing scheme. The other irritant was the dried up MNREGA funding that left village panchayats disempowered. In sum, the poll will be decided on who’s incumbency is seen as the lesser worry -- Bhuria’s or the BJP’s?