Lok Sabha elections 2019: Congress looks to replicate assembly success in Chambal
At a “sarv jaati” (all-caste) blood donation camp in the middle of a busy market in Porsa, Union rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar explains how the Narendra Modi government’s social schemes suit the influential upper castes as well.Updated: May 08, 2019, 13:31 IST
At a “sarv jaati” (all-caste) blood donation camp in the middle of a busy market in Porsa, Union rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar explains how the Narendra Modi government’s social schemes suit the influential upper castes as well.
“Those who have not got free gas (Ujjwala) connections, will get them in 2020. I can see a lot of people from the respected Vaishya samaj. Now we have constructed 3 crore houses for the poor. But to build them, cement, doors, windows, fans, bricks were required. So, the money has returned to the traders,” says Tomar, amid applause.
A few hours later, under the shadow of a banyan tree in a village, Tomar talks about how Modi spends his holidays with jawans at the border. “When Pulwama happened, the forces were a given free hand to take revenge. Modi ko PM banao (Make Modi the prime minister),” he tells the crowd. It suits the audience. For, this Dhaneta village, full of Rajput and Brahmin households, sends most of its young lads to the Indian Army every year.
Tomar, a Thakur or Rajput, is playing his cards well and clearly focuses on mobilising the Thakurs, Brahmins, Banias and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in his favour.
His ministry has implemented several social welfare projects but he talks primarily about Ujjwala (piloted by the petroleum ministry) and the PM housing scheme, the two most popular ones that have created direct beneficiaries. For, the minister of rural development, parliamentary affairs and mines possibly knows that he faces a tough contest. The BJP has not lost a Lok Sabha poll in this belt of Chambal since 1998. But this time it’s up against a different Congress.
In the Madhya Pradesh assembly election in December 2018, the Congress won seven of the eight assembly segments, which translates into a potential lead of 120,000 votes over the BJP in Morena in this national election.
This is a battle that possibly sums up the election war in Madhya Pradesh: The BJP’s longstanding record of victory faces a stiff challenge from a rejuvenated Congress that returned to power in the state after 15 years.
Violence and Baghis (armed rebels) have subsided in this Chambal region, but caste lines still run deep in society, and electoral politics is no exception to caste factors. “We have two sitting Brahmin MLAs. The contestant, Ramnivas Rawat, is an OBC. Yes, the BJP has never lost Morena in the last 23 years. But after 35 years, we won Amba assembly seat. After 20 years, we won Dimni and Morena assembly seats. We will improve our lead,” says Congress Morena district president Rakesh Mavai, a Gujjar face of the party.
Busy preparing for Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s upcoming rally, Mavai adds, “Local matters, not national issues, work here. We have a sitting MLA from the Kushwaha community. And let me tell you Rajput voters are not entirely happy with Tomar.” Local BJP leaders say in the last assembly polls, then chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s remark that there’s no “mai ka laal” (mother’s son) who can change caste-based reservations had irked upper caste voters. But this time there is no such adverse factor, they claim.
In this direct contest between the BJP and Congress, the entry of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate Kartar Singh Bhadana has made things more interesting. The Congress is not happy as he is poised to divide the Gujjar and Dalit votes, the two key bases for the Congress to take on the BJP.
The BSP candidate has been imported from Haryana. “When the people need their representative, will they go to Haryana?” asks Mavai, laughing. The Congress is also banking on its tallest leader in the state, Jyotiraditya Scindia, to win the seat after 23 years.
They are also banking on a division of upper caste votes. While Akhand Pratap Singh, a BJP supporter, says, “Thakurs have no other choice. He is the only Thakur minister from MP in the Union cabinet”, Raghuvir, a young Brahmin of Dhaneta village, tells this correspondent, “Do you know mantri ji? Tell him that if he had worked well in the last five years, he would not have had to slog at this rate now.”
AP Singh Chauhan, head of the political science department in Gwalior’s Jiyaji University, feels Morena will see “a tough contest.” “Morena is divided by sub castes of Thakurs. A section of the Rajputs and Jatavs may vote en masse for the Congress. Seats like Morena will actually test the strength of the BJP if it has the capability to turn the tide after the assembly poll defeat.”