The death of six farmers in police firing in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur in 2017 had given farmers across the country a platform to vent their anger that had been brewing over farm distress, and leading to a series of nation-wide protests. Nearly two years on, Mandsaur is now set to see a neck-and-neck fight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with the odds seem to be in favour of the saffron party.
The Mandsaur parliamentary constituency has been a Jana Sangh-BJP stronghold with its veteran Laxminarayan Pandey having represented it in the 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th Lok Sabhas. In 2009, Meenakshi Natrajan of the Congress snatched Mandsaur from Pandey but lost it to BJP’s Sudhir Gupta in 2014. In 2019, Natrajan is once again in the fray.
Political observers say national and local issues will play an equal role in influencing the voters this time around. The constituency comprises eight Assembly seats spread over three districts — Mandsaur, Malhargarh, Suwasra, Garoth (all in Mandsaur district), Neemuch, Manasa, Jawad (all in Neemuch district) and Jaora (in Ratlam district).
The BJP had won seven of them in 2018 — against the widespread belief that it would lose most of them owing to the farm distress. Except in Jaora, the winning margin between the BJP and Congress candidates was over 2,000 votes in six constituencies. In Jaora, the BJP won with a thin margin of 511, while the Congress candidate pulled through in Suwasra by a mere 350 votes.
Rebels in the Congress and the selection of wrong candidates, besides higher polling in urban pockets helped the BJP in the Assembly elections, said Ajay Lodha, the editor of a local daily. “Congress-rebels led to the party’s defeat on four seats while our calculations say the party chose wrong candidates for the other four. Yet, there was one victory, albeit with a narrow margin,” he added.
Notably, the voting turnout in the Assembly segments ranged between 79 and 86 per cent, which Lodha said happened due to higher balloting in the urban pockets. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the overall polling turnout was a little over 71 per cent while it was 56 per cent in 2009. “The voting percentage has been consistent in the rural areas. Higher overall turnout means people from urban pockets voted in great numbers,” Lodha explained.
“So, electoral calculations show the BJP can win if the voter turnout remains high in the Lok Sabha elections. Else, Congress gets to benefit.”
The voters in urban areas, he said, are more focused on issues such as nationalism that are important in the national perspective while their counterparts in the rural areas are concerned about farm issues such as fall in crop prices and drought. Many farmer leaders, politicians visited Mandsaur after the 2017 firing, which became the precursor for widespread protests against “anti-farm policies” of the BJP government. Several rallies were held in the national capital, which saw farmers participating in huge numbers.
The issue also offered the opposition leaders a common ground, perhaps, for the first time, to rally against the BJP. BJP’s Sudhir Gupta, a first-time parliamentarian, is approaching voters with the development work he initiated in the area, particularly in relation to the railway facilities, while Natrajan, hoping for a comeback, is banking on her connect with her constituents through a ‘padyatra’ that she undertook through all the villages in the constituency.