Bhopal: With the state chiefs of both the major players in Madhya Pradesh’s political arena – the BJP and the Congress – hailing from Mahakaushal region of the state, the electoral contest in the region has turned interesting.
While Congress president Kamal Nath is the MP from Chhindwara, the BJP chief Rakesh Singh has been returned to the Lok Sabha from Jabalpur.
Congress stronghold of yore
In the 1977 General Elections, the Congress had lost 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the then undivided Madhya Pradesh. Chhindwara in the Mahakaushal region was the only constituency that had returned the Congress nominee. Such was the Congress’ hold on the region. But since then, a lot of water has flown down the Narmada.
With Jabalpur as its hub, the Mahakaushal region comprises eight districts: Jabalpur, Mandla, Dindori, Seoni, Balaghat, Chhindwara, Narsinghpur and Katni. Culturally and socially, Mahakaushal differs greatly from the neighbouring Vindhya Pradesh. One of the key reasons for it being that large parts of Mahakaushal were under direct British rule from the 19th century onwards, thus turning it into a relatively progressive, modern and liberal area, and infusing democratic values into its body politic. Casteism and feudalism are not as deeply rooted this region as they are in the Vindhya Pradesh.
Jabalpur, known as the ‘Sanskardhani’ (Cultural Capital) of the state is one of the oldest towns of Central India. Home to a charming cantonment area, with its old British-style bungalows set amid lush greenery, Jabalpur is major educational centre of yore.
The Balaghat district in the region, bordering Chhattisgarh, has been witnessing Naxal violence. Keeping security considerations in view, the Election Commission has decided to curtail the polling time in the district. Voting in the polling booths in the district will end at 3 pm (instead of the the usual 5 pm) so that the polling parties can reach the district headquarters before dark.
Vast areas of the Mahakaushal region were ruled by tribal Gond kings and even today, Mandla, Chinndwara, Dindori, Seoni and Balaghat have a considerable pre-dominantly Gond tribal population. Tribals constitute 64 per cent of the total population of Dindori district. For Mandla, the corresponding figure is 57 per cent.
There are 38 assembly constituencies in the region: the highest (8) in Jabalpur district and the lowest (2) in Dindori. As many as 13 of these seats are reserved for tribals and 2 for SCs. All the three seats in Mandla and all the two seats in Dindori districts are ST seats. In Chinndwara, 3 of the 7 seats are reserved for STs.
In the 2013 polls, the Congress could win only 13 of the 38 seats. The BJP had annexed 24 seats while one went to an Independent. The BJP had done exceptionally well in tribal areas, winning 8 of the 13 seats reserved for STs.
In the earlier (2008), polls, the Congress had done relatively well here, winning 16 seats. The remaining 22 had gone to the BJP.
GGP loses steam
The Gondwana Gantantra party (GGP), which was once considered a rising force in the Mahakaushal region, has, gradually lost steam. It has got divided into numerous factions with fanciful names but little following like ‘Rashtriya Gondwana party’ and ‘Gondwana Mukti Dal’. Established in 1991, the GGP’s avowed objective was to fight for the creation of a separate ‘Gondwana State’ comprising regions that were ruled by Gonds.
In the 2003 elections, the GGP had fielded 61 candidates in the state, of which 3 won and 51 lost their deposits. The party polled 2.03 per cent votes. In 2008 polls, the GGP fielded 88 candidates but none could win. As many as 81 lost their deposits and the party’s vote share fell to 1.63 per cent. In 2013, its fortunes dipped even further. it fielded 63 candidates, with no winners and 62 losing their deposits. Its vote share dropped to one per cent.
PCC chief Kamal Nath is the Congress satrap of the Mahakaushal region. Nath has been winning from the Chinndwara Lok Sabha constituency consistently since 1980, barring once. A majority of the Congress candidates from the region are said to be his supporters. Obviously, Nath’s prestige is at stake in the region.
The Tendukheda constituency in the Narsinghpur district is witnessing an interesting contest between Sanjay Sharma, who was elected on a BJP ticket in the last polls but switched to the Congress a couple of days back. And he is facing a BJP turncoat!
This time, 481 candidates are in the fray from the region.