Madhya Pradesh’s tribal region goes to polls but Indore steals limelight in fourth phase

The BJP and the Congress are fighting essentially a two-horse race in the eight remaining seats of Madhya Pradesh, which will go to the polls in the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha election on May 13, as Indore constituency throws up a unique proposition with the Opposition party urging the electorate to opt for none of the above (NOTA) after its official candidate withdrew his nomination.

The eight seats are Dewas (SC), Ujjain (SC), Ratlam (ST), Khargone (ST), Dhar (ST), Indore, Mandsaur and Khandwa. Twenty-one seats out of the State’s total 29 have already completed voting in the first three phases. At present, all the eight seats that fall under the Malwa-Nimar region are held by the BJP.

The Congress has uniquely focused its campaign in Indore Lok Sabha segment for NOTA as the party’s official candidate Akshay Kanti Bam withdrew his nomination.

Keeping up his relentless push for winning 400 seats in the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had remarked in Dhar that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) needed to emerge victorious to stop the Congress from “bringing back Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir” and putting a “Babri lock” on Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Apart from Mr. Modi’s rallies in Dhar and Khargone, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has also campaigned in the State holding rallies in Ratlam and Khargone. Both leaders, in their speeches, have tried to draw the support of the tribals as three seats are reserved for the community, that also has a sizeable population in others.

In his rallies, Mr. Gandhi also announced that the Congress, if voted to power, will increase the wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to ₹400 per day.

Apart from the Ram temple and Article 370, Mr. Modi targeted the Congress accusing it of wanting to give reservation on religious lines.

Indore in focus

Even though the Congress has no candidate in the constituency, the party workers have been running an extensive campaign asking people to vote for NOTA and “teach the BJP a lesson”.

The party, which accused the BJP of “hijacking its candidate and murdering democracy”, has now been organising various events across the constituency, including marches and door-to-door campaigns.

The BJP, meanwhile, has dubbed the Congress’ campaign as “negative politics” and has focused on increasing the vote percentage.

Mr. Bam, in a surprise move, had withdrawn his nomination on April 29, just days after attempt to murder charges were added against him and his father in a 17-year-old case by a local court. On Friday, the court also issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against them after it rejected their application seeking exemption from appearing before the court.

As per election observers in Indore, this is also the first election in a long time when no national leader from the BJP and Congress have campaigned here. The BJP has retained its sitting MP Shankar Lalwani from the Indore seat.

Tribal hotspot

The Congress, which had secured a handsome mandate from Malwa-Nimar region in the 2018 Assembly polls, lost its ground in the region in 2019 Lok Sabha and 2023 Assembly elections.

The party, however, has been attempting to reach out to the tribal community of the region, mainly with the claims that if the BJP returns to power, it will “throw away the Constitution”, which gives them their rights.

Mr. Gandhi, in his rally in Khargone, had also said: “If the Constitution gets finished, all the rights you have got will disappear. Your jal, zameen aur jungle (water, land and forest), and reservation and the public sector will all disappear.”

One of the closest contests is expected in Ratlam where former Union Minister and five-term Congress MP Kanjilal Bhuria takes on BJP candidate and district council president Anita Nagar Singh Chouhan, who is the wife of State Minister Nagar Singh Chouhan. The BJP here denied a ticket to its sitting MP Guman Singh Damor.

Mr. Bhuria had also won the seat in the 2015 bypolls, following the death of then BJP MP Dileep Singh Bhuria who had earlier served five terms as a Congress MP.

The seat which has over 65% tribal voters is seeing a tussle between the two sub-groups of the community — Bhil and Bhilala. While Mr. Bhuria hails from the Bhil community that has about 10 lakh voters, Ms. Chouhan is from the Bhilala group with a voting population of over 2.5 lakh.

The BJP, however, is banking on the various welfare schemes of the Centre and the State government such as the Ladli Behna Yojana, started by former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The party also hopes for support from other communities, including Dalits and Brahmins, also present in significant numbers.

CM Mohan Yadav’s home constituency Ujjain will also be voting in the fourth phase and the CM himself has put his might to ensure the party’s victory here. The BJP has retained its sitting MP Anil Firojiya in the Ujjain seat.

Dhar constituency is also expected to witness an interesting contest with a possible communal polarisation pitch following the Archaeological Survey of India’s survey of the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula complex, which has been disputed between Hindu and Muslim communities in the region.

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