Every time Amit Shah addressed a meeting in Bhopal in the past five years, he promised a tough fight to the Congress in Guna and Chhindwara-the only two seats in the state that the grand old party had won in 2014.
The BJP president has the reputation of being a keen strategist, but a week before polling in Guna, none of that famed strategy is on show. With a political lightweight, K.P. Yadav, who was till recently with the Congress, pitted against him, former Union minister and sitting MP Jyotiraditya Scindia is expected to be home and dry on May 23.
Contesting his fifth poll from Guna, a constituency once represented by his father and grandmother, and a seat represented by a Scindia for 52 of its 67 years of existence, Scindia isn’t taking any chances though. Appointed general secretary in charge of western Uttar Pradesh by his party, Scindia spent crucial days in the run-up to the poll in the neighbouring state, while wife Priyadarshini Raje held the fort in his absence. But Scindia was back in his constituency, touring extensively to make up for lost time. With the temperature crossing 40° C on most days, Scindia changed tack and decided to hold smaller, more frequent meetings.
“The loans of almost 2 million farmers have been written off and the remaining will be too in the coming days,” he told farmers at Mala Ganeshkhedi village in Shivpuri district. While speaking to the electorate, he also highlighted the NYAY programme, highway projects, a medical college and a water supply plant for Shivpuri, besides mocking PM Modi’s claims of putting Rs 15 lakh in every bank account and the creation of 20 million jobs. His family connection with the region was invoked generously and the crowd seemed to love their ‘maharaj’.
At every meeting, Scindia asked those assembled to raise their hands and pledge support to him, similar to the sankalp (pledge) the BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan asks voters to make.
Missing in this election in Guna is the BJP’s stomach for a fight. In 2014, it fielded Jaibhan Singh Pawaiyya against Scindia. Yadav shifted from the Congress to the BJP just before the assembly poll when he unsuccessfully contested from Mungaoli segment under the Guna Lok Sabha seat. No big BJP leader has come to the constituency to canvass for Yadav and even known Scindia baiters like Prabhat Jha and Narottam Mishra are conspicuous by their absence.
“The people of Guna will vote for a strong government at the Centre under Narendra Modi,” says BJP state spokesperson Rahul Kothari, brushing aside reports of the party not giving Scindia a tough fight.
The BSP’s presence in Guna was never seen as a threat to the Congress, with the BSP candidate in 2014 polling 27,000 votes as against Scindia’s victory margin of 120,000 votes. On April 29, the present BSP candidate, Lokendra Singh Rajput, announced his support to Scindia, a move that did not go down well with his party chief Mayawati.
Factors in Scindia’s favour notwithstanding, challenges remain. There are areas within the constituency that have committed BJP voters, especially the semi-urban pockets of Shivpuri, Ashok Nagar and Guna towns. The Yadavs, the community from which the BJP candidate hails, are present in sizeable numbers across the constituency. Also, three of the eight assembly segments-Guna, Kolaras and Shivpuri-are with the BJP.
“The big issues are farmers’ distress and lack of jobs. The BJP has introduced a smokescreen of nationalism because it has nothing to show by way of progress on the parameters I consider important election issues,” says Scindia.