Congress aims to breach saffron fortress as Madhya Pradesh goes to polls today

Polling officials with EVMs and other election material leave for poll duty ahead of Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in Jabalpur on Thursday. Photo: PTI

Bhopal: For almost a fortnight, barring a brief hiatus around Diwali, the Congress and BJP were engaged in an intense battle to win over voters in the poll-bound Madhya Pradesh. The brouhaha over the November 17 assembly polls ended Wednesday evening, the last day for rallies, public meetings and roadshows.

Today, close to 5.6 crore voters will have the opportunity to decide the destiny of 2,533 candidates, including 1,166 independent ones. The counting of votes to the 230-member Assembly will be held on December 3.

With only hours remaining for polling to begin, it will be interesting to see what is ticking for the Congress party, which has been out of power for 18 years, barring a brief stay between December 2018 and March 2020 when Kamal Nath failed a floor test and allowed Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP to return to power.

The Congress had secured 114 seats, five more than BJP, in the 2018 assembly polls. The grand old party had won 30 out of 66 seats in the Malwa-Nimar region, 17 out of 34 in Gwalior-Chambal, a measly six out of 30 in Vindhya, 14 out of 38 in Mahakoshal and 12 out of 36 in Madhya Bharat region of the state.

The BJP is hoping that the Ladli Behana scheme will be a game-changer, but it cannot expect to win hands down in Vindhya, Gwalior-Chambal, Bundelkhand and some areas in Bhopal.

Moreover, the Congress has worked as a far better cohesive unit. It has raised the issues of massive unemployment and rampant corruption hoping to script a turnaround. Congress MP, Vivek Tankha, who campaigned in the Mahakoshal region said: “On the ground, we found a lot of empathy for change. The party will do well in the Mahakoshal region.”

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan visits a slum during his campaign on Thursday. Photo: PTI

In all probability, it will go down to the wire in at least 30 seats, and it should not come as a surprise if the margin of victory is fewer than 1,000 votes in those constituencies.

Knowing too well that it could not possibly match the saffron party's resources, Congress crafted its strategy around the three stalwarts – party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi. By the looks of it, their efforts could yield positive results.

If the turnout at their rallies and public meetings is taken as a yardstick, the Congress poll pitch seems to have gained traction, particularly among youngsters. The party is hopeful of an encore in the tribal areas of Malwa and Nimar, where the party fared well in the last assembly polls. In Datia, where BJP candidate and home minister Narottam Mishra is in the fray, the Congress wrapped up its campaign with Priyanka, who was also present in the other high-profile constituency of Sidhi in the Vindhya region.

Mishra, whose proximity to Union Home Minister Amit Shah is no secret, is a six-time MLA. He won three times from Datia and an equal number of times from Dabra. Should Congress' Rajendra Bharti improve his vote percentage, it will dent Mishra's aura of invincibility. Besides, it will also serve the purpose of making Jyotiraditya Scindia look somewhat vulnerable as his family's influence extends well up to Datia, which is part of the Gwalior-Chambal region.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Photo: PTI

Priyanka minced no words in her attack on Scindia as she sought to hammer home how his act of betrayal brought down the government in Madhya Pradesh. In response, Scindia took potshots at the Gandhi family.

Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Khargapur, where Uma Bharti's nephew Rahul Singh Lodhi will contest against Congress' Chanda Surendra Singh Gaur. In Khargapur, the OBC community of Lodhi makes the majority and they form a significant vote bank of the BJP.

Khargapur which comes under Bundelkhand shares the border with Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party (SP) has worked hard for more than two decades to make inroads. It won the Niwari and Bijawar seats in the past.

Sidhi will witness a triangular fight as a BJP rebel is contesting as an independent candidate. Priyanka's presence there assumed significance for two reasons. One, the saffron party has fielded sitting MP Riti Pathak in Sidhi, where Brahmin voters can tilt the balance. If the Congress manages to wrest the seat, it will be able to win back the support of the community that helped the BJP consolidate its position. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a public meeting here in support of Pathak a couple of days ago.

Two, the Congress was aiming to win over the tribal voters, who turned against the BJP in the aftermath of the incident involving an upper caste man urinating on a tribesperson. The incident triggered an outrage and the Shivraj Singh government tried to control the damage by tearing down the house of the accused.

A shift in vote bank in at least three regions is something the Congress badly needs for a turnaround in fortunes. Any major setbacks will trigger anxiety in the BJP camp with just six months remaining until the general elections.

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