The outcome of upcoming by-elections to Mungaoli and Kolaras assembly seats will be watched keenly as it would be a pointer to the general mood in the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh which is going to polls later this year. Both the BJP and Congress are confident of the victory on the two seats, currently held by the Congress, that fall under Guna Lok Sabha constituency, the pocket-borough of Congress stalwart Jyotiraditya Scindia. The bypolls were necessitated due to the death of sitting Congress MLAs Mahendra Singh Kalukheda (Mungaoli) and Ram Singh Yadav (Kolaras). The schedule for the byelections is not announced yet. For Scindia, retaining both the seats in his home turf is a battle of prestige as he is positioning himself as the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress. Aware of the high stakes involved, the Gwalior royal has been constantly touring these two seats in a bid to ward off the saffron challenge. On its part, the BJP has dispatched a string of Cabinet ministers for campaigning while Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has offered various sops to woo voters in the region.
The Congress, buoyed by its improved performance in last year’s Gujarat polls and by retaining the Chitrakoot seat in the bypoll, is confident of victory. Scindia has accused Chouhan of making “hollow promises” to people. “During the Shivpuri bypoll in 2007, Chouhan had made 146 announcements. But, in the last 10-11 years, only two out of them have been implemented,” Scindia told PTI. Similarly, during Ater bypoll (in 2017), the CM had made about 300 announcements while in Mungaoli and Kolaras, he has made 425 promises so far, but nothing materialised on ground, the former Union minister said. Chouhan, keen to snatch the two seats from the Congress, had recently announced a slew of measures for the people of the region which include a Rs 1,000 monthly assistance for tackling malnutrition among Saharia tribals who form a major chunk in Kolaras and Mungaoli. “The Congress MP (Scindia) had not done anything in the two constituencies in the name of development since last many years,” Madhya Pradesh Cooperatives Minister Vishwas Sarang told PTI over the weekend. He said the state government was working for the people of the assembly segments and helping them with measures like digging tubewells, constructing ponds and providing facilities for those living below poverty line.
“However, the Congress is complaining to the Election Commission against us despite the fact that the schedule for the by-polls is yet to be announced,” the minister said. When asked about the BJP’s prospects, Sarang said, “We are 100 per cent confident of winning the two by-polls as the chief minister is committed towards the development of the people”. However, Madhya Pradesh Congress chief spokesperson KK Mishra alleged that Chouhan was remembering the people only at the time of the bypolls. “If the chief minister had taken care of people in the last 14 years, then he won’t have to worry about the bypolls now. He just fooled them by making announcements which he had never implemented,” he told PTI. Mishra said Chouhan was making “tall promises” to lure voters. “As the bypolls are on the anvil, the chief minister is again making tall promises to lure voters, but this time they will not fall into his trap and teach him a lesson as they did in Chitrakoot,” Mishra said. Another Congress spokesman Pankaj Chaturvedi said that the BJP was employing various “tactics” to “distract” voters from real issues, but would not succeed.
“Voters are not trusting the ruling party anymore as it has not done anything for their development,” he said. Congress had last year retained the Chitrakoot seat with an impressive margin of over 14,000 votes. The victory was mainly credited to Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh as the Chitrakoot segment falls under his stronghold. Singh, a prominent Congress leader in Madhya Pradesh, is believed to be one of the contenders for the chief minister’s post should the Congress win the elections later this year. It is crucial for the BJP to wrest these two seats from the Congress as a loss could adversely shape the perception against the ruling party. Moreover, the defeat in the bypolls could also give a handle to Chouhan’s detractors within the party to demand his replacement on the ground of anti-incumbency. Similarly, a defeat in the byelections would be viewed as a setback for Scindia who is trying to set in order the faction-ridden Congress unit.