It’s a prestigious, tough fight in Khandwa

At Udaipur, Ohri rushed through her daily chore of carrying pitchers of water from the village hand-pump to her house to attend an election meeting addressed by Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Alok Agarwal, now Aam Aadmi Party candidate in Khandwa Lok Sabha constituency.

“Had it not been for Alok bhaiya and the Andolan, our village would have disappeared in the waters of the Upper Veda dam on the Veda river,” she told The Hindu as she called out to other women to come to the meeting.

Raising the dam height has been halted following the Supreme Court’s intervention on the NBA demand for ‘land-for-land’ rehabilitation of the displaced tribal and farmer population. The State’s Grievance Redress Agency will now look into it.

“For too long we have begged for justice. So we decided to join a clean party like the AAP and fight the system from within,” Mr. Agarwal told an appreciative audience of tribals.

With a firm hold on tribal and farmer votes in the Scheduled Tribe Assembly segments in the Narmada valley, Mr. Agarwal, an IIT-Kanpur graduate, is giving sitting MP and Congress candidate Arun Yadav and BJP stalwart Nandkumar Chauhan sleepless nights.

The AAP was not in the fray in the recently held Assembly elections in which the BJP won seven out of the eight seats in the Khandwa Lok Sabha constituency. But with its entry, this has become one of the most fiercely contested three-cornered fights. Khandwa goes to the polls on April 24.

Four districts — Dewas (Bagli-ST), Khargone (Bhikangaon-ST, Barwah), Khandwa (Mandhata, Khandwa-SC, Pandhana-ST) and Buranpur (Burhanpur and Nepanagar-ST), fall under the constituency, which has about 17.5 lakh voters of whom about 30 per cent are tribals and 17 per cent Muslims. Of The BJP won all of these except Bhikangaon in the December 2013 Assembly elections.

Now, for the Congress, this is a prestigious seat as Mr. Yadav, son of the former Minister Subhash Yadav, is the PCC president. “This seat is equally prestigious for the BJP because we did well in Assembly polls and now want to oust Mr. Yadav,” said a local party functionary.

The BJP managed to make inroads into the Congress’ traditional tribal vote base in the Assembly election. But now AAP is set to wrest a majority of the tribal vote from both mainstream parties, especially in the submergence zones of Bagli, Mandhata, Barwah, Khandwa and Bhikangaon, where the NBA has been active for the last 20 years.

Mr. Agarwal told The Hindu that he was concentrating on door-to-door campaign and had reached all voters at least once, “if not personally, through the 20 teams that had fanned out in the constituency.”

But his areas of influence remain the submergence zones. In cities, where people care more about continuous supply of electricity and water, the plight of the displaced population does not move them. Indeed, the importance of this constituency for each party is obvious from the fact that BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and AAP leaders Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan have been campaigning there in the last few days.

By all accounts it is a tough fight for all candidates. Despite the ‘Modi factor,’ it is a ding-dong battle between Mr. Chauhan and Mr. Yadav, who is facing complaints of long absence from the constituency since 2009.

Keywords: AAP2014 LS polls