The Ratlam constituency that includes the predominantly tribal districts of Alirajpur and Jhabua, is located in the Western part of the state. It was this constituency—also termed as ‘Ratlam-Jhabua seat’—that had first signalled that the BJP juggernaut was coming to a halt in Madhya Pradesh.
For well over a decade, BJP had been winning election after election in the state. From Parliamentary elections to Assembly polls, civic body elections to panchayat polls, BJP was winning all. Then, came the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and history was created.
Out of 29 seats, BJP won 27. And, a year later, when BJP seemed unstoppable in BJP and everyone was talking about ‘Shivraj factor’ within MP and ‘Modi wave’ nationally, the Lok Sabha bypoll result came as a surprise.
BJP MP Dilip Singh Bhuria’s death led to the by-election. BJP gave ticket to his daughter Nirmala Bhuria. Congress again fielded Kantilal Bhuria and he defeated BJP candidate by a big margin.
Kantilal won by around 90,000 votes. The result indicated that the ‘Shivraj factor’ was failing. Many interpreted it as the first sign that the ‘Modi wave’ was becoming ineffective (nearly 1-1/2 year after Lok Sabha polls).
Kantilal Bhuria’s win was significant, as ‘sympathy factor’ hadn’t worked in his opponent Nirmala’s favour. BJP leaders had worked hard during campaign and top leaders had spent days, but they couldn’t retain the seat.
It was clear that the tribal vote was going back to Congress, once again. Later, Congress won Vidhan Sabha by-polls in MP and made a comeback to win the recent Assembly election in 2018.
In 2019, Congress again hopes to win the seat. In the Assembly polls, it won five out of eight seats that fall under the Ratlam-Jhabua Parliamentary constituency, and got more votes than the BJP.
On Jhabua Assembly seat, Congress lost because party leader Xavier Meda contested as a rebel candidate and secured 36,000 vote. This caused the defeat of Kantilal Bhuria’s son Vikrant who lost to BJP candidate by around 10,000 votes.
Over all, Congress appears quite comfortable. On tribal dominated seats, it is clearly ahead. But BJP is strong in the Ratlam City and Ratlam Rural areas. In Ratlam City, its candidate has won by over 44,000 votes.
Veteran Kantilal Bhuria will be the Congress candidate in all likelihood. In fact, this has been a traditional Congress seat. In 1951, Amar Singh Damar was elected. In 1957 again, he defeated Jan Sangh’s Nathu Singh.
In 1962, Jamuna Devi won the election on Congress ticket. She defeated Jan Sangh’s candidate Gattu Singh. Then, in 1967, Congress’ Sur Singh won from Jhabua.
In 1971, Socialist Party leader Bhagirath Bhanwar was elected, when he defeated Congress’ Sur Singh by a huge margin. Bhanwar again won in 1977 on Lok Dal ticket, defeating Congress’ Dilip Singh Bhuria.
From 1980, Dilip Singh Bhuria kept winning on Congress ticket. In this election he had defeated Jamuna Devi who contested on Janata Party ticket.
Five times, Bhuria won as a Congress candidate viz. 1980, 1984, 1989, 1991 and 1996. Later, Kantilal Bhuria appeared on the scene and won it four times (1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009). In 2014, Dilip Singh Bhuria contested on BJP ticket and defeated Kantilal Bhuria.
However, after his death, the by-election was held in November 2015 and Kantilal Bhuria again emerged victorious.
For the BJP, the challenge is to retain the ‘tribal seats’ in the state. GS Damor has won the Assembly election from Jhabua seat but party doesn’t want to take risk as it doesn’t want to give Congress any numerical advantage in the Assembly.
On Ratlam seat, BJP needs to put up a strong candidate to match Kantilal Bhuria who is a seasoned politician and a popular leader among tribals. Clearly, Congress has the advantage here but if BJP puts up a strong candidate, the contest can be close.