Mandla-ST: Key tribal faces fight for land of warrior queens

Union minister Faggan Singh Kulaste to face fourth-time Congress MLA Omkar Singh Markam
Mandla-ST: Key tribal faces fight for land of warrior queens

BHOPAL: Famous as the land of warrior queens Rani Durgavati-Rani Avantibai Lodhi and once the capital of erstwhile Gondwana kingdom, Mandla-ST Lok Sabha constituency of Madhya Pradesh’s Mahakoshal region is likely to witness an intriguing battle between Union minister Faggan Singh Kulaste and ex-MP minister Omkar Singh Markam on April 19.

Eyeing a seventh win from the tribal-dominated seat, BJP candidate Faggan Singh Kulaste will face fourth-time Congress MLA Omkar Singh Markam in the poll battle.

But with a shrunk victory margin compared to 2014, the defeat from his home seat Niwas-ST in 2023 assembly polls and an all-time high anti-incumbency against him, Kulaste may find the battle tough against the Congress candidate whom he defeated by over 1.10 lakh votes in 2014.

Spread in eight assembly segments of four districts — indori, Mandla, Seoni and Narsinghpur — the Mandla-ST seat saw Congress being ahead in five out of the eight assembly segments in the 2023 elections, despite the BJP having swept the polls in other parts of MP. Not only were five assembly segments won by the Congress, but one of the loser BJP candidates was Kulaste himself, who was defeated from his home seat Niwas-ST in Mandla.

He won the seat in 1990 and then his brother Rampyare Kulaste three times. Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the Union minister’s winning margin came down to 98,000 votes from 1.10 lakh in 2014, Kulaste had trailed from Niwas-ST, besides three other tribal-dominated seats.

They were Keolari, Lakhnadon-ST assembly segments in Seoni and Gotegaon-ST in Narsinghpur, which actually helped Kulaste win in 2014. Barring Gotegaon-SC seat, two other seats, Keolari and Lakhnadon-ST have been won by the Congress in 2023 assembly polls, which may not augur well for Kulaste’s poll prospects.

Knowing that the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2014 and 2019 winner and 2009 loser Kulaste may be locked in a difficult contest this time, the two top campaigners of the BJP, PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, have addressed rallies in his support in the last three days.

Addressing the rally on Thursday, Shah while detailing about the development works done by Kulaste in his constituency, added, “You don’t have to vote Faggan Singh for these works, you need to vote for him to help PM Modi create Great India in the future. Every vote polled for Faggan Singh will directly go to Modiji.”

RSS and BJP leaders who are currently working in the adjoining Balaghat constituency, say, “The BJP’s top leadership is fully aware that this time Faggan Singh is locked in a 50-50 battle against Omkar Singh Markam, who isn’t just popular in Dindori only, but may also benefit from anti-incumbency against the BJP candidate in other assembly segments.”

A local BJP told this newspaper, “All the developmental work has been done under Central and state government schemes and not due to individual efforts of the MP, who is more famous due to slip of tongue, which often cause embarrassment to the party. The sixth-time MP has worked more for his kin and less for the party and people. It can be seen by how he got his son-in-law Sanjay Kushram elected as Mandla district panchayat chairperson with Gondwana Gantantra Party’s support in 2022.”

Adding to Kulaste’s woes is the 90-km patch Jabalpur-Mandla highway, which is incomplete since the last 10 years, Last year, Nitin Gadkari at a rally had expressed regret about the incomplete highway patch. The Congress has been particularly raising this issue.

While the BJP is pulling all stops to retain the seat for Kulaste, the Congress isn’t behind, as one of the two rallies addressed by Rahul Gandhi on April 8, were held in Mandla.

“We’re particularly focusing on around nine seats, including the Mandla-ST seat. Omkar Singh Markam is known to fight for tribal cause,” state Congress media advisor KK Mishra said.

Curriculum vitae of Faggan Singh Kulaste

The 64-year-old Gond tribe politician is counted among the most prominent tribal politicians of the ruling BJP in MP, particularly in the Mahakoshal region. He is currently the minister of state for rural development and steel in the Modi government. He was MoS in the previous Modi government also. He lost in 2009 but won from Mandla-ST seat six times in the past, including 2014 and 2019. He was among six MPs, including three Union ministers who were fielded by BJP in Assembly polls in 2023. But he lost from his home assembly seat Niwas-ST that he had won way back in 1990, while his brother won it thrice in the past. The BJP, however, has renominated him as its candidate from Mandla, despite his assembly poll loss, anti-incumbency and declining LS win margin in 2019.

Gond tribe politician has access to kamal nath, delhi

The 48-year-old is seen as the prime tribal face of the Congress in the Mahakoshal region. The Gond tribe politician who has won four successive elections from Dindori-ST seat (it forms part of Mandla-ST constituency) in 2008, 2013, 2018 and 2023 and was the minister of tribal affairs in the 15-month-long Congress government headed by Kamal Nath between December 2018 and March 2020. He is considered close to Nath as well as the top leadership of the Congress in Delhi. This is the second time in 10 years that he is contesting from the Mandla-ST seat on Congress ticket, as he had contested from the same seat in 2014 against BJP’s Faggan Singh Kulaste, but lost by 1.10 lakh votes. He is looking to capitalize this time on high anti-incumbency against the BJP candidate.

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