Unemployment has emerged as the biggest issue in the Betul Assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh, which has earned the reputation of being a bellwether seat as to which party would win the elections in the state.
Located in the southern part of Madhya Pradesh and lying almost wholly on the Satpura plateau, Betul is witnessing a direct contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. However, a BJP rebel, contesting on the ticket of the newly-formed Sapaks Party, has made the contest interesting.
The ruling BJP has renominated Hemant Khandelwal (54), a former MP and sitting MLA, while the Congress has pitted Nilay Vinod Daga (40) against him. Daga is the son of former MLA Vinod Daga and Khandelwal is the son of four-term former MP Vijay Khandelwal representing Betul parliamentray constituency.
Lata Raju Mhaski, a former Chairperson of the Zila Panchayat, is contesting her first Assembly polls on the ticket of Sapaks (Samanya, Pichhda, Alpsankhyak) Party, a political forum of people opposed to the SC/ST Act and the existing quota policy.
Mhaski, a former office bearer of the BJP, belongs to Kunbi community which has a significant presence in this tribal-dominated Assembly constituency. Her presence is giving sleepless nights to Khandelwal as she has a good support in the community. A total of 13 candidates are in the fray.
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Ashok Kumar Raghuvanshi is a post graduate in management and holds an ITI diploma but earns only Rs 3,000 per month. He is the eldest among three brothers and the only breadwinner in the family. He claims that youth of the district are migrating to Maharasthra, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and other states in search of jobs.
“Unemployment is the biggest issue here. There is no industry. Almost all the mines are closed. Lack of jobs is affecting even the businesses of the locals. Unless people have money, how can they buy anything? People don’t have money to fulfill their daily requirements, how would they buy anything,” Raghuvanshi told IANS.
He said leaders come to the area only during elections and assure people of jobs. “But after the election, they never come. Every time we vote hoping that someone will work on this front,” he said, adding that he has not yet decided whom to vote for but the issue of unemployment will play a major role when he does.
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Ghanshyam Rathore, a senior journalist, also acknowledged that the issue of unemployment is haunting the BJP as it failed to address it. “Although the issue of drinking water has been resolved by the BJP, unemployment continues to haunt them,” he said, adding that medical and health services in the constituency needed special attention.
Congress’ Daga and Mhaski are also raising the issue of unemployment in their election campaigns, while Khandelwal is banking on the development works undertaken by the administration. Mhaski is attacking both her opponents on the issue of dynasty politics and calling for a Betul that is free of dynasty politics.
While giving an account of his work, Khandelwal says a new Collector’s office building and RTO office have been built and a new building for the district hospital is ready. He claims that he has taken a number of initiatives to promote tourism and water conservation.
Manoj Deshmukh, another youth, said that both the Congress and BJP candidates are strong and the contest is likely to be close.
“There is a close contest. No one can say who will win or who will lose. But what is evident is that Daga is attracting the youth while Khandelwal is focusing on the face of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Narendra Modi,” he said.
He also felt that the Sapaks candidate would not win, but she has the capacity to damage the prospects of the BJP candidate.
Rahul Dhurve, a betel shop owner, said Chouhan is still popular, but the lacklustre performance of the local MLA seems to have turned many against his party.
In the 2013 Assembly polls, Hemant Khandelwal won by defeating Congress’s Hemant Wagadre by a margin of 24,347 votes. Khandelwal got 82,949 votes while Wagadre got 58,602 votes.
In 2008, BJP’s Alkesh Arya won, while in 2003 BJP’s Shiv Prasad Rathore defeated Vinod Daga, the father of Congress nominee Nilay Daga, taking revenge for his 1998 Assembly defeat at his hands.
The BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003. Betul elected Congress candidates in 1993 and 1998 and the Congress then formed the government in the state with Digvijay Singh as Chief Minister.
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In the 1990 Assembly polls, BJP came to power with Sunder Lal Patwa as Chief Minister and the Betul Assembly constituency had then elected BJP’s Bhagwat Patel.
Except in the 1980 Assembly election, Betul has always voted for the party which formed the government in state. In that election, BJP’s Madhav Gopal Naseri won from Betul but the Congress formed the government by wining 240 seats in the 320-member Assembly.
In the 1977 polls, Betul elected Naseri as an independent candidate and the Janata Party swept the polls by winning 230 seats. Kailash Joshi then became the chief minister.
In the 1967 Assembly polls, Betul elected G. Khandelwal of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and Samyukta Vidhayak Dal formed the government in the state. Govind Narayan Singh, who formed a new political party called Lok Sewak Dal after quitting the Congress, became the chief minister.
From 1951 to 1962, Congress had won in Betul and had formed governments during those elections.
The number of educated jobless youth registering with the employment exchange has shot up from 15.6 lakh in 2015 to 23.7 lakh in 2017– a spike of almost 53 per cent.