No Flags, No Festoons, No Banners: From Bhopal To Chhindwara ‘Polling Mood’ Missing In Madhya Pradesh

While most state capitals in the country have already stepped into the electoral mood with flags and banners hanging here and there, Bhopal plays a different symphony.

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A view of Islami Gate, Bhopal (representative image) Photo: Getty Images

On a sunny Monday morning, around 8 am, Bhopal is yet to get ready for the usual hustles of city life. Shops are still closed. Inside the massive lake that adorns Bhopal’s landscape, Raja Bhoj – known as the founder of Madhya Pradesh – stands alone without many visitors. Amidst this silence, 3 kilometres away from the airport, Sonu is busy making Poha and serving breakfast to those who don’t have the comfort of ‘being late’.

But this is not a usual Monday. It is election time.

While most of the state capitals in the country have already stepped into the electoral mood with flags and banners hanging here and there, Bhopal plays a different symphony. Serving extra chutney to a topi-clad man, who skipped fasting due to his health, Sonu says, “This time it is dull. You will not find much in Bhopal.” Immediately, his co-worker intervenes, “Polls in Bhopal are on May 7. Still, there is time.”

As one passes by the lake and moves towards the new market area, just a few kilometres away from the headquarters of both the BJP and the Congress, the only ‘political’ billboard is visible that reads – ‘Vote Dega Bhopal’. “It is a part of Election Commission’s electoral awareness campaign,” comments a passer-by. But why is this silence? Is it a done-and-dusted contest?

Pointing out the dullness and lack of enthusiasm in Bhopal, senior journalist Shahroz Afridi says, “For the last ten years if you observe the performance of BJP, you can see there is hardly any Opposition left. In 2014 and 2019, the ruling party got the majority of the seats and thus, the whole electoral season in Bhopal is dull and stagnant.” While BJP won 27 out of 29 seats in 2014, they increased their tally to 28 in 2019.

A few months back, in the assembly elections, the Congress was decimated across the state and the BJP, under the leadership of former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, got an unprecedented 166 seats. Perhaps, that is one of the major reasons for both, the confidence of the ruling party and the lack of aspirations among the Opposition, says an analyst.

Talking about the lack of enthusiasm among the workers, a senior Congress leader says, “The party won the assembly elections in 2018 and then the government fell. In 2023, they tried to reclaim what they lost and again, it failed. So, it becomes really difficult for the workers to be charged up again.”

However, Mukesh Nayek, the national spokesperson of Congress and former minister of the MP government, thinks that such silence would actually benefit the party. “This silence will favour us. BJP is overconfident and thus they are not campaigning and Congress doesn’t have money, so the silence is inevitable,” says Nayek. The BJP workers, nevertheless, think that the campaign in Bhopal will kickstart in late April as the poll day comes closer.

While the ‘new city’ of Bhopal is even silent about the electoral agenda except for reiterating the slogans of ‘400 par’ and ‘Mission 29’ (Chouhan’s promise to get 29 out of 29 seats), the old city – dominated by Muslims – is bustling on a Ramzan evening. “For the last three decades, they have made Bhopal their bastion. But they don’t care about us. Our MP Sadhvi Pragya never even came to meet us once.” Notably, this time BJP has dropped the name of Sadhvi Pragya and nominated Alok Sharma, the former mayor of the city as its candidate.

“Still, nothing matters here. For the last 35 years, BJP has held this seat. So, it can rarely be termed as a contest,” says Altamas Jalal, a Bhopal-based senior journalist. Interestingly, the legends of the city portray it both as a ‘lazy’ and ‘comfortable’ city where everybody comes back, he adds.

People say that when Aurungzeb was passing through this city to reach the Deccan, he asked his soldier to pack and leave immediately. “Otherwise, he would never be able to ‘leave’!”, says Afridi. Whether this comfort has settled the political dust down on the banks of the Narmada, though is not clear, Rittik, a cab driver from Ujjain expresses his shock. “I have never seen the city like this. Even last year, so many posters and placards were there,” says Rittik who roams around the state for most of the time of year.

Although the absence of placards, posters, flags and festoons of political parties may leave one to contemplate the reasons, there is no dearth of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ flags. In every other house, one can see the flags tied to the polls of the roofs or the window panes.

Jai Shree Ram banners and flags in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh.
'Jai Shree Ram' banners and flags in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh. Photo by Sumit Dayal/Outlook

This is, nonetheless, not a scenario only in Bhopal. Around 300 kilometres away from the capital city, as one reaches Kamal Nath’s bastion Chhindwara, this is the only visible flag. Even in the interiors of the villages where BJP and Congress flags couldn’t get a space, the Ram flag is waving high.

In Dhanoura village – around 80 kilometres away from Chhindwara city, most of the village houses have these flags. Does it somehow symbolise the BJP’s dominance in this area? Ravinder Kumar Dahariya, in his early 20s, says, “Not at all. It is a matter of religion and it shouldn’t be mixed with politics. This is Kamal Nath’s bastion and nobody could challenge it.”

Dhanoura comes under the Amarwada assembly constituency where the Congress MLA Kamalesh Shah has recently jumped the boat and joined the BJP. Some BJP leaders have claimed that 72 sarpanch of Amarwada have also joined the party. However, Ram Mandir has nothing to do with their support for BJP, say a few villagers. “The day Ram Mandir was consecrated; we bought these flags and have put it on our own. Neither anybody forced us, nor anybody asked us to do so,” says Dahariya, a staunch Nath supporter and apparently a Congress cadre.


A few kilometres away in another village namely Hirri, people say that they would continue voting for the BJP as they have been doing for decades. “It is not about Ram Mandir or the ‘Jai Shree Ram’ flags, our ancestors were also BJP voters. 80% of the population in the village vote for the party,” says a village senior.

Though these interior villages have sprinkles of electoral mood with some flags and tabloids visible – the city of Chhindwara is as silent as Bhopal. This constituency – a prestige battle for former Congress CM and senior leader Kamal Nath is going to polls on April 19. This time Nath’s son, Nakul is fighting for his second stint against BJP’s Vivek ‘Bunty’ Sahu.


The journey from Bhopal to Chhindwara through Beitul somehow gives a perception that Madhya Pradesh is not yet ready for another poll within such a short time. But nothing is short in politics. The rank and files of the BJP are now camping in Chhindwara. “We cannot lose a single seat this time,” says a senior district leader of BJP. On the other hand, faintly the voice of a senior Congress leader, far away in Bhopal, kicks in, “We will wait till the end.”