Mandla, a tribal-dominated constituency located in the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh, is all set to witness an exciting battle in Lok Sabha elections. This constituency includes the predominantly tribal districts of Mandla and Dindori apart from parts of two other districts, Seoni and Narsinghpur.
Going by its performance in the recent Assembly polls, Congress is hopeful of a win. The BJP is worried, as tribal vote seems to have slipped out and moved to Congress.
BJP’s senior leader Faggan Singh Kulaste represents the constituency in Lok Sabha. He is a five-term MP and a former Union minister but Assembly elections’ result shows that it is not going to be a smooth affair for the party.
Of the eight seats that are part of the Mandla Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress has won six in the Vidhan Sabha election recently. The BJP could win just two.
Besides, Congress has won these seats, with big margins. The results are similar from other tribal dominated regions too. Mandla district has 57% tribal populace while Dindori has over 64% tribals.
Though it has been a BJP stronghold for a long time, the shift in tribal vote is a cause of worry for the party organisation.
Faggan Singh Kulaste who represents the constituency was a Minister of State in Vajpayee government—first minister of state for parliamentary affairs and later as tribal affairs.
In the Modi government too, he was a minister but was asked to resign. It is said that there were complaints against him, especially, regarding permissions given to medical colleges.
Kulaste’s name had come up during the ‘Note for Vote’ scandal too. However, he has been a prominent tribal face of the BJP.
He had won his first Lok Sabha election in 1996, when he had defeated Congress’ Mohan Lal by a margin of nearly 65,000 votes. In 1998, he retained the seat, defeating Congress’ Chhotey Lal Uikey by a reduced margin of 13,000 votes.
In 1999, he won his third successive election, defeating Congress candidate Devendra Tekam by 7,000 votes. However, the circumstances were changing with the emergence of Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP).
In the 2004 election, Kulaste won but GGP’s Heera Singh Markam had given him the real fight while Congress was reduced to the third spot, here.
Kulaste had got 2.38 lakh votes while the GGP candidate secured nearly 1.73 lakh votes. Congress’ Savitri Dhumketi could secure barely 1 lakh votes.
In 2009, Kulaste ultimately lost to Congress’ Basori Singh Markam. The Congress candidate won by over 70,000 votes. After the defeat, he (Kulaste) was sent to Rajya Sabha.
However, in the next election, Congress didn’t give ticket to Basori Singh Markam and instead, Omkar Singh Markam was fielded. Omkar Singh lost to Kulaste in 2014.
Again, GGP candidate Anuj Singh Patta got substantial votes. However, it was an election during the Modi wave. Now, BJP seems not as well placed.
The 2018 Assembly polls suggested that the tribal vote is back to the Congress. In the BJP’s post-poll review meet held in Mandla, the party leaders said that the vote share among tribals had fallen drastically.
In fact, since late 90s, chunk of tribal vote has gone to GGP and this had helped BJP. Still, GGP is a big factor. In Assembly polls, its candidates were at the third place in most of the constituencies.
In fact, together the GGP candidates got over 2 lakh votes in the Assembly constituencies that fall under the Mandla Lok Sabha seat. In four of these constituencies they secured 28,000 to 40,000 votes.
Still, in the three cornered contest, Congress had a lead of over 1.25 lakh over BJP in the Assembly polls. Winning six Assembly seats gives them (Congress) the hope that they will win the Lok Sabha seat.
BJP leaders say that issues are different in Lok Sabha elections. Locals say that lately Kulaste hasn’t paid much attention to constituency. There are also accusations of nepotism.
Lack of development, migration from the region and poor health facilities are other major issues. BJP is planning to replace more candidates in the upcoming election, in order to overcome the anti-incumbency factor.
And its not certain who is going to be fielded from Mandla. Earlier, Mandla was traditionally a Congress’ seat. Congress’ Magru Uikey repeatedly won the seat in the past. He won in 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1971.
In 1977, Shyamlal Dhurvey of Bhartiya Lok Dal defeated him. Later Congress again won the seat in 1980 when Chhote Lal emerged victorious.
In 1984, Mohanlal Jhikram won and later he also got elected in 1989 and 1991. It was in 1996 that BJP (Kulaste) had first won it, and later became an MP for five terms. However, Kulaste was defeated in 2009. Clearly, it is going to be a tough fight in 2019.