BHOPAL: Two of the four seats of central Madhya Pradesh will vote on Monday along with three seats in Bundelkhand region and two seats in Vindhya region. The Betul seat — one of six seats reserved for tribal candidates — will witness a battle between two first-timers, advocate-turned-Congress politician Ramu Tekam and teacher-turned-BJP candidate Durga Das Uikey.
In adjoining Hoshangabad constituency, first-time politician and Congress candidate Shailendra Diwan is taking on two-time sitting MP and BJP candidate Udai Pratap Singh.
According to political watchers, the BJP candidate seems to have an upper hand in the Hoshangabad seat, particularly as the party won six out of the eight assembly segments of the parliamentary constituency in the 2018 Assembly elections. If the results of the Assembly polls are factored in, then the BJP is ahead by around 70,000 votes.
The Hoshangabad constituency —spread across Hoshangabad, Narsinghpur and Raisen districts — has elected BJP MPs seven times out of eight elections held since 1989. While the seat was won five times by ex-Union and MP Minister Sartaj Singh (who is now with the Congress), former CM Sunderlal Patwa won from the seat in 1999. Present MP Udai Pratap Singh won for the first time in 2009 as a Congress candidate but joined the BJP before the 2014 polls and retained the seat by around 3.90 lakh votes, largely riding on the Modi wave.
While the BJP candidate is eyeing to increase his 2014 victory margin, the Congress candidate is banking on the power of the Lodhi community, which dominates two assembly segments. But with all senior Congress leaders of the region, including former Union minister Suresh Pachouri and ex-MP Rameshwar Neekhra, staying away from campaigning, the Congress candidate isn’t finding enough star power to bolster his poll prospects.
Importantly, both PM Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed rallies on the same day in separate assembly segments of Hoshangabad recently, but the major issues of the agriculturally rich region, including lack of agro-industries despite the region being rich in wheat and sugarcane production, rampant sand mining in Narmada and absence of proper health facilities, seem to have been overshadowed by the battle between BJP’s nationalism plank and Congress’ minimum income guarantee scheme.
In neighbouring Betul, a tough contest seems to be on the cards. Both first-time candidates, Congress’ Ramu Tekam and BJP’s DD Uike are popular owing to their grassroots connect, but the BJP candidate is compelled to carry the baggage of anti-incumbency left by two-time sitting BJP MP Jyoti Dhurve, who has been found to have contested last two LS polls on the basis of fake Scheduled Tribes certificate.
Despite having an RSS connect, Uike is facing opposition from people, particularly due to the unpopularity of the outgoing MP. On the other hand, the young Congress candidate Ramu Tekam is promising to solve the problem of water scarcity in Betul. “Women and children have to walk up to eight km to get water. My priority after winning the poll will be to address the issue,” said Tekam. His prospects have got a fillip as CM Kamal Nath has been campaigning extensively in the constituency, which borders his pocket-borough Chhindwara.
Spread across three tribal-dominated districts — Betul, Harda and Khandwa — the seat has been a BJP bastion since 1996, but the Congress had led in all eight assembly segments of the constituency in the 2018 Assembly polls.