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4-min read

After Wresting Jhabua Assembly Seat, Ruling Congress Breathes Easy in Madhya Pradesh

Congress candidate and former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria (68) won from Jhabua, defeating his nearest rival, BJP's Bhanu Bhuria (36), by a margin of over 27,804 votes.

PTI

Updated:October 24, 2019, 9:15 PM IST
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After Wresting Jhabua Assembly Seat, Ruling Congress Breathes Easy in Madhya Pradesh
File photo of senior Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria.

Bhopal: The Congresss victory in the Jhabua assembly bypoll on Thursday came as a big relief for the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh, where its government is precariously placed.

Congress candidate and former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria (68) won from Jhabua, defeating his nearest rival, BJP's Bhanu Bhuria (36), by a margin of over 27,804 votes.

With this, the Congress wrested the seat, reserved for tribals, from the BJP, dealing a blow to the main opposition party.

The bypoll win has helped the Congress improve its tally in the 230-member assembly, but the party-led government still has to bank on a few legislators of other parties for stability.

Kantilal Bhuria's victory came as a shot in the arm for Chief Minister Kamal Nath, who has been helming a wafer-thin majority government since December 2018 and fending off attacks from the BJP.

Nath led the electioneering in Jhabua from the front, promising "development" in the tribal-dominated seat, which fell vacant after sitting BJP MLA G S Damor resigned following victory from the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha seat in May.

With Jhabua in its kitty, the Congress strength in the assembly has gone up to 115, just one short of the simple majority mark of 116. On the other hand, the BJP's tally has now gone down to 108.

The 10-month-old Nath government has been surviving on the support of two BSP, one SP and four Independent MLAs. The Jhabua by-election was a litmus test for Nath, who is also president of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, where the party came to power in 2018 after 15 years.

Nath's leadership came under the scanner when the Congress lost 28 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh in the April-May national elections.

After the disastrous show of his party in general elections in Madhya Pradesh, a dejected Nath had even resigned from the state Congress chief's post, but was asked to carry on till a successor is named.

However, the Congress has been unable to name a new state party president following factionalism in the Madhya Pradesh unit.

Arch-rivals Congress and the BJP had tried their best o win the Jhabua seat which borders Gujarat. The BJP started its Jhabua election campaign with focus on nationalism". Its senior leader Gopal Bhargava landed in trouble for equating the by-election as a fight between "India and Pakistan".

Bhargava, the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the assembly, was booked and warned by the Election Commission for his remark, sending the BJP on the backfoot in Jhabua. The BJP went in the campaign modeon a positive note as it had won the Jhabua seat in the last year's state polls. The saffron outfit had also won the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha seat in May.

BJP's Damor, a former chief engineer of Public Health Engineering Department, had defeated the Congress's Vikrant Bhuria in the state polls in late 2018 and later also trounced his father, Kantilal Bhuria, in the general elections.

Nath visited Jhabua five times ahead of the October 21 bypoll and maintained his government would turn the district, which has a creaky infrastructure, into Chhindwara, his home district which he had represented nine times in the Lok Sabha.

Chhindwara stands tall on development front in Madhya Pradesh. It has many institutes and industries besides a strong infrastructure, including ring roads.

"What the BJP could not do in its 15 years of rule in Madhya Pradesh, we are going to do that in just 15 months," Nath had declared during his election meetings and road shows.

In the last year's assembly polls, Congress rebel Xavier Meda had garnered 35,943 votes, paving the way for the BJP's victory in Jhabua by over 10,000 votes.

Meda was expelled from the Congress last year but was readmitted in the party in view of the Jhabua bypoll. In 2013 too, Congress rebel Kalavati Bhuria, niece of Kantilal Bhuria, had fought against her party's official candidate Meda, who lost the seat.

Knowing the BJP had won this seat twice since 2013, largely due to the Congress infighting, Nath gave Meda a prominent place during campaigning.

Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia and his camp members stayed away from electioneering in Jhabua, but that did not come in the way of the party's victory. Nath had deputed more than a dozen ministers of his cabinet to oversee campaigning and coordination in Jhabua to ensure that Kantilal Bhuria, considered a loyalist of Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh, won the seat.

This is the 11th victory of the Congress in the Jhabua assembly seat since 1952. The BJP had bagged the seat three times in the past, whereas the erstwhile Socialist Party emerged victorious two times - in 1952 and 1962. Ahead of the bypoll, the BJP had put up a united face and left no stone unturned to retain the seat.

Former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan held road shows and addressed multiple public meetings. Chouhan and state BJP chief Rakesh Singhcamped in Jhabua for days to drum up support for the party. BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, too, campaigned for Bhanu Bhuria besides Union Ministers Narendra Tomar and Faggan Singh Kulaste.

By wresting Jhabua from the saffron party, Nath has dealt a second blow to the BJP in four months. In July, the BJP was left red-faced when two of its MLAs voted in favour of a Congress-sponsored bill in the assembly.

In the past, the BJP had boastfully announced that it can topple the Nath government "anytime".

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