Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): The Congress is hoping to reap electoral dividends in 21 Madhya Pradesh assembly seats covered by its leader Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra last year as the opposition party aims to return to power in a state where it lost its government midway.
In May this year, the Congress hailed the Bharat Jodo Yatra for the party's success in the Karnataka assembly polls, having won 15 of the 20 assembly constituencies in the state the Gandhi-led foot march passed through.
Now, the Congress is expecting a similar result in Madhya Pradesh, where voting will be held in a single phase for 230 assembly seats on November 17.
Last month, when the Congress won a majority in the elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil, the party said it was a direct impact of Gandhi's padyatra.
Rahul covered 21 assembly seats
During the Madhya Pradesh leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the former Congress president walked 380 km through 21 assembly seats across six districts of the Malwa-Nimar region -- Burhanpur, Khandwa, Khargone, Indore, Ujjain and Agar Malwa - in nearly two weeks.
There was a feeling among party leaders that the yatra would rejuvenate cadres and infuse much-needed energy in the state Congress, making it ready for the 2023 polls.
In the outgoing assembly, the BJP has 14 of the 21 seats that fell in the yatra's route in Madhya Pradesh, while the Congress tally stands at seven.
Former state Congress president Arun Yadav, who hails from Malwa-Nimar, told PTI that Bharat Jodo Yatra will definitely make a difference and add to his party's seat tally.
"A large number of young voters are attracted to the Congress following Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra, not only in Madhya Pradesh but also in other states," he asserted.
Yadav, a former Union minister, said the padyatra left a lasting impact on Madhya Pradesh and Congress candidates will benefit in all the six districts covered by the cross-country march.
BJP downplayed the yatra
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to downplay the Kanyakumari to Kashmir padyatra's impact on the Madhya Pradesh polls.
State BJP vice-president Jitu Jirati claimed there will be no impact of the yatra on poll outcome as those who wanted to break the country and speak against Sanatan Dharma were walking with Gandhi.
"The people and youth know as to why there was no peace in Kashmir during the Congress rule. They also know why communal riots used to occur frequently under Congress governments. On the other hand, a nationalistic government under Narendra Modi solved these problems and took the country forward," he told PTI.
After entering Madhya Pradesh from Maharashtra on November 23 last year, Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through Burhanpur and Nepanagar assembly segments in Burhanpur district.
The Burhanpur seat in 2018 was won by independent candidate Surendra Singh Shera, who is now the Congress nominee from the constituency.
Nepanagar was won by Congress candidate Sumitra Kasdekar in 2018, but she later changed sides and was elected on a BJP ticket in a 2020 bypoll.
The contest in Burhanpur has got interesting this time as the BJP has fielded former MLA Manju Dadu, who is facing a tough time from party rebel Harshavardhan Singh Chouhan, the son of former state BJP president Nand Kumar Singh Chouhan.
Gandhi's march later entered Mandhata and Pandhana seats in Khandwa district.
Pandhana was won by BJP's Ram Dangore in the previous elections, while Narayan Patel of the Congress had emerged victorious in Mandhata.
Patel, however, changed sides and won the seat in bypoll on a BJP ticket in 2020. He is in the fray again.
From Khandwa, the yatra entered Khargone district and passed through Barwah and Bhikangaon assembly seats. Both these seats were won by the Congress in 2018.
Barwah MLA Sachin Birla, however, later joined the BJP and the saffron party has fielded him again.
The padyatra's next halt was Indore, where it covered all eight seats of the district starting from Mhow.
In 2018, the BJP won five of these eight assembly seats -- (Indore-2, Indore-3, Indore-4, Indore-5 and Mhow), while the Congress bagged the remaining three -- Rau, Indore-1 and Sanwer.
Sanwer MLA Tulsiram Silawat, however, later joined the BJP and emerged victorious from the seat in a 2020 bypoll.
After covering five assembly seats of Ujjain district, the foot march passed through Agar Malwa and Susner assembly seats in Agar Malwa district before entering neighbouring Rajasthan on December 4, 2022.
4 of 5 Ujjain seats won by BJP in 2018
Four of the five seats in Ujjain district were won by the BJP, while the Congress had to contend with just one in 2018.
The BJP bagged the Agar Malwa assembly seat in 2018, but the Congress wrested it in 2020 in a byelection necessitated by the death of sitting MLA Manohar Untwal.
Five years ago, the Susner seat was won by independent candidate Vikram Singh Rana, who later joined the BJP.
Senior journalist and political commentator Rasheed Kidwai said Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra will have a major impact on electoral politics of poll-bound states, including Madhya Pradesh.
"Rahul is now taken far more seriously and his remarks on a caste-based census and Other Backward Class (OBC) reservation are proving to be a game changer," he said.
Kidwai maintained the BJP has a near total control over OBC voters in Madhya Pradesh and even a shift of 2 per cent from the bloc will bring substantial gains for the Congress.
In 2018, the Congress won 35 of the 66 seats in the Malwa-Nimar region, increasing its tally from nine in 2013 and putting the party in a position to form a government after 15 years which eventually collapsed midway in March 2020.
On the other hand, the BJP tally halved to 28 in 2018 from 57 in 2013. Three independent candidates had won from the region.
Madhya Pradesh, which has seen a Congress government followed by BJP rule in the last five years, will have single phase polling and votes will be counted on December 3.