The bypoll in Khandwa has been necessitated following the death of sitting BJP MP Nandkumar Singh Chauhan.
The Congress and the BJP are engaged in a cut-throat competition in Khandwa. This could be gauged from the fact that of the total 17 Lok Sabha polls and bypolls in the constituency that have been held since 1957, while the Congress has won eight times, the BJP and its earlier avatar Janta Party have been victorious on the seat for the remaining nine times.
Nandkumar Singh Chauhan alone had won the seat for a record six times since 1996. He was victorious on the seat for four consecutive terms in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004 and then for two consecutive terms in 2014 and 2019.
Chauhan lost only once and that was in 2009 to former Madhya Pradesh Congress president Arun Yadav. However, he returned to trounce Yadav in both 2014 and 2019.
Chauhan died on March 2 due to complications after contracting Covid-19. He was 68. While his death has thrown a massive challenge to the BJP to retain the seat, the Congress too is under immense pressure to wrest it from the BJP.
Arun Yadav was the frontrunner for a ticket for the upcoming by-election. What went in his favour was the fact that he belongs to the OBC category. OBCs constitute about 26 per cent of the constituency’s population.
Secondly, he had represented Khandwa in Lok Sabha in 2009. Third, he was a Union minister of state in the Manmohan Singh government. Fourth, he is a former president of the MP Congress. And fifth, he is the son of MP’s former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav.
Former minister and senior Congress leader Sajjan Singh Verma even termed Yadav as the best candidate for the Khandwa seat. He said, “Our high command too feels so.”
However, Yadav seems to have become a victim, like Union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia in the past, of the intense factionalism in the state Congress. Former chief ministers Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath are believed to have teamed up to isolate Yadav as they had done to Scindia.
Frustrated with the factionalism in the Congress, Scindia had rebelled and quit the party along with MLAs loyal to him and caused the downfall of Kamal Nath government in March 2020. He joined the BJP leading to the return of Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the CM.
In Yadav’s case, the Congress has fielded former MLA Raj Narayan Singh Purni from Khandwa. Purni, a Thakur, is considered close to Digvijaya Singh who also belongs to the same caste.
After learning of the party selecting Purni over him, though Yadav did not rebel, he expressed his displeasure by announcing his withdrawal from the race for a ticket for the Khandwa bypoll.
In a tweet in Hindi on October 3, Yadav said, “After meeting Kamal Nath (state Congress president) and Mukul Wasnik (AICC general secretary in-charge of MP) personally in Delhi today, I have conveyed to the party in writing about my inability to contest from the Khandwa parliamentary seat due to family reasons. I will fully cooperate and support the party’s official candidate.”
आज कमलनाथ जी, मुकुल वासनिक जी से दिल्ली में व्यक्तिगत तौर पर मिलकर अपने पारिवारिक कारणों से खण्डवा संसदीय निर्वाचन… https://t.co/wjrHbD0obL
— Arun Subhash Yadav 🇮🇳 (@MPArunYadav) 1633281296000
With Yadav’s withdrawal, winning the seat has become a prestige issue personally for Digvijaya Singh.
The BJP is facing its own quota of factionalism. According to sources, Nandkumar Singh Chauhan’s son Harshvardhan Chauhan was a claimant for the party ticket. He was also being considered a frontrunner for the ticket.
Besides Harshvardhan Chauhan, former state minister Archana Chitnis was also believed to be interested in contesting the seat.
However, the BJP leadership ignored the claims of both the leaders and fielded a lesser-known party worker Gyaneswar Patil from the seat. A point in his favour is that he belongs to the OBC category. OBCs who constitute 52 per cent of MP’s population.
The OBCs also dominate the state politics. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan himself belongs to the OBC category and so were two of his predecessors in the party – Babulal Gaur and Uma Bharti.
With the claims of both Nandkumar Singh Chauhan’s son and Archana Chitnis getting ignored, a section of the party is now said to be sulking. But the BJP seems to have banked upon the party’s cadre and strength and the caste equation instead of garnering votes by sympathy.
Who beats factionalism – Congress or BJP – to register victory in Khandwa byelection would be known on November 2 when votes would be counted.