More than three years after Jyotiraditya Scindia's rebellion paved the way for the ouster of Kamal Nath of the Congress party and the return of Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now looks forward to retain the state that it has held for most of the past two decades.
While Shivraj is contesting from his home-turf of Budhni, Congress has fielded Nath from his turf at Chhindwara where he has transformed himself into a 'Hanuman Bhakt'.
In the 230-member assembly, the BJP holds 127 seats and the Congress party 96, according to the latest information available on the assembly's website. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) holds two seats, Samajwadi Party (SP) one, and Independents hold four seats. The BJP's numbers were boosted when the rebellion of Scindia and his loyalists in 2020 led to the resignation of 22 Congress MLAs that toppled the then-Nath ministry.
The BJP faces a plethora of challenges in Madhya Pradesh and anti-incumbency is just one of them. For one, it is not lost upon anyone that Shivraj is the Chief Minister only because of Scindia's rebellion and not because of the mandate of the people. This has reflected in his term as his stature in the party has been affected and he has largely replicated the actions of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath throughout, whether it is him being dubbed 'Bulldozer Mama' or his Home Minister Narottam Mishra emerging as a vocal Hindutva leader.
Besides Budhni and Chhindwara, the other seats to watch out would be the state's 'Adivasi capital' Jhabua, Dimmi, and Indore-I.
Budhni in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh is the home-turf of Shivraj Singh Chouhan that he has held since 2005.
It is in Budhni that he started his career in electoral politics with his first election in 1990. The following year, however, he gave up the seat to become a Member of Parliament from Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency, which includes the Budhni seat. For the next decade and a half, Shivraj was at the centre, but retained a foothold in his native state. He contested the 2003 state assembly elections against Digvijaya Singh but lost. When the then-CM Uma Bharati resigned, Shivraj took over as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and was elected to Budhni in a bypoll in 2005.
Since 2005, Shivraj has increased his numbers in Budhni in every assembly election, according to an analysis by ABP News. The constituency is therefore considered to be a safe seat for the BJP.
Shivraj is facing Congress party's Vikram Mastal Sharma, an actor who joined the party earlier this year.
While Budhni is the home-turf of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chhindwara is the home-turf of Kamal Nath, a former Union minister who has been close to the Gandhi family.
Unlike Shivraj, however, Nath does not have a clean record on the seat. He was defeated in 1997 on Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat by former state chief minister Sunderlal Patwa of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had represented the seat during 1980-96 when his wife, Alka Nath, contested successfully after he was implicated in a hawala case. He returned the next year in the general elections.
This time, Nath has campaigned as a 'Hanuman Bhakt' while also criticising the governance record of Shivraj, often raising issues like crimes against tribals. Nath's embrace of religious and rolling out of red carpet for Hindu preachers like Bagheshwar Baba has attracted allegations of Congress party playing the 'soft Hindutva' card but his supporters have said this is in line with his long-held religious beliefs. He also got a 102-ft statue of Hanuman installed in the constituency.
In Chhindwara, the Hanuman Bhakt Nath faces BJP's Vivek Bunty Sahu, who has pitched himself as a 'Shiv Bhakt'. The two had faced in 2018 as well when Nath won comfortably by 25,837 votes.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar from Dimni assembly constituency in Morena district against the incumbent Ravindra Bhidosa of Congress.
A section of observers have seen the fielding of a Union minister in state elections as a sign of lack of trust in the state unit of the party. Some have also seen Tomar as a contender for the post of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh as the party has not firmly clarified if Shivraj Singh Chouhan would continue in case the party returns to power in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya from Indore-1 seat. He has previously been the Mayor of Indore.
Vijayvargiya is going to contest against Congress party's Sanjay Shukla, who won the seat in 2018 by a margin of more than 8,000 votes.
Vijayvargiya, who is the face of the BJP in the Malwa-Nimar region, looks forward to wrest the seat from the Congress party. Earlier, the saffron party won the seat in 2008 and 2013 when the party returned to power under Shivraj Singh Chouhan. In 2018, however, when Kamal Nath ousted Shivraj, the Congress party won the seat.
The Jhabua assembly seat is key as it lies in the Jhabua district, which is often referred to as the 'Adivasi Capital' of Madhya Pradesh.
Madhya Pradesh has the highest population of tribals by numbers in the country. In the run-up to the elections, issues related to tribals such as development and crimes against them have been raised.
At Jhabua, the Congress party has fielded sitting MLA Kantilal Bhuria's son Vikrant Bhuria. The Senior Bhuria won the seat in 2019 in a by-poll and previously held the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha during 1998-2009 and 2015-19. Vikrant faces Bhanu Bhuria of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The two principal candidates have taken swipes at each other. While Congress candidate Bhuria has said the BJP has done nothing for the region, the BJP's Bhuria has said that Kantilal represented the seat in the Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha for four decades but did nothing for the region.
The region initially supported the Congress party but gradually the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made inroads in the region, noted Outlook's Abhik Bhattacharya in a story.
"The locals say that the Adivasi-dominated regions used to support Congress before 2000 but the failure of the Digvijay Singh government to develop the infrastructure paved the path for the RSS. Since 2000, Sangh officials started reaching out to people across 1,326 villages of Jhabua and Alirajpur," reported Bhattacharya, further citing senior journal journalist Chandravan Banwar as saying that while it worked for two decades, "people’s necessity of roti, kapda, makaan override anything else" this time.