Star dust in Jabalpur as rivals stretch to win prestige seat

The seat has been with the BJP since 1996, and the Congress, fresh from the M.P. Assembly election victory, wants to win it back

Updated - April 25, 2019 10:57 pm IST

Published - April 25, 2019 09:39 pm IST - Jabalpur

Heated campaign BJP candidate Rakesh Singh and his Congress rival Vivek Tankha campaign in Jabalpur on Thursday.

Heated campaign BJP candidate Rakesh Singh and his Congress rival Vivek Tankha campaign in Jabalpur on Thursday.

The significance of the Jabalpur Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh’s Mahakaushal region can be gauged by simply counting the number of public rallies addressed by the star campaigners of the BJP and the Congress.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to speak on Friday for the incumbent MP Rakesh Singh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed a meeting last Tuesday.

The BJP has been winning the seat since 1996, and Mr. Singh, who is the State BJP chief, has been representing Jabalpur since 2004. In 2014, his victory margin over the Congress’s Vivek Tankha, a Supreme Court lawyer, was more than two lakh votes.

But the Congress, buoyed by its recent Assembly election victory, is targeting to recapture the seat. Of the eight Assembly segments, the Congress and the BJP hold four each.

Heated campaign BJP candidate Rakesh Singh and his Congress rival Vivek Tankha campaign in Jabalpur on Thursday.

Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh,25/04/2019: Congress Candidate for Jabalpur Loksabha Constituency Vivek Tankha campaigning during his Road Show at Miloni Ganj in Jabalpur on Thursday, 25 April 2019. photo: A.M.Faruqui/ The Hindu


At his campaign meeting, Mr. Gandhi focussed on the Rafale deal, contending that the transaction had taken away jobs from public sector units manufacturing defence products. It is an issue that has a local connect as jobs in Jabalpur’s ordnance factory have shrunk over the years, Congress leaders say.

While Jyotiraditya Scindia, another of the Congress’s star campaigners, addressed a gathering a day later, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, who is from neighbouring Chhindwara, too lent his weight for Mr. Tankha by addressing a public rally on Thursday.

“It is a big factor to have Kamal Nath ji , who is also from Mahakaushal,” said Mr. Tankha, as he negotiated the narrow lanes of Machchli Market and Miloniganj areas of the city during a padayatra. “I requested him to have a Cabinet [meeting] in Jabalpur, and for the first time in 60 years, it took place where development work worth ₹2,700 crore was cleared,” the Congress candidate said.

Anti-incumbency factor

Once a BJP citadel, the area voted a Congress MLA four months ago. There was anti-incumbency against the then BJP government and the local MLA, who was a Minister in the government headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Campaign promises such as kisan ka karza maaf, bijli ki daam half (loan waiver to the farmers, halving electricity’s cost) by the Congress also clicked with the voters. Just as the promise of cheaper electricity resonated with urban voters, the prospect of debt relief helped win the votes in the rural areas.

There is similar anti-incumbency discernible now against the incumbent MP.

Employment, educational opportunities, the promise of making Jabalpur a “smart city” are all issues that are being talked about. But is it enough for the Congress to repeat its success in the Lok Sabha elections?

“Forget the local MP,” said Rajnish Mishra, an advocate in the Jabalpur High Court. “Here the voters will vote on the lotus brand and the strong leadership of Modi ji ,” he said.

Opinions were divided among rural voters. At Siluwa Parariya village, barely 25 km from the city, Balak Ram talked about how Mr. Modi should get a second term.

“His work will be incomplete if he loses,” says Mr. Ram, an agricultural worker in his late 60s.

Munne Lal, another farm labourer, however opined that the panja [hand], a reference to the Congress’s electoral symbol, should be given a chance, though he had not yet heard of the Congress’s promise of a minimum income guarantee under its NYAY proposal.

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