The BJP’s big push to change its fortunes in the region, which had spurned it in the last Madhya Pradesh assembly polls, seems to be facing some headwinds as regional factors take precedence and the Congress’ pitch for change challenges the ruling party’s narrative woven around the planks of development and welfarism.
Across several constituencies of the Chambal-Gwalior region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi largely draws unreserved praise for his stewardship of the country but many of the same voters also talk of the need for “badlav” (change) in the state, offering mixed views on Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government and voicing a litany of complaints.
If there is some acknowledgement about his government’s claim of improvement in conditions of road, electricity and water supply, many also question its overall record and express wariness with Chouhan’s 18-year-old reign, save for the Congress’ brief 15-month-old tenure under Kamal Nath after the 2018 polls, since 2005.
Issues like price rise, unemployment, bureaucratic apathy, corruption and stray cattle are listed by a cross-section of voters in their criticism of the government.
Some voters express their sympathy with the BJP because of their support to Modi. The factors which appear to be helping the BJP include its showpiece welfare initiatives like the Ladli Behna Yojna, a cash transfer scheme for poor women, and a similar cash transfer scheme for farmers launched by the Centre.
A group of farmers in Hurawali Tiraha in Gwalior say that it is not uncommon for women in their households to cite the Ladli Behna Yojna to voice their support for Chouhan when men in families criticise his government.
“If Shivraj sends me money every month, then I should also be grateful,” Malti Srivas says while her husband Sudhir Srivas, a barber, expresses his unhappiness with the government.
However, one of the more frequent refrains is the need for “badlav”. At Karah Dham, a famous shrine dedicated to a revered local saint, Gauri Shankar Sharma describes himself as a nationalist and says the BJP has done good work at the Centre and the state. The local prasad-seller then adds, “When one person or family becomes all-powerful in a village, then everybody has to bow to him. It is not good. There should be ’badlav’.” A group of devotees drawn to the temple in Morena from different places complain of corruption and bureaucratic insensitivity to people.
Sunil Kushwaha, a graduate hailing from Gwalior East constituency, speaks of alleged irregularities in the recruitment in the state police and selection of patwaris, claiming that influential people close to the government get away while deserving candidates are denied their due, a view echoed by quite a few.
The CM helpline (181) is a good move where any citizen can lodge his government, one person notes but claims local officials are unhelpful and at times push the complainants to withdraw, defeating the point of the exercise.
In Jigani panchayat, which falls in Dimani constituency, youngsters Dhiraj Singh Gujjar and Nand Kishore Yadav complain about unemployment and price rise. “If there is a job, you can live with high prices. If you have no job, then ’mahangai’ laughs at you,” Gujjar, a truck driver, says.
In the state’s bipolar politics, the Congress is the natural beneficiary of the wariness with the BJP among a large section of voters.
The Congress’ recent pivot to the demand for caste census has not much resonance in this part of the state where the plank of social justice has traditionally been never a big issue like in Bihar or neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
However, the opposition party’s promises of welfare measures for farmers and other weaker has its share of supporters.
With the polls, however, still a month away, there remains a substantial chunk of voters who are muted about their preferences in Morena and Gwalior districts, part of the Chambal-Gwalior region which account for 34 seats in the 230-member state assembly. The Congress had swept the region in 2018, winning 27 of its constituencies.
However, what the two parties offer in their manifestoes coupled with the sure shot intensive campaign of Modi, whose appeal is a constant, are bound to have an impact on the course of elections.
Morena and Gwalior districts together account for 12 assembly seats, and the Congress had won 11 of them in the 2018 assembly polls. However, the ruling party’s tally rose to three following the 2020 bypolls in the state after 25 MLAs, most of them loyal to the then Congress leader and current Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, resigned and joined the BJP.
The polls are a litmus test for Scindia, the scion of the erstwhile Gwalior kingdom, whose defection to the BJP brought it to power in 2020 but has led to some bad blood between his loyalists who followed him to the party and the old guards.
In Morena assembly seat, the BJP has again fielded his follower Raghuraj Singh Kansana, who suffered defeat in the 2020 bypoll after winning the seat in 2018 on the Congress ticket, leaving followers of former minister Rustam Singh disgruntled. Such tales of disappointment are not uncommon.
The name ’Scindia’ enjoys a certain currency in this belt but has also its share of critics.
Several voters are of the view that the BJP may make some gains in the region if he is also fielded in the assembly polls, as it will give rise to the view that the party is considering him as a chief ministerial candidate.
The BJP’s decision to field three Union ministers, including heavyweight Narendra Singh Tomar, in the elections has already sparked the buzz that its leadership is looking beyond Chouhan in case the party retains power. Tomar is contesting from Dimani, one of the six assembly constituencies in Morena district.
Scindia was seen as a major factor in the Congress’ big win in the region and the BJP will hope that the presence of the ’maharaj’ in its ranks will bring a change in its fortunes in the November 17 polls.
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)