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Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia during a roadshow in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: Mujeeb Faruqui/HT
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia during a roadshow in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: Mujeeb Faruqui/HT

Congress smells victory in Madhya Pradesh after 15 years

Anti-incumbency, fatigue seen as key threats to BJP's dominance in state

Bhopal/Sehore/Vidisha/Dewas/Ujjain: Congress party flags outnumber those of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at Hari Om Sahu’s tea and snacks stall in the main market of tourist town Sanchi. Sahu, 25, says that is what the outcome would be in Madhya Pradesh when votes are counted on 11 December. “Congress aayega sir. Badlaav toh pakka hain (Congress is winning. Change is certain to happen) ," says a confident Sahu sipping chai from his own tall. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Arts, has a small farm, and runs this stall in Sanchi’s main market which is very close to the railway station. “There are no jobs and farming has become non-remunerative. Very little of what Modiji promised in 2014 has been delivered. Even Shivraj’s (Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan) claim that he has brought development in 15 years is not true, as you can see in Sanchi which is a tourist town," Sahu lists out his reasons for displeasure with the BJP.

Next to Sahu’s stall is 27-year-old Shahbaaz Khan’s shop that sells mobile phones and data plans. Shahbaaz points at the main market lane where his and Sahu’s shops are located.

“Shivraj is talking about development in last 15 years but this road has deteriorated in last 12 years. Even the bad stretch on the road connecting Sanchi to Vidisha has been taken up for repairs only because of elections," Shahbaaz says. He points out how Sanchi residents have not benefitted economically from the tourist footfall at the world heritage site of Sanchi stupa. “Tourists visit the stupa and leave without entering the town. Very few long-distance trains stop at Sanchi station and most tourists including those coming from Sri Lanka go straight to Bhopal, come down to Sanchi in tourist buses, and go back to Bhopal. They are not consumers for us which is a shame," Shahbaaz says highlighting the failure to use the tourist potential of the place to create jobs for the locals.

The Scheduled Caste—reserved Sanchi assembly constituency is currently held by the BJP but voters like Sahu and Shahbaaz say sentiments favour the Congress this time in Sanchi as well as in the state.

A few kilometres further from Sanchi is Vidisha, the Lok Sabha seat once represented by late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and current chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and currently held by foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. The BJP also won six of the eight assembly constituencies in Vidisha parliamentary seat in 2013 including two seats of Vidisha town and Budhni from where Chouhan contested and the Congress won the remaining two. In 2018, the BJP dominance is under the severe stress of anti-incumbency and fatigue.

Kantaprasad Tiwari, 70-year-old purohit (priest) in Vidisha, says “power has gone into the head of even sundry BJP workers". “Minister toh chhodiye, saadharan BJP worker ke saath appointment nahi milta. Masti chadh gayi hain (leave aside ministers, even an ordinary BJP worker won’t grant us an appointment. They have become power-drunk," Tiwari says. Even as Tiwari talks, Thakur Tulsidas Dangi, who is contesting from Vidisha seat as an independent and who has contested five assembly elections before including in 2013 against Chouhan when he got only 207 votes, starts giving an impromptu campaign speech in Vidisha’s railway station square.

There is an apparent distress among voters who say very little of what Modi promised in 2014 has been delivered-

Later, Dangi, who has been demanding a dam to augment Vidisha’s water supply since the previous election, tells Mint that the BJP would lose all 8 assembly seats in Vidisha and also the Lok Sabha poll in 2019. “Sushmaji has not visited Vidisha in the last two-and-half years," he says. He points out how Vidisha’s socio-economic profile has declined over the years even as the BJP dominated the seat. “You cannot drink the water we have to drink here. There is not one lake left from where farmers can source water. We have been demanding a dam for decades but no one seems bothered," Dangi says.

Gaurav Kushwaha, 25-year-old Vidisha resident who runs a newspaper stall, says Shivraj Singh Chouhan will lose this election due to the “misdeeds" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi—notebandi and GST. “Shivraj ne achcha kaam kiya lekin Modi ne barbaad kar diya. Ab log Modi ka gussa Shivraj pe nikalenge (Shivraj has done a good job here but Modi has been a disaster. Now, Shivraj will face the public anger actually aimed at Modi)," Gaurav says. But his friend Mahendra Sharma, 29, who works at a microfinance firm, says Modi has been responsible for some real rural transformation and the BJP would actually benefit from it. “In my village Kisanpur and two adjoining villages, 850 houses have been built for the poor people. Each beneficiary has got 2.5 lakh subsidy from the government," Sharma says.

Also Read: How Yogi Adityanath has emerged as BJP’s star campaigner in state elections

In village Guradiya that falls in the Ashta assembly constituency, SC-reserved and held by the BJP, wheat and soyabean farmer Shaligram Vishwakarma says “notebandi and insistence on digital payments" had severely hit the farmers. “We get the remuneration for our farm produce directly deposited in our bank accounts. But bank server is mostly down whenever we go to withdraw money. Remunerative prices have not kept up with inflation which hits farmers also because we are consumers too," Vishwakarma tells Mint.

In the temple town of Ujjain in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, there is a palpable disillusionment with the BJP. A Hindu real-estate businessman, who refuses to give his name “fearing backlash from the BJP", joins a largely Muslim congregation of Congress supporters at Ujjain’s Begumbagh colony. He says the BJP, especially the lower rungs and local politicians, constantly whips up the “fear of Muslims" and that Modi has not been able to crack down on these elements. “I voted for Modi in 2014 because I saw the promise of economic growth in his leadership. But instead of vikas, his rule has delivered communal disharmony, mistrust, and fear," says the businessman.

Ateek Khan, who teaches at a private engineering college in Ujjain, says even Muslims had voted for Modi in 2014 but now they are feeling “as disappointed with Modi as are Hindus". “Modi’s ability to govern has not been evident on issues that concern Muslims and Hindus alike, like inflation and law and order. To beat non-performance, the BJP tried to polarise voters but now even Hindus are fed up and reverse polarisation has begun against BJP and Modi," Khan says, calling himself an “apolitical person who wants the nation to progress".

The Malwa region and Central Madhya Pradesh comprise 10 major districts including Bhopal, Vidisha, Sehore, Indore, Mandsaur, and Ujjain. These districts account for 86 assembly seats in the 230 member Madhya Pradesh assembly and in the 2013 elections the BJP made a clean sweep winning 76. It is in this big BJP bastion that the Congress is sensing a revival riding anti-incumbency, voter fatigue, and grievances mostly against Modi. Says Ujjain resident and Congress worker Sehmat Khan : “Congress is storming the BJP bastion in Malwa and Central Madhya Pradesh. If the sentiment against BJP is so negative in this belt, one can imagine the situation elsewhere in the state. We will beat the BJP here and the rest of the state will easily fall in our hands.

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