Modi and Chouhan have visited Mahakoshal multiple times and reached out to tribals to shore up support for the BJP.
The Congress pulled off victories in 24 out of the 38 assembly seats in the Mahakoshal region, and this tally helped the party form the government with a slender margin in Madhya Pradesh in 2018, but this time around it is facing a stiff resistance from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Geographically six regions of MP — Mahakoshal, Gwalior-Chambal, Central India, Nimar-Malwa, Vindh and Bundelkhand, all with different political equations, hold the key to power in the state.
Last time, the Congress showing was best in the Mahakoshal region, which has eight districts, boosting the party’s overall tally to 114 seats and bringing it is within sniffing distance of the simple majority mark (116 in a House of 230).
Here, one group talks of change (of government) after the assembly polls, while the other glorifies the work of Prime Minister Narendra D Modi and MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, fondly called ‘mama‘ (maternal uncle) by his supporters.
Madhya Pradesh, which saw two governments in five years — one headed by the Congress and the incumbent led by the BJP — goes to the polls on November 17 and counting will take place on December 3.
The BJP has pulled out all the stops to weaken the Congress in Mahakoshal, considered to be a stronghold of former chief minister Kamal Nath, who himself is in the fray from his home turf of Chhindwara.
But the Opposition party wants its flag to keep flying high in the region.
It was evident from the fact that Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi kicked off her party’s election campaign from Jabalpur, the region’s largest city, on June 12.
She announced Rs 1,500 a month financial assistance for women, restoration of the Old Pension Scheme for state government employees, 100 units of free electricity, a cooking cylinder for Rs 500 and Rs 1 lakh loan waiver for farmers if the Congress was voted to power.
The BJP has fielded two Union ministers — Prahlad Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste — and two more MPs as its candidates from Mahakoshal, indicating its firm resolve to dent the Congress stronghold.
Ashish Sonkar of Jabalpur, a votary of “double-engine” government (same party in power at the Centre and in the state), said the Congress was against Sanatan Dharma.
He claimed the people of Madhya Pradesh have benefitted from welfare schemes launched by the Centre and as well as the state’s BJP government and that is why he wants to see the saffron party retain power.
In the 2018 assembly polls, the BJP had to contend with just 13 seats in the region. In 2013, the saffron party had won 24 constituencies, while the Congress managed to pocket 13 seats in Mahakoshal.
Mahakoshal is spread across eight districts — Jabalpur, Chhindwara, Katni, Seoni, Narsinghpur, Mandla, Dindori and Balaghat — and they come under the Jabalpur administrative division.
The region has 13 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates. Of them, the Congress won 11 the last time around.
The BJP campaign in this region is focused on the prime minister, the party’s biggest vote getter, with the slogan ‘MP Ke Mann Me Modi’ to attract electors.
His big posters have been put up by the party all over the region and Chief Minister Chouhan’s posters, too, adorn the streets.
Local residents grumble over the backwardness in the region, saying Jabalpur was once far ahead of Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and Nagpur (Maharashtra) in terms of development, but now the city lags behind Indore and Bhopal.
Talking to PTI, Jabalpur-based Mahakoshal Chamber of Commerce and Industries Joint Secretary Akhil Mishra rued the lack of development and basic infrastructure here.
“Mahakoshal did not get the place it deserves in Madhya Pradesh. The public is aware and understands everything,” he added.
There is a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress on most seats in Mahakoshal.
However, the pre-poll alliance between the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party has made the fight triangular in some segments.
The GGP, that sprang a surprise in the 2003 assembly polls by winning some seats in Mahakoshal, has lost its steam after it split later on.
Sandeep Yadav, a teacher at a private school in Narsinghpur district, said, “Unemployment is the biggest issue here. If thousands of posts are advertised, lakhs of people fill out the applications. Some examinations were conducted, but their results were not released. There is anger among youths.”
One of the reasons for the BJP’s poor showing in the last assembly polls was its defeat in most of the tribal reserved seats.
So, to gain the lost ground among tribals, Modi and Chouhan have visited Mahakoshal multiple times and reached out to the indigenous people to shore up support for the BJP.
The popularity of state Congress president Kamal Nath, an undisputed leader of Mahakoshal, will be put to test on November 17.
In his home district of Chhindwara, the Congress last time had won all the seven seats.
According to Professor Vivek Mishra, head of the political science department at the Jabalpur-based Rani Durgavati University, “The Ladli Behna Yojana, under which Rs 1,250 financial assistance is being given to women every month, has brought a change in the political scene of the region.”
Besides, the BJP has fielded big guns whose influence spills over to constituencies located adjoining their own political turfs, Mishra said.
Mishra maintained the saffron party has narrowed the “anti-incumbency wave” to a great extent by reaching out to tribals, but refrained from predicting who would ultimately shine in Mahakoshal.
The last polls threw up a hung assembly with the Congress emerging as the single largest party with 114 seats in the 230-member House. The BJP, in power in the state since 2003, was close second with 109 seats.
The Congress formed a coalition government under Nath, but it collapsed in March 2020 after several MLAs loyal to now Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia walked out of the party and joined the BJP, paving the way for Chouhan to return as chief minister for a record fourth term.
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