Bundelkhand, an impoverished and drought-prone region of Madhya Pradesh, has shown a clear tilt towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in elections in the last two decades, but it remains to be seen if this trend will continue in the upcoming assembly polls, too, or the Congress will make a dent in the saffron party’s voter base.
The region, despite having a diamond mine in Panna district, has battled droughts, economic disparity, poverty and caste conflicts for decades. The politics of Bundelkhand, which straddles Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, is more complex than other regions of the centrally-located state which will vote on November 17 to elect a new 230-member assembly.
As it borders Uttar Pradesh, the area has pockets of influence of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), key political players in the adjoining northern state.
The UP-based outfits try to eat into the votes of the two main contenders for power in Madhya Pradesh the BJP and the Congress to expand their base and stay relevant in the central state’s politics.
In the 2018 polls, the BSP and the SP had garnered one seat each in Bundelkhand, which has 26 assembly constituencies, including 6 reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs), spread across 6 districts. The BJP had then won 16 seats followed by the Congress (8). SP legislator Rajesh Shukla (Bijawar seat), however, later joined the saffron outfit.
After the SP MLA’s defection and bypolls during 2018-2023, the BJP’s tally currently stands at 18, while the Congress has seven legislators from the region. The BSP has one MLA. Bundelkhand’s backwardness came to national focus when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pushed for a special package for the region about one-and-a-half decades ago, when his party headed the UPA government at the Centre.
Bundelkhand is drought-prone, lacks industrialisation and employment opportunities. Mass migration from the region has been a common phenomenon for decades, said Deepak Tiwari, senior journalist and former vice-chancellor of the Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication. Gandhi visited the region in 2008 and pushed for a special package for its development.
The UPA government later declared a special package of Rs 7,000 crore for Bundelkhand (covering areas in MP and UP), but things have not changed so far because of inherent local geographical and social conditions, Tiwari explained. The senior journalist said in the last two decades, the region has shown inclination towards the BJP as far as electoral politics is concerned.
This area is still grappling with same old problems despite the fact that senior BJP leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti (who became CM in December 2003, but her term lasted for less than a year) hails from Bundelkhand, he said. Bharti, a native of Tikamgarh district, became CM when the BJP formed its government in December 2003 after a 10-year-long Congress rule. Her tenure, however, lasted for less than a year.
Senior journalist and author Rasheed Kidwai said Bundelkhand has the potential to mar the electoral prospects of the BJP if the Congress push for a caste survey gains traction among voters and they move towards the opposition party. If that happens, it would be a game changer. “Also, Bundelkhand, with its economic disparity, stark poverty and sharp caste conflicts, is an ideal test case for (Chief Minister) Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s welfare policies and their impact on the ground),” he said.
Talking to PTI, state BJP secretary Rajneesh Agrawal expressed confidence about his party doing better than 2018 and improving its seat tally in the region. We didn’t get expected results on the 26 seats of Bundelkhand in 2018 due to some political equations. The party has sorted out those equations now, Agrawal said without elaborating.
Benefits of the BJP government’s welfare schemes have reached the people of the region. Projects like the Bina Refinery, irrigation schemes and construction of roads are signs of development, he added.
The BJP government at the Centre recently cleared the Ken-Betwa river linking project, which Chief Minister Chouhan said, will irrigate more than 10 lakh hectares of land, provide drinking water to 62 lakh people and also generate hydro-power in the impoverished region.
The Congress is hopeful of Bundelkhand moving away from the BJP and voting in large numbers for the opposition party in the upcoming polls. Senior Congress leader and former MLA from Deori in Sagar district, Sunil Jain, said.
Though the voters have leaned towards the BJP since the past two decades when Uma Bharti became CM, the picture is going to change in 2023 as the BJP has repeatedly ignored the region’s development.
Jain said the region has a large population of OBC communities and they are disillusioned with the BJP, which has ruled the state since 2003 barring a 15-month-period (December 2018-March 2020) when the Congress was in power under the leadership of Kamal Nath.
The former MLA said the Congress has promised a caste survey if voted to power in a bid to provide rights to marginal sections in proportional to their population and this will surely impact the choice of electors when they queue up at booths to vote in less than a month.
The BJP has performed well in the region in assembly elections in the last two decades, winning 20 seats in 2003, followed by 14 (2008), 20 (2013) and 18 seats (16 in 2018 polls, while two more were added in the tally in subsequent bypolls and when SP MLA switched sides).
The Congress has also steadily improved its performance over the years. From winning just two seats in 2003, its tally stood at eight (2008), six (2013) and seven (eight in 2018 polls followed by the loss of one constituency in bypolls).
Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh is spread across six districts Sagar, Damoh, Tikamgarh, Panna, Chhatarpur and Niwari. Of the total 26 assembly seats in Bundelkhand, Sagar district has eight segments Sagar, Naryaoli, Khurai, Deori, Surkhi, Rehli-Garhakota, Bina and Banda. Of these, the BJP has six seats and the Congress two.
Chhatarpur district has six seats Maharajpur, Chandla, Rajnagar, Chhatarpur, Bijawar and Malhera. Of these, the Congress and the BJP share three seats each. Damoh district has four seats Patharia, Damoh, Jabera and Hatta. Currently, BJP legislators represent two of the seats, while the BSP and the Congress have one MLA each.
Panna district has three segments Pawai, Gunnor and Panna. Two of them are currently held by the BJP and one by the Congress. Tikamgarh district has three constituencies Khargapur, Tikamgarh and Jatara, while the newly carved Niwari district has two seats Prithvipur and Niwari. All the segments in these two districts are represented by BJP legislators.
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)