Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh CMs focus on forthcoming elections

Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Bhupesh Baghel take a colourful approach to reach their mainly rural electorate

In the run-up to the 2023 Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Chief Ministers of the two States present varying moods. If the Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan took part in a spoon race with children, his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel had himself whipped by a bunch of grass in an ancient ritual observed by the tribal and farming communities of his State.

Two days after celebrating Deepavali with children orphaned by COVID-19, Mr. Chouhan inaugurated the Khilaunakari toy festival at Budhni, the Assembly constituency he represents. Made of wood and bamboo, Khilaunakari products have a huge demand across the State, especially among children in rural areas.

At this event, apart from participating gamely in the spoon race, Mr. Chouhan sang “Nadiya chale chale re dhara”, originally rendered by Manna Dey and filmed on matinee idols Rajesh Khanna and Shramila Tagore for the Hindi movie Safar at Budhni, from where Mr. Chouhan entered the State Assembly for the first time in 1990.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, he secured 60.25% votes but his vote share in his home turf had fallen to a new low of nearly 9%. In the 2013 Assembly elections, he secured 69.99% votes.

With 72% of Madhya Pradesh being rural, the lion’s share of the State’s constituencies are rural and semi-rural. In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost its grip on the rural seats, with the Congress winning nearly 52% of the seats and the BJP taking 44% of the seats.

“In the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP was far behind the Congress in the rural seats of the State. It’s rural areas that helped the Congress form the Madhya Pradesh Government, unseating the BJP after 15 years,” a senior BJP functionary told The Hindu.

Baghel’s outreach

Amid a flare-up in the tension between Mr. Baghel, the Chhattisgarh CM, and the State’s Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo over issues related to “rotational chief ministership”, Mr. Baghel offered his right hand to be “whipped” by a villager.

In a video shared on Twitter, Mr. Baghel is seen holding his hand out, fist clenched, as villager Birendra Thakur, a resident of Janjgiri village in Durg district, lashes him hard, eight times. Mr. Baghel had himself whipped with a sota made of kush, a species of grass used for religious purposes, on Govardhan Puja, following a rural tradition.

The video shows Mr. Baghel withdrawing his hand only after Mr. Thakur stops, following which he offers a pranam and hugs the villager.

Earlier, Bharosa Thakur would carry out the whipping and now the tradition is being followed by his son, Mr. Baghel told the villagers watching the ritual. The Chhattisgarh CM is said to observe the ‘Sota-Prahar’ ritual every year in Durg’s Janjgiri village, but this time he shared a video of the occasion.

On Deepavali, a picture of the Chief Minister observing the Chirai-Chugni ritual was shared by the State’s Public Relations Department. In the picture, Mr. Baghel is seen tying a bunch of paddy to the centre of his front door at his Bhilai residence. The Chirai-Chugni ritual is observed across Chhattisgarh on Deepavali by people of all faiths for a good harvest and prosperity round the year.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress party was led by Mr. Baghel in the State. The tribal constituencies showed a clear shift towards the Congress, and especially the seats with a sizeable Scheduled Tribe (ST) population contributed in a big way to the party’s sweeping victory. The Congress won 25 out of 29 ST reserved Assembly seats, while the BJP managed three and Ajit Jogi’s Janata Chhattisgarh Congress (J) won one seat.

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