Narendra Modi’s credibility seems to be compensating for the dissatisfaction over the BJP candidate, V D Sharma, not being from Khajuraho.
To begin with, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), or at least its candidate, appears to be starting with a disadvantage in Khajuraho. The party declared Vishnu Dutt (VD) Sharma as its candidate for the constituency. Sharma belongs to the Chambal region and is being viewed as an outsider. On the other hand Congress has fielded Kavita Singh who belongs to the Chhatarpur royal family. Kavita Singh is wife of Vikram Singh Nati Raja who has been MLA of Rajnagar (in Khajuraho Lok Sabha constituency) since 2008.
Made up of chunks of three districts, Chhatarpur, Panna and Katni, Khajuraho is a large constituency and voter preference varies from region to region. Interestingly, nothing much has changed in this constituency since 2018 assembly elections. Of the eight Vidhan Sabha constituencies that make up the Khajuraho Lok Sabha segment, the Congress won two, Rajnagar and Gunnour, while the BJP bagged six in 2018. For the Lok Sabha polls, people seem to align to the same preference.
People of Rajnagar are satisfied with their MLA's work and show similar faith in his wife. Similarly, people in Gunnour see Kavita Singh as a grounded leader.
Ajay Mali, a voter from Kakarhati village of Gunnour, likes Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but is not familiar with the BJP candidate. He is going to vote for Congress because Kavita Singh is a local leader. Another voter, a Yadav youth from the same area said that he needs time to think over his voting preference as he is confused between his liking for Modi and the priority of local politics.
People of other Vidhan Sabha constituencies in Khajuraho don’t have much idea about Kavita Singh's work though. While both Sharma and Singh are new faces for many people in this constituency, Sharma lags behind Singh in the familiarity factor.
Sharma is in the contest as BJP denied the Khajuraho ticket to the incumbent MP Nagendra Singh and shifted him to his home, Satna (he was elected as MLA from Nagod in 2018 assembly elections). This might turn out to be a good decision by BJP as people all over the constituency reported not being satisfied with their MP.
Panna, a stronghold of BJP
Panna seems to be more saffronised than other parts of this Lok Sabha constituency. In urban Panna, BJP has the support of working class and businessmen. In the rural areas, I met Sewlal, a resident of Itwan Kalan village from Panna assembly constituency who claims that it is the Modi wave which prevails. However, in the local perspective, he says, Congress stands at a better position.
A vendor selling vegetables I meet near Adivasi houses of the village is happy with demonetisation. He feels that demonetisation has not impacted the poor. According to him, the Congress has a dynasty to feed and surely they will extract this money from the country’s fund while Modi has no one to save for and so he is working for the nation. Only an “idiot” can vote for Congress, he ends.
In the 2018 assembly polls, the lotus emerged as winner in Panna. The vendor claims that this time too “BJP is going to win from this region.”
Brahmins sitting on Itwan Kalan chowk - all farmers - tell Swarajya that they have benefited from Bhawantar Yojana of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. They also praise Modi for the Awaas Yojana.
Among two beneficiaries of this scheme I met, were two Gond women. One has received 1.35 lakh rupees and the other 1.20 lakh rupees, and now is living in a pakka house.
They don’t know who VD Sharma is, but are sure that Congress has done nothing for them. When asked about their perspective for the candidate on the other side, a Gond lady says that they did not care about the Gonds when they had kingdom and powers, so “why now?”
Another man, a Chowdhary from the village, claims that around 300 houses have been made in the village under PMAY and the people will vote for BJP government.
In other areas
Gunnour still has the hangover from the assembly elections, while people in Banoli of Pawai find Narendra Modi to be a great prime minister as they think his decision making is strong. They find him using funds appropriately. They feel he has encouraged army and also made defence deals in favour of the nation. Many people in Kakarhati also are satisfied with the Modi government. Chhabeela, a labourer says that he has built his house with 2.5 lakh rupees received under PMAY. The Pal community of the region too appeared happy with the central NDA regime.
On the other hand, some BJP supporters in Pawai claimed that they will vote for Singh, but if BJP had a local face, then there would have been no confusion. An angry old man comes up saying, “Are there no BJP leaders left in Khajuraho that they have to bring candidates from outside?” They find their MLA, Prahlad Lodhi, suitable for BJP.
The two opposite pulls in Katni
Revolt broke out within the BJP unit soon after declaration of Sharma’s candidature. A former MLA from Murwara of Katni district, Giriraj Kishore (Raju) Poddar, resigned from the party in protest. Poddar is now contesting elections as an independent. However, on ground, people seem to have forgotten this 2008-2013 MLA.
People in Chaka village of Murwara find BJP to be a party which believes in development. KK Mishra says that women are safer in BJP reign. People here find India to be scam-free under a Modi government. To add to it, farmers are angry with the Congress government - alleging “false promise of loan waiver.” One person on the condition of anonymity said that Congress is out of power since five years, so first thing they are going to do after coming back to power is “filling their own pockets.”
A labourer from the village is fan of Modi’s speeches and finds him to be working for development through construction of roads and welfare of farmers, public and army. A Brahmin voter I meet says that Modi’s decisions are in favour of the nation and “our votes are in favour of BJP.”
A man in his early forties belonging to Chakravarti community says that the vote in the last election was to test Modi. “Now we have found that there is no leader like Modi so the vote in these elections will be his reward,” he adds.
While Poddar hasn’t been able to create a mood against the BJP, Sanjay Pathak, the incumbent MLA of Vijayraghavgarh in Katni has created one in favour of the party. People in the town believe that he was a staunch Congress leader but his leaving the party and joining BJP would benefit the latter.
Probably, people moved with him too. He won in the 2013 assembly elections on a Congress ticket but sought re-election in by-polls after joining BJP in 2014. He won again in 2018 assembly elections on behalf of BJP. He is known to have a good connect on ground and is definitely driving votes to BJP in Vijayraghavgarh.
Overall, the Modi wave seems to ride over local dissatisfaction. While Sharma being an ‘outsider’ is an issue, there are many who are keeping their liking for the party and Modi above it.
Moreover, Amit Shah’s rally in Khajuraho where he praised Sharma seems to have an impact on the voter. A farmer from Banoli who attended the rally said, “We were initially doubtful about Sharma but now we are ready to give him a chance.”
Coming to pure arithmetic, the vote consolidation is as effective as expected. Brahmins this correspondent talked to are in favour of BJP and claim the same for their community. While Rajputs in Chandela and Rajnagar are going to vote for Kavita Singh, some Rajput votes which came for Nagendra Singh in 2014 are likely to go in the favour of the BJP.
V D Sharma is believed to have been chosen because of the influence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He enjoys ground support from the organisation too. Only those BJP workers who are under the influence of rebel leaders seem to diverge from the election campaign; most others are enthusiastic about campaigning for Modi.
The battle in Khajuraho thus is not so much between V D Sharma and Kavita Singh; it is indeed a battle between the Modi factor and Kavita Singh.