The absence of Sumitra Mahajan has left BJP in a tough battle with the Congress.
Shankar Lalwani and Pankaj Sanghvi are in a close fight with rural Indore holding the key for the outcome of the elections.
Having served Indore as a Member of Parliament (MP) for three decades, Sumitra Mahajan (Tai), who turned 76 this year, decided not to contest the elections this year. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded Shankar Lalwani, who was previously the chairman of the Indore Development Authority (IDA) since 2013 for almost five years. On the opposite side, the Congress candidate is Pankaj Sanghvi who has been active in Indore politics for decades and has also previously contested assembly and parliamentary elections.
People of Indore respect Sumitra Mahajan for being a great leader and believe she has done a lot for Indore. Many people claim that Tai would have won easily this time too and the elections would have been just a formality. Mohanlal Soni from Sarrafa Bazaar says, “If she would have just filled the nomination papers sitting at home, she would still have easily won.”
BJP took a lot of time to decide the candidate for Indore. A local even claimed that Tai wanted her relative to be the candidate but the party avoided that choice because its public stand was against dynastic politics.
Lalwani is also close to Mahajan and his candidature was announced with Tai’s consent, and the support of former chief minister of the state, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The party has supported Lalwani’s candidature with Mahajan, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Chouhan, all accompanying him during the nomination rally. However, Tai’s absence from the fray is definitely felt as a loss for the party.
People of Indore have varied perspectives on Lalwani’s candidature. Some find that his candidature is not going to affect anything as people will vote for the party. Rajendra Soni says that BJP’s vote bank is fixed in the area and nothing is going to affect it. Many feel that the Modi government will earn votes for “vikas”. Gopal Prajapati says that Lalwani has a good image but Tai’s absence may narrow down the victory margin.
While some find Lalwani’s clean image and Modi’s vikas (development) enough for a victory, others feel that the party made a mistake in choosing Lalwani. If not Mahajan, Kailash Vijayvargiya was the foremost choice of Indoris as a candidate, followed by Malini Gaur and Ramesh Mendola. Mendola and Gaur have been MLAs from Indore assembly number two and four, respectively, since 2008. Gaur is also currently the mayor of Indore.
Though many developmental works have been done in Indore under the chairmanship of Lalwani, including the construction of the Indore Super Corridor, few people associate him with these developmental works. According to some, development comes with political influence and Lalwani’s job was just in an official capacity. Moreover, by holding posts in the IDA and the Indore Municipal Corporation, Lalwani is connected only to urban Indore and lacks exposure in the rural areas.
The Congress candidate, Sanghvi, is undoubtedly more known than Lalwani but his previous defeats make him appear weak. Rajkumar Kasera, who runs a cloth shop in Rajwada said, “Sanghvi mein dum nahi hai. (Sanghvi doesn’t have what it takes.)” He feels that if Sanghvi is really an influential leader, he would have won at least one of the elections he had contested. It should be noted that Sanghvi contested in 1998 elections against Mahajan but lost to her. In 2009, he contested for the mayoral post but did not register a win. Again, in 2013, he faced defeat in the state assembly elections.
Although Sanghvi has had many losses, it has not deterred him from increasing his influence among people through the years. And unlike Lalwani, his is a well-known face in rural Indore. A middle-aged man in Sitalamata Market says that Sanghvi gets “work done for those whoever approaches him”. Such connect has given him an image of a being a “helping hand”. And running a management training institute in Indore, millionaire Sanghvi has got himself entrenched in the city’s major social circles.
Candidate-wise, Congress’ Sanghvi appears to have an edge being a ‘known devil’, so to speak.
The Muslim community that comprises around 14 per cent of the population of Indore is predictably not in favour of another Modi government. However, they are not outspoken in their criticism. A Muslim shopkeeper, who runs a novelty store in Rajwada finds that Modi has not fulfilled his promises. Interestingly though, he wants Modi to become PM again—as there is no one competent enough—but he also wishes that it is a coalition government so that “Modi can’t take decisions arbitrarily like that of GST and demonetisation”!
Another Muslim shopkeeper, who runs a hardware store in Siyaganj, feels that the public was not ready for Modi government’s decisions like demonetisation and GST. He thinks the intent was right but the steps didn’t turn out to be effective and this is making him ponder over whom to vote. Many other Muslim shopkeepers were reluctant to talk to the media. Nazar Hussain feels that many small businesses have closed down after GST and demonetisation.
Other communities that are going to influence this election are the Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi and Sikh communities. Though these communities don’t have a significant population—they are going to matter in a close contest like this. Mahajan had her sway over the Marathi community. This time around as she is not contesting, Marathi vote consolidation may be poorer.
Lalwani belongs to the Sindhi community. Will he able to consolidate their votes given that most Sindhis are in business and they claim to have witnessed losses due to GST and demonetisation?
Well, Narendra Lalwani, who runs a mobile shop near Bhanwar Kuan, claims that 75 per cent of the Sindhi community votes will go to Lalwani. Not to be outdone, Dipak Karmchandani claims to be a Modi fan and says will vote for any BJP candidate.
Sanghvi belongs to the Gujarati community and is the president of many Gujarati societies. He has a deep impact over the community and will get the maximum number of votes from them.
Sikhs—who maintain a close bond with Sindhis, as most of them live in the Sindhi Colony—are although likely to go with BJP. However, some Sikhs in the area are offended by BJP’s Hindutva agenda. A middle-aged Sikh, the owner of a Punjabi Cloth store in the Sindhi colony feels, “Now they are targeting Muslims, some day they will come after Sikhs too.”
Indore- The Business Hub
After GST and demonetisation there were many news reports showcasing discontent among the business class of “Mini Mumbai” as Indore is also known. But the owner of Kashyap Novelty Stores discarded such reports, saying, “Have you heard of any protest regarding this? If this was such a big issue then the business class would not have sat silently without staging a dharna (protest).”
Ashok Dharave opines that GST proved to be a curse on small businessman as “their business runs on kaccha bills, which had no place in the market after GST”. Some people like Ashok Kumar, who runs a textile business, feels that GST and demonetisation will still have an impact on voting. A Sindhi shopkeeper says that although he has his misgivings about GST, he still wants to vote for Modi. Hemant Vaishnav affirmed that among many shopkeepers in the Rajwada and Sitalamata market there has not been much loss due to GST and demonetisation.
The Shivraj Singh government has given the markets of Indore continuous power supply and good roads. The shopkeepers tell this correspondent that BJP has helped them flourish. Kishan, the owner of a watch shop, says that Congress’ Digvjay Singh’s 10-year term (before Shivraj Singh’s term) had pushed the state back by 20 years. Many businessmen also reveal that under Digvijay’s term, they had to down the lights of their shops by 7 pm, otherwise they were asked to pay a penalty. When asked about power cuts now under Kamal Nath’s government, Amit Kashyap says, “Power cuts are the dhabba on Congress government, it’s their job to come clean out of it.” Many agreed that there were frequent power cuts now, although they hastened to add that such power cuts are not under the jurisdiction of the state government, but rather under the Nagar Nigam.
In Choithram Mandi, the farmers tell Swarajya about making a good profit under Shivraj’s Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana since 2017 but this year, with the change of government, they haven’t yet got the compensatory money after selling their onion crop.
Labourers, both men and women, who lift the vegetable sacks at the mandi, make Rs. 10 per sack and are happy with their income. Fruit sellers, sitting outside the mandi, endorse Modi for his governance. Sanjay Khatik, a fruit vendor, thinks that Congress leaders are all millionaires and this impression is reinforced by the rich Congress candidate, Sanghvi, which makes him more adamant in his decision to vote for Modi.
The Clean City of Indore
Indore city got the Cleanest City of India award for the third consecutive time in 2019. Indoris are openly proud about this achievement and they give full credit to Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan for it. One can see public toilets at regular distances, dustbins outside every shop and garbage vehicles doing frequent rounds in the city. People agree that this awareness was brought to them by Modi’s government but are quick to point out that what took Indore to another level was the effort of the Indoris who welcomed this initiative with open arms.
After the Kamal Nath government came to the power last year, there are some who feel that the administration has become lax about cleanliness. Kamlesh Prajapati says that the administration used to penalise anyone found spitting on the roads but with the administration dropping their strictness, many people have resumed their old habits.
In the Final Analysis
It appears to be a close fight in Indore between a first-time BJP Lok Sabha contestant, Lalwani, and an old-hand Congress contestant, Sanghvi. The absence of a leader like Sumitratai Mahajan is keenly felt, in the words of a local, “Dada-pote ka comparison nahi ho sakta.” Rural Indore is the place to watch for the Congress, where the BJP lost all three of the assembly seats under the Indore Lok Sabha constituency. For the BJP, its fixed and traditional vote bank isn’t going away from it, for, despite some grievances, the business class is broadly still in its favour.