Madhya Pradesh: BJP, Congress bank on defectors in Morena

While the Congress is eyeing the seat it had last won in 1991 through a BJP family scion, the BJP too is working on a counter plan of banking on desertions from other parties.
Flags of BJP and Congress parties used for representational purposes only
Flags of BJP and Congress parties used for representational purposes only(File Photos | PTI)

BHOPAL : As the Lok Sabha polls move into the third phase in Madhya Pradesh, the spotlight will be on the Gwalior-Chambal region — the most fiercely contested region in the 2023 assembly polls, where BJP won 18 and Congress finished a close second with 16 seats.

While the region houses four seats — Guna, Gwalior, Bhind-SC and Morena — the last one, Morena, seems to be emerging as the hottest and toughest.

Spread across eight assembly segments in Morena and Sheopur districts bordering Rajasthan, Morena is famous for being the land of the sweet Gajak (sweet prepared with sesame and jaggery), the expanding Banmore Industrial Area, and the Kuno National Park (KNP), which is home to African cheetahs since September 2022.

The constituency, which houses around 20.04 lakh voters (10.70 lakh males, 9.34 lakh females and 24 third gender), has turned into a BJP citadel since 1996, with former Morena mayor Ashok Argal, infamous for being allegedly involved in the 2008 cash-for-votes scandal, winning the seat four times in a row between 1996 and 2004.

With the BSP too being a formidable player, the contest this time in Morena appears to be three-cornered, but as per political observers, the battle may ultimately boil down to the BJP and Congress. The BSP may largely play a spoiler for either of the two main parties.

Aiming to snatch the seat from the BJP, the Congress has fielded Satyapal Singh Neetu Sikarwar, the son of a BJP leader. The younger son of BJP veteran and two-time former BJP MLA from Morena Lok Sabha seat’s Sumaoli assembly segment Gajraj Singh Sikarwar, the Congress candidate had won the seat in 2013 assembly polls on BJP ticket.

Neetu’s elder brother Satish Sikawar, also a former BJP man who defected to the Congress in 2020, is the first-time Congress MLA from Gwalior-East seat, while Satish’s wife Shobha Sikarwar is currently Congress’ Gwalior mayor.

Though Neetu was declared the Congress candidate from Morena after a long delay and only around a month before the May 7 poll battle, the party’s best bet is his family’s major influence not just among the Kshatriya community he hails from, but also other castes including Brahmins, Kushwahas and SCs.

Gajraj Singh Sikarwar, who is known among Kshatriyas as Dada (elder brother), now remains confined to a wheelchair due to severe paralytic attack. But despite this, the former BJP veteran has issued a pamphlet appeal to voters (particularly eyeing the 2 lakh plus Kshatriya voters) for his son’s poll success.

On the other hand, the BJP nominee Shiv Mangal Singh Tomar is an ex-MLA from Dimani assembly segment, currently represented by his mentor and Vidhan Sabha Speaker Narendra Singh Tomar. Shiv Mangal Tomar won from Dimani on the BJP ticket in 2008 by just 256 votes, but lost by bigger margins from the same assembly seat in 2013 and 2018.

With the second-time MP and former Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar — who won the Morena seat in 2009 and 2018 — now being the state’s Vidhan Sabha speaker, BJP has fielded Shiv Mangal Tomar, who is being largely seen as the former Union minister’s shadow candidate to maintain his clout in the region’s politics.

“Narendra Singh Tomar and Dada Gajraj Singh Sikarwar are considered two major Kshatriya politicians in Morena. It is an open secret in local BJP circles that Tomar was instrumental in Dada’s elder son Satish’s defeat in 2018 assembly polls in Gwalior-East, when Satish contested as BJP candidate. Tomar’s hand is also alleged in the defeats of other BJP leaders, including former Madhya Pradesh ministers Jaibhan Singh Pavaiya and Anoop Mishra in Gwalior district in 2013 and 2018 assembly polls. With a major section of BJP in Gwalior-Chambal region, particularly in Morena, being averse to Tomar, the possibility of some BJP quarters internally backing the Congress candidate in the May 7 polls cannot be ruled out,” a BJP leader in Morena, who wished not to be named, told this newspaper.

While the Congress is eyeing the seat it had last won in 1991 through a BJP family scion, the BJP too is working on a counter plan of banking on desertions from other parties.

The list of major politicians from the region who have joined the BJP in this poll season include six-time MLA and former minister Ramniwas Rawat (a powerful OBC leader who missed out the Congress ticket despite having finished runners up from the seat in 2019 and 2009), Morena mayor Sharda Solanki, former Congress MLAs Rakesh Mawai and Ajab Singh Kushwah (all from Congress), besides BSP’s ex-Brahmin MLA Balveer Dandotiya, who lost to Narendra Singh Tomar in 2023 assembly polls.

“There is no other issue except caste in the politics of Gwalior-Chambal region, particularly Morena. Even the dacoits who once called the shots in the Chambal ravines of Bhind and Morena largely headed the gangs on caste lines. By roping in these former Congress and BSP leaders in its ranks, the BJP is eyeing to cut into Congress and BSP votes in various dominant castes, including Gurjars, Brahmins, Kushwah, Rawat (Meena) and Scheduled Castes. But the ruling party also risks the possibility of other castes and its own cadres averse to these leaders since long, actually working against the party’s candidate on the poll day,” Morena-based political analyst Hariom Gaur said.

A caste-wise break-up of the 20.04 lakh voters in Morena constituency reveals that the Scheduled Castes form the largest chunk with around 4 lakh plus votes, Kshatriyas (2.75 lakh), the OBCs including Gurjars, Rawats and Kushwahas collectively around 4-5 lakh, Brahmins who are around 2.5 lakh and the Baniyas around one lakh.

With the BSP fielding Ramesh Chand Garg for the May 7 battle, the Congress hopes to profit from the possibility of the BSP candidate eating into BJP’s traditional voter base.

2,361 polling stations spread across 8 assembly segments in Morena and Sheopur districts.

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