Bhopal, June 19: The Congress, which bit the dust in two traditional Madhya Pradesh strongholds in bypolls four months ago, has deployed several heavyweights to retain a backward tribal constituency where a by-election has taken the colour of a prestige battle.
The Jabera seat in Damoh district fell vacant after the death of Ratnesh Solomon, the brother-in-law of Ajit Jogi. Solomons daughter Tanya, a 27-year-old doctor, will contest for the Congress that has sought the services of Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Kantilal Bhuria, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Arun Yadav, and of course Jogi to campaign. Polling is on June 25.
Jabera became a prestige issue for the Congress after the last round of by-elections in February when the BJP stunned it by winning Kukshi and Sonekutch, both traditional Congress strongholds.
The setback in Kukshi was shameful for the Congress as the seat fell vacant because of the demise of the Congress leader of Opposition, Jamuna Devi. Her niece was in fray and lost by over 18,000 votes.
The Sonekutch seat was lost despite the Congress deploying local Lok Sabha MP Sajjan Singh Verma and Union urban development minister Kamal Nath.
Buoyed by the successes, BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and state party chief Prabhat Jha are making efforts to dislodge the Congress from Jabera, too. The BJPs Dashrath Singh Lodhi, who lost to Solomon by 1,800 votes in the last Assembly elections, is Tanyas rival.
Jha recently caused a flutter when he accused the Congress of forcible religious conversions in Jabera, which has a small Christian population. Crying foul, state Congress chief Kantilal Bhuria rushed to the Election Commission and asked Jha to substantiate his allegation. Local leaders in Jabera feel Jhas unsubstantiated claim was aimed at polarising voters on communal lines.
During Solomons stint ó he was a five-time MLA ó his religion was never an issue because he won repeatedly despite the small Christian presence in the area. But with young Tanya in the fray and Ajit Jogi campaigning for her, Jha and the BJP want voters to take note of their religious identity, a Congress minister from the state said.
With five days to go, an edgy Congress has told senior ministers and AICC office bearers to fan across the constituency. Union ministers of state Arun Yadav and Scindia as well as AICC general secretary Digvijay have been asked to hold public meetings.