Explained: Madhya Pradesh bypolls – key candidates, top issues

Over 26 lakh voters will decide the fate of 48 candidates in these polls, considered a litmus test for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. The results will be declared on November 2.

Bypolls to three Madhya Pradesh Assembly constituencies – Raigaon, Prithvipur and Jobat – and Khandwa parliamentary seat will take place on October 30. Over 26 lakh voters will decide the fate of 48 candidates in these polls, considered a litmus test for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. The results will be declared on November 2.

What are the constituencies and why were bypolls necessitated?

The Jobat seat in Alirajpur and Prithvipur in Niwari fell vacant after the death of Congress MLAs Kalawati Bhuriya and Brijendra Singh Rathore, respectively. The bypoll in Raigaon was necessitated after the death of BJP MLA Jugal Kishore Bagri due to age related complications. BJP MP from Khandwa, Nandkumar Chauhan, had died of COVID related complications.

The four seats are spread across Madhya Pradesh with Prithvipur in Bundelkhand, Raigaon – a Schedule Caste seat – in Baghelkhand, Jobat (ST) in Alirajpur district on the MP-Gujarat border and Khandwa in Nimar region of the state that represent diverse caste dynamics.

Who are the main candidates?

There are over 48 candidates in fray of which 32 are contesting on three assembly seats while 16 candidates are fighting for Khandwa Lok Sabha seat. The competition, however, is between the ruling BJP and opposition Congress. For Jobat and Prithvipur, the BJP has fielded two defectors. Sulochna Rawat, a two-time MLA, had defected to BJP after she was not given a ticket by the Congress. She is now contesting on a BJP ticket from Jobat against Mahesh Patel, the district incharge of the Congress.

The BJP’s Prithvipur candidate, Sishupal Yadav had joined the saffron fold after quitting the Samajwadi Party (SP) days before the announcement of his candidature. He had lost to Congress’s Brajendra Singh Rathore in 2018 and was second in the race. Yadav is now contesting on a BJP ticket against Brajendra Singh Rathore’s son Nitendra Singh Rathore, a hotel management graduate.

In Raigon assembly seat, Pratima Bagri, a relative of former BJP MLA Jugal Kishore Bagri is contesting on a BJP ticket while the Congress has chosen Kalpana Verma. Verma, who lost to Jugal Kishore Bagri in 2018 with a margin of 18,000 votes, however is considered a strong candidate and has remained active despite losing the seat.

Another factor that worked in Verma’s favour was that within the Congress which faces intense factionalism, Verma was considered to be an acceptable choice in Kamal Nath’s camp as well as Ajay Rahul Singh’s camp.

In Khandwa, both the BJP and Congress are locked in a tight battle with both parties dealing with factionalism. The BJP, following the demise of senior MP and former state party president Nandkumar Chouhan, has given its ticket to Gyaneshwar Patil, a lesser-known party worker. Chauhan’s elder son Harshwardhan Chauhan along with former state minister Archana Chitnis, however, were considered to be frontrunners in the race for the ticket.

Similarly, Congress’s Arun Yadav was an obvious choice with Yadav being the only MP to have defeated Nandkumar Chauhan and considered to have a strong base in the constituency.

Yadav is a former state party president, and was a Union minister in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet. However, Yadav withdrew his name at the last minute after he was isolated by both Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. The party has finally given its ticket to Rajnarayan Purni, a three term Congress MLA from Khandwa, a Thakur considered close to Digvijaya Singh.

What are the key issues in these bypolls?

The Congress has targeted the ruling BJP over increased price of petrol, power shortage and problems faced by the farmers. Kamal Nath, in his election rallies, had targeted Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s 15 years in power and its poor governance, deaths from malnourishment and job losses. The BJP in turn is using its organisation strength with the campaign being headed by the Chief Minister along with all party leaders to tilt the caste dynamics in the saffron party’s favour. The BJP has deployed 12 ministers and 40 MLAs on poll duty for the four seats.

What is the significance of the bypolls?

These bypolls are also being considered as a litmus test for Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s hold over the state. With the BJP having changed Chief Ministers in Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Karnataka, speculations have been rife about a change of guard in Madhya Pradesh as well. If the BJP manages to win more seats, it will strengthen Chouhan’s position in the state.

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