Unemployment has emerged as the biggest issue in the Betul Assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh, which has earned the reputation of being a bellwether seat as to which party would win the elections in the state.
Located in the southern part of Madhya Pradesh and lying almost wholly on the Satpura plateau, Betul is witnessing a direct contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. However, a BJP rebel, contesting on the ticket of the newly-formed Sapaks Party, has made the contest interesting.
The ruling BJP has renominated Hemant Khandelwal (54), a former MP and sitting MLA, while the Congress has given the seat to Nilay Vinod Daga. 40-year-old Daga is the son of former MLA Vinod Daga and Mr Khandelwal is the son of four-term former MP Vijay Khandelwal representing Betul parliamentray constituency.
Lata Raju Mhaski, a former Chairperson of the Zila Panchayat, is contesting her first Assembly polls on the ticket of Sapaks (Samanya, Pichhda, Alpsankhyak) Party, a political forum of people opposed to the SC/ST Act and the existing quota policy.
Lata Raju Mhaski, a former office bearer of the BJP, belongs to Kunbi community which has a significant presence in this tribal-dominated Assembly constituency. Her presence is giving sleepless nights to Mr Khandelwal as she has a good support in the community. A total of 13 candidates are in the fray.
Ashok Kumar Raghuvanshi is a post graduate in management and holds an ITI diploma but earns only Rs 3,000 per month. He is the eldest among three brothers and the only breadwinner in the family. He claims that youth of the district are migrating to Maharasthra, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and other states in search of jobs.
“Unemployment is the biggest issue here. There is no industry. Almost all the mines are closed. Lack of jobs is affecting even the businesses of the locals. Unless people have money, how can they buy anything? People don’t have money to fulfill their daily requirements, how would they buy anything,” Raghuvanshi told IANS.
Ghanshyam Rathore, a senior journalist, also acknowledged that the issue of unemployment is haunting the BJP as it failed to address it. “Although the issue of drinking water has been resolved by the BJP, unemployment continues to haunt them,” he said, adding that medical and health services in the constituency needed special attention.
The Congress candidates are also raising the issue of unemployment in their election campaigns, while Mr Khandelwal is banking on the development works undertaken by the administration. Ms Mhaski is attacking both her opponents on the issue of dynasty politics and calling for a Betul that is free of dynasty politics.
In the 2013 Assembly polls, Hemant Khandelwal won by defeating Congress’s Hemant Wagadre by a margin of 24,347 votes. Mr Khandelwal got 82,949 votes while Mr Wagadre got 58,602 votes.
In 2008, BJP’s Alkesh Arya won, while in 2003 BJP’s Shiv Prasad Rathore defeated Vinod Daga, the father of Congress nominee Nilay Daga, taking revenge for his 1998 Assembly defeat at his hands.
The BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003. Betul elected Congress candidates in 1993 and 1998 and the Congress then formed the government in the state with Digvijay Singh as Chief Minister.
In the 1990 Assembly polls, BJP came to power with Sunder Lal Patwa as Chief Minister and the Betul Assembly constituency had then elected BJP’s Bhagwat Patel.
Except in the 1980 Assembly election, Betul has always voted for the party which formed the government in state. In that election, BJP’s Madhav Gopal Naseri won from Betul but the Congress formed the government by wining 240 seats in the 320-member Assembly.