Budhni: Barely a week before the assembly polls, Madhya Pradesh’s Budhni constituency, where BJP’s longest-serving chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan faces on-screen Hanuman and Congress candidate Vikram Mastal, appears lukewarm to the fight.
Even the entry of Samajwadi Party’s saffron-robed and long-bearded Vairagyanand Giri, aka Mirchi Baba, in the fray has not spiced up the contest. His presence has been marked by infrequent visits to Budhni from Bhopal.
A confident Chouhan, the longest-serving chief minister of MP, has not visited his assembly constituency after filing nomination papers on October 30, his Jait village sarpanch Rajesh Kumar Balavi told PTI.
BJP flags fly high in every nook and cranny of the constituency, while the Congress’ emblems are rare on the CM’s home turf. Chouhan has won four times from Budhni since 2006 (bypoll) on the trot. Earlier, he had won from Budhni in 1990.
Hoarding and posters screaming “Hum hai Shivraj bhaiyya ka parivar, hardik swagat, abhinandan (we are the family of Shivraj’ brother, warm welcome and greetings)” dot the streets and other vantage spots in his pocket borough.
BJP workers sporting shirts inscribed with “MP ke mann mein Modi” are reaching out to people, many of whom hope that if they elect Chouhan, whom they consider their pride, for the fifth consecutive time, he will become the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh again.
They have overlooked the fact that for the first time in 20 years, the BJP has not projected a CM’s face in MP.
This time around, the BJP has shied away from projecting Chouhan as its ‘mascot’ apparently due to incumbency fatigue. Instead, it is heavily banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, popularising the slogan “MP ke mann mein basey Modi, Modi ke mann mein basey MP” to sail through the November 17 assembly polls.
Mastal, a rookie in politics best known for playing Lord Hanuman in a TV serial, put up a brave front in the midst of the well-coordinated organisation machinery and high-decibel campaign of the BJP.
“People are with Hanumanji. I am going to win the election for sure as the people are very angry with Chouhanji as he has not done anything good for Budhni,” Mastal told PTI, taking some time off from campaigning.
“See the tremendous response I am getting,” said Mastal (41) who achieved fame for his portrayal of Lord Hanuman in the popular 2008 television serial Ramayan 2.
As he walks with folded hands through the lanes and alleys of Shahganj in the constituency, his supporters carrying party flags chant “Congress party jindabad” amid deafening drum beats, prompting people from buildings to peep through windows and gather on balconies for a glimpse of the on-screen Hanuman.
His campaign party follows a vehicle with replicas of maces, Hanuman’s pictures and loudspeakers playing songs deifying Hanuman. Speakers blare verses praising him as a troubleshooter, unbeatable, miracle-performing God.
In the absence of Chouhan, his wife Sadhana Singh, son Kartikeya, CM’s younger brothers Narendra Singh and Rohit Singh drum up support for him.
The CM’s Jait village sarpanch Rajesh Kumar Balavi said, “Chouhan sahib will win elections with a record margin and surely become the chief minister again. In Jait, people are confident that he will win hands down.” Kamla Bai Kewat (90), who sells snacks on the roadside just close to Chouhan’s home at Jait, said, “Shivraj is going to win the election as all of us support him as he belongs to our village. I have known Shivraj Singh since his birth. His government is giving me free electricity, water and ration,” said the nonagenarian.
She added that whenever the CM sees her in the village during his visits, he touches her feet.
Avinash Bhargava of Shahganj said that even the photo of Chouhan was enough to ensure him a landslide win in Budhni. He has brought in industries and generated employment, opened schools in the area, he said.
“Now a government medical college is also coming up in the area. Congress parachutes candidates in Budhni who forget the constituency after elections,” he added.
In contrast, a hotel owner on a busy road in Budhni who did not wish to be identified said that had the Congress fielded a tough politician like Rajkumar Patel, a Congress MLA from Budhni and a former state minister, he could have given Chouhan a run for his money.
“Chouhan is a gentleman but some people of Budhni who have come close to him are not allowing money to reach the poor,” he said.
In Budhni, Chouhan’s son Kartikeya is seeking support for his father through door-to-door campaigning.
Chairing a meeting of party local leaders at a house in Bayan area on Thursday, he called upon them to work harder to ensure that his father wins elections with a record margin.
“Ensure that he creates a record from a place for which he has worked religiously for four decades and given so much. Last time around, his victory margin ranked fourth or fifth from the top,” he told them.
“There are around 2.72 lakh voters in Budhni. The number of beneficiaries of various welfare schemes was around 8 lakh here, which means that a person is availing benefits of two to three schemes,” Kartikeya told PTI.
He said they were aiming at a record victory margin for Chouhan.
Asked that this time around his father has not been projected as the chief ministerial candidate and in this case, record margin may not be that easy, he said, “It does not matter. That issue (of chief ministerial candidate) is the party’s prerogative.”
“My father has worked for the people of Budhni for 40 long years and has one-on-one contact with them. He has done so much for Budhni,” he said.
Chouhan has been a four-term MP from Vidisha Lok Sabha seat that comprises Budhni and an MLA five times, he said.
On March 17 last year, Chouhan had achieved the distinction of being the longest-serving BJP chief minister in the country. He broke the record which had been held by former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh.
Chouhan’s tenure as CM, however, saw a break when he was out of power for 15 months as the Congress formed the government under Kamal Nath after the 2018 assembly polls.
Meanwhile, Mirchi Baba, who was recently acquitted by a court on charges of rape, believes he was framed by the Chouhan government and should teach him a lesson. He is sometimes seen, asking people to vote for him saying he would get ghats built on Narmada river.
He had hit headlines when he performed ‘tantrik’ rituals to support former chief minister and Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s campaign against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the previous Lok Sabha elections.
(Published 11 November 2023, 08:14 IST)