The politically pivotal Malwa-Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh played a key role in bringing the Congress to power in 2018 after a 15-year hiatus and the party is using the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra to bolster its position in the belt. years ahead of the Assembly polls.
The yatra’s focus on Malwa-Nimar during its Madhya Pradesh leg will help the party revitalize its grassroots organization and will also enable it to reap electoral benefits, some of the congress leaders and political observers said.
Recognizing the political significance of the region, which holds 66 seats out of a total of 230 parliaments, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also stepped up its efforts to consolidate its position in Malwa-Nimar and tighten its grip on the maintain power in the state.
Gandhi’s march across the country reached the village of Baroda Ahir, the birthplace of tribal icon and revolutionary Tantya Bheel in Pandhana tehsil in Khandwa district on November 24, a day after the yatra entered Madhya Pradesh in Burhanpur district.
The Congress MP addressed a rally in Baroda Ahir where he fought for the restoration of tribal rights and paid rich tributes to Tantya Bheel.
However, a day before, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan arrived at the village in tribal-dominated Nimar and flagged Janjatiya Gaurav Yatra, a BJP outreach program aggressively pursuing adivasis.
Chouhan also paid floral tribute to Tantya Bheel and met his relatives during his visit.
Known as the Indian “Robin Hood”, Tantya Bheel is hailed as a revolutionary who waged an armed struggle against British rule for 12 years. It is said that the tribal leader used to plunder the treasuries of the British government and distribute the looted wealth to the poor.
A BJP leader said that the party is targeting not only Malwa-Nimar but the whole state, where the Assembly polls will take place towards the end of 2023, reaching different segments of society.
BJP Secretary of State Rajneesh Agrawal told PTI, “Our party has been working for a long time not only in the Malwa-Nimar region but also in other parts of the state to consolidate its position among the people.” Six Janjatiya Gaurav Yatras are being knocked out in parliament and a separate march is also underway to spread awareness about the Panchayats (Extension to Planned Areas) Act (PESA Act), he said.
Agrawal said these events were pre-planned by the BJP as part of a strategy and that they have nothing to do with Gandhi’s unity march, which began in Tamil Nadu on September 7.
The central government had declared 15 November as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas last year to celebrate the birthday of tribal leader Birsa Munda and commemorate the contribution of tribal freedom fighters.
The PESA law was created to prevent the exploitation of indigenous people. It gives special powers to gram sabhas in planned areas, especially in natural resource management.
“The yatra is not getting much support from the people and it will not benefit the Congress party,” Agrawal claimed.
In the 2018 parliamentary election, of the 66 seats in the Malwa-Nimar region, the Congress had won 35 (the total number was 114), a total which helped the party form its government in Madhya Pradesh in December of that year under led by Kamal Nath.
The BJP had 28 seats, while three were won by Independents.
In 2013, the BJP had won a whopping 56 seats in Malwa-Nimar, Congress 9 and Independent 1.
However, after the fall of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in March 2020 due to the resignation of 22 party MLAs and subsequent bypolls in 2020-2021, the BJP’s strength in the region rose to 33. On the other hand, reduced the congressional figure to 30.
Of these 66 seats, 22 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and nine for Scheduled Castes (SCs).
The total number of reserved seats in the region is 31 and among them, Congress has 20 in its pot and BJP 10, while one Assembly segment is represented by an Independent.
Out of a total of 22 ST seats, Congress holds 14 while BJP holds seven and one Independent. The nine SC seats are split between Congress (6) and BJP (3).
While Congress leaders have maintained that the purpose of the yatra was not to gain electoral gains, the route planned by the Madhya Pradesh managers clearly indicates that the foot march is targeting the Malwa-Nimar region.
While in MP, the yatra will pass through the Burhanpur, Khandwa, Khargone, Indore, Ujjain and Agar Malwa districts of the region before entering Rajasthan in the first week of December.
However, the impact of the unity march will also be felt in other districts of Malwa including Shajapur, Dewas, Barwani, Jhabua, Dhar, Alirajpur, Ratlam, Mandsaur and Neemuch and beyond for the entire state, Madhya Pradesh Congress general secretary JP Dhanopia said .
It will benefit the party not only in the next parliamentary elections in the state (2023) but also in the parliamentary elections (2024), Dhanopia said.
However, senior congress leader Digvijaya Singh said the 3,570 km Kanniyakumari to Kashmir yatra is above electoral politics and its aim is to save the constitution and democracy in the country.
“We are not seeking voices through this yatra. There are few things that cannot be related to elections,” said the Rajya Sabha MP, the chief organizer of the march, in Burhanpur after the yatra entered for its 380 km Madhya Pradesh stage.
Senior journalist Prakash Hindustani said that while congress leaders say the yatra is unrelated to elections, Gandhi broaches topics in his interactions that will surely benefit the party in future polls.
The congress’s massive outreach program will benefit the party in the Malwa-Nimar region and also revitalize its ground-level organization, he said.
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