Madhya Pradesh bypolls: Brisk polling for Mungaoli and Kolaras seats

Brisk polling was witnessed in bypolls for Mungaoli and Kolaras assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh on Saturday with poll percentage of 69 per cent and 58.90 per cent, respectively, recorded by 3 p.m. in the contests seen as a battle royale between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress. The by and large peaceful polls were marred by sporadic clashes -- especially one in Digoda village in Shivpuri's Kolaras -- between the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party workers, a poll official said.

Police station in-charge in Mungaoli, Kushal Singh Bhadoria, was removed from his post, the official said, adding that Risheshwar Singh has replaced Bhadoria. Chief Election Officer Saleena Singh has appealed to voters to remain calm and exercise their right to vote without fear. There is a public holiday in both places in view of the poll process.

A total of 22 candidates from Mungaoli in Ashoknagar and 13 from Kolaras are in the fray. As many as 2,44,457 electors from Kolaras and 1,91,009 from Mungaoli were eligible to vote between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some 3,000 poll officials are conducting the process at 575 polling stations, the EC official said. The assembly seats fell vacant following the death of sitting Congress MLAs Mahendra Singh Kalukheda (Mungaoli) and Ram Singh Yadav (Kolaras). These bypolls are being seen as a prestige battle for Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is in his third term as Chief Minister, and his arch-rival Jyotiraditya Scindia of the Congress.

The two assembly segments are part of Scindia's Guna Lok Sabha constituency. The votes will be counted on February 28 and the results will be declared the same day, the EC said. Electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines are being used at all polling booths. Some 15 and 17 machines were replaced in Kolaras and Mungaoli, respectively.

EVM at Kolaras' booth number 57 is currently not working, people wait outside to cast their votes. Photo: ANI

Why all this hullabaloo over two seats when the MLAs will be in the assembly for not more than seven months?

The end-game result of the polls at Mungaoli and Kolaras will be keenly watched, as it would set the general mood of the election saga in Madhya Pradesh, which is going to polls later this year.

A BJP defeat in the by-polls could give a handle to Chouhan's detractors within the party to demand his replacement on the ground of anti-incumbency. And if Scindia loses, it will a setback for a leader trying to set in order the faction-ridden Congress unit.

CM Chouhan upped the ante to woo voters 

Chouhan, keen to snatch the two seats from the Congress, had recently announced a slew of measures for the people of the region, including a Rs 1,000 monthly assistance for tackling malnutrition among Saharia tribals, who form a major chunk of  the population in Kolaras and Mungaoli.

His tone can be seen in his election speeches. “Give us five months, the people of the region would see development in five years,” reported ANI. He further went on to say, “If we fail, don’t vote for us again."

In Bhopal, the CM announced a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal over the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy farmers. This was seen in view of the massive farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh.

BJP even tried to pit Scindia against Scindia by fielding Jyotiraditya’s aunt Yashodhara Raje on February 5, reported The Times of India. However, the move backfired when Raje allegedly Raje allegedly threatened voters to cut off their water supply if they don’t vote for BJP. EC served her a notice for this and censured her for violating the model code of conduct ahead of the upcoming by-polls in the state.

"Only BJP has brought development in Madhya Pradesh, while the Congress party did nothing for the public," the Chief Minister said during his road show.

Chouhan's road show covered at least 40 villages in Mungaoli.

Scindia left no stone unturned either

Aware of the high stakes involved, the 47-year-old royal has been extensively touring the two seats to ward off the saffron challenge.

Leaving no stone unturned to sweep the upcoming by-polls in the state, the Congress leader asked the people to make a choice between the two.

"The selection is not between Congress and BJP; it is between Shivraj and me,” Scindia said, according to ANI. “Now the people have to decide whom they want -- Scindia or Chouhan.” 

Scindia futher hit out at the ruling parting at a road show on Wednesday for having ignored the state for the past 14 years.

"No BJP minister was seen here for past 14 years. But after the death of MLA Mahendra Singh, the government is so interested in Mungaoli, that it seems it is going to be capital of Madhya Pradesh instead of Bhopal," he said, according to an ANI report.

Scindia's road show covered 30 villages in Mungaoli.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had won 27 of the 29 seats in poll-bound state. The term of Madhya Pradesh assembly ends on January 7. 

Congress registers complaint against Chouhan 

EC has advised Shivraj Singh Chouhan to be more careful while making speeches.

EC's direction came after Congress registered a complaint with the election watchdog that a government project was announced by Chouhan at a time moral code of conduct is in force.

Chouhan allegedly made the announcement while addressing a public rally in poll-bound Mungaoli on February 16.

The poll body said that the Chief Minister violated model code of conduct by "announcing" the construction of bridge over a river.

The model code of conduct is enforced as soon as elections are announced. Under the rules, the government is barred from making any announcements that can impact the poll outcome in election-bound states and disturb the level playing field.

The by-polls were necessitated due to the death of Congress MLAs Mahendra Singh Kalukheda (Mungaoli) and Ram Singh Yadav (Kolaras).

/> With agency inputs

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel