Lok Sabha electionsMadhya Pradesh

The Great Chhindwara Showdown: BJP’s Quest for Political Supremacy

As the Nath dynasty faces its toughest challenge yet, Kamal Nath and his family rally supporters, highlighting their legacy of development while countering the BJP's aggressive campaign with promises of continued service and dedication to the people of Chhindwara

Bhopal: What is Bharatiya Janata Party’s plan to win Chhindwara – turf of senior Congress leader Kamal Nath?

Chhindwara was the lone Congress bastion while BJP swept up the other 28 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh. Located barely 102 km from the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur, the BJP is unable to wrest the Lok Sabha except for once in a by-poll in 1997 when former Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa defeated Kamal Nath by 37,680 votes. Nath was back in 1998. He defeated Patwa by a margin of over 1.53 lakh votes. Moreover, for a decade or more all six Lok Sabha constituencies neighbouring Chhindwara (4 in Madhya Pradesh namely- Balaghat, Mandla, Hoshangabad, Betul and 2 in Maharashtra Nagpur and Ramtek) are with the BJP or with the party it has allied (here Shiv Sena) in the past.

So, there are several factors before the BJP to wrench the Lok Sabha seat at any cost while the Congress wants to retain its last fortress. The BJP poured its heart out even more after the Assembly elections, which were held four months prior in November, were announced in December 2023. The BJP was unable to believe the outcome of the results in the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat. The party won a whopping 163 out of 230 seats in the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, but still could not win a single assembly seat in the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat. All seven Assembly seats of Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat have Congress MLAs. In fact from Panchayats to municipal corporations, the mayor, MLAs and MP – all are from Congress.

Torn between Congress’ poor show in the assembly elections and upset after father MLA Kamal Nath and son MP Nakul Nath’s speculation to cross over to the saffron party ended abruptly in February 2024, the BJP seems to be on a drive to weaken Naths. In the last two months, the ruling party has been breaking away from its loyal lieutenants one by one in Chhindwara. Every day, the BJP is chipping away supporters of Nath- from panchayats to Mayor, former MLAs, sitting MLAs, and spokesperson to demolish the last Congress bastion in the State, Chhindwara. And the latest one to snap ties with Kamal Nath was Deepak Saxena, former Chhindwara MLA. Saxena had quit his Assembly seat when Kamal Nath became CM in 2018 so that the latter could become an MLA. Even Nath made a last-minute desperate attempt to stop Saxena from going to the BJP. He visited Saxena’s house, sat there and spoke several words with his long-time friend.

Will you become Dhritarashtra for the love of your son (Deepak’s son joined the BJP a few days back)? Or will you continue being the Sudama that you were? Nath is said to have asked Saxena. After about half an hour of meeting, they parted ways and promised to never meet each other again. Sources say Deepak was so overcome by his feelings that he confined himself to his room for several hours. On Friday, Madhya Pradesh minister and four-time Congress MLA from Chhindwara, Saxena snapped his long association with Nath and was welcomed by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav into the ruling party in Bhopal.

Saxena, who quit the Congress on March 22, said he was joining the BJP because he was influenced by the works of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

All is not well in Nath’s Chhindwara

A week ago three-term Congress MLA from Amarwara, Kamlesh Shah joined BJP. The reserved tribal segment is one of the seven assembly segments of the Chhindwara Lok Sabha constituency where the Congress party has taken the lead of 22,256 votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The lead gave an edge to the Congress party. In the last general election, Nakul Nath won Chhindwara by 37,536 votes- nearly 60% of this lead came from Amarwara, followed by Chhindwara, Sausar and Junnardeo assembly segments. BJP had taken the lead in three assembly segments – Pandhurna, Parasia and Chourai.

When Saxena and Shah snapped ties with senior Nath, Chhindwara mayor Vikram Ahake, who is said to be the discovery of Nakul Nath, defected to the saffron camp. It was on Nakul’s insistence that Congress served ticket Ahake in the urban local body elections in 2022. Whenever Nakul toured his constituency, Ahake accompanied him like a shadow, a senior Congress leader said.

The young tribal leader was given primary membership of the BJP by Chief Minister Mohan Yadav and state BJP president VD Sharma at the Chief Minister’s House in Bhopal.

I joined BJP after being influenced by the development works of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Mohan Yadav and the slogan of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, said Ahake by concluding that I am happy that BJP has given me a place in their family.

Amazed but unfazed by the desertions, the Nath family is on the ground, meeting voters, and addressing public meetings in the Chhindwara constituency where Nakul Nath is seeking re-election from the Lok Sabha seat.

In his public meetings, Kamal Nath is accusing the ruling BJP of not doing anything for Chhindwara despite being in power in the state for the last two decades. The senior leader sought to take credit for his home turf’s development. Addressing a rally in Parasia Assembly, a segment of the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat, the former chief minister maintained that the BJP talks big on development but it is he who, as a public representative, has been getting the works of residents done.

In the name of development, the BJP talks big. It has been in power for the last 20 years, but it has done nothing for development, said Nath, adding that whoever forms the government, we will continue to do the work of the people. The work of Chhindwara will not stop as I am the one who is doing your work, Nath was seen reminding people in his speech.

I am hopeful of getting your love and trust till the end and I will tell you only one thing- you should stand with the truth, said Nath while reminding people about his long association with them and Chhindwara, the Lok Sabha seat which he has represented for nine times.

Nath’s daughter-in-law, Priya Nath, the wife of Nakul Nath, is also meeting people and addressing public meetings in support of her husband’s bid for re-election to the Chhindwara Lok Sabha.

We feel extremely sad for him (Kamal Nath). Those who we thought were our own, who we loved like family, and who Kamalnath Ji blessed, have betrayed us in difficult times, she said addressing a public meeting in the Chourai Assembly segment.

Nakul Nath, will take on BJP’s Vivek Sahu. The polls are scheduled on April 19 for the Lok Sabha seat.

The upcoming elections in Chhindwara are poised to focus on local governance and rural development. As one of the hottest seats in Madhya Pradesh gears up for another electoral battle, the focus will be on whether the Nath family will be able to keep the word of Indira Gandhi who introduced Kamal Nath in Chhindwara as her ‘third son’.

It will also be interesting to watch, if Congress, which lost to BJP in the race to Vidhan Sabha last year, can better its Lok Sabha tally in the heartland of India or not.

Anup Dutta

is a multimedia freelance journalist based in Bhopal. He reports on people, politics, policies, health, art and culture.

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