Mandsaur, the Lok Sabha constituency in the far Western corner of Madhya Pradesh, is spread over Mandsaur and Neemuch districts. It also includes a part of Ratlam.
This constituency that elected Kailash Nath Katju in the first Lok Sabha election (even before the formation of MP), has been a fertile ground for Jan Sangh and BJP.
Even in the era when Congress used to win in other parts of the state, Jan Sangh was quite strong here. After the 1957 election in which Congress’ Manak Lal won, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) repeatedly won here—in 1962, 1967 and 1971.
Since the 80s, Mandsaur has mostly sent BJP candidates to the Parliament. This region is also known for opium production.
It is here that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been very strong for decades and this helps the BJP in the elections. The strength of BJP is in this region can be understood by the fact that despite farmers’ agitation after the police firing and deaths, BJP won most of the seats in the recent Assembly polls.
The Mandsaur Lok Sabha constituency includes eight Assembly seats and except Suwasra, BJP won in all the other seats. This was intriguing even for the locals.
Such was the anger among farmers that it was believed that BJP would do really bad here. But the party managed to win seven out of eight seats.
However, what has been a cause of worry for the party is that its vote share has declined here in a big way. Some seats were won by narrow margins. For example, on Jaora seat BJP won by just 511 votes.
In 2009, Congress’ Meenakshi Natrajan had broken into this BJP bastion and won the Mandsaur Lok Sabha seat. She had defeated BJP veteran Laxminarayan Pandey, who had won the seat, a record eight times.
It was a big victory. However, in 2014, during the Modi wave, Meenakshi lost the seat to BJP’s Sudhir Gupta by over 3 lakh votes.
Prior to Meenakshi’s victory, BJP had won the seat five times in a row. Laxminarayan Pandey had defeated Congress’ Rajendra Singh Gautam in 2004 and 1999.
Also, Pandey had won the seat in 1998, 1996, 1991 and 1989. He had earlier won the seat as Jan Sangh candidate in 1971, and later as Lok Dal candidate in 1977.
It was in 1984 that Congress’ Balkavi Bairagi had last won the seat for the party, and it took Meenakshi Natrajan, a good 25 years, to defeat the BJP.
Clearly, BJP has the advantage here but as the 2009 victory suggested, it may not be a cakewalk for the party.
While BJP appears comfortable, there are voices of discontent against its candidate. Sudhir Gupta has been active in the parliament but there are other contenders for the ticket.
In rural areas, there is anger and black flags were waved when Gupta was on a recent visit to constituency. Party office-bearers forced him to leave and there were incidents like ‘gherao’ and protests—ranging from burning his effigy to putting up message on board against him.
It is a common complaint from people that there is not much development in villages. Some party bigwigs too have their eyes set on this constituency.
As far as Congress is concerned, Meenakshi remains the frontrunner. BJP leaders feel that this is a safe seat for the party. However, Assembly poll results also suggest that the vote difference has narrowed down and the seat can’t be taken for granted.