Beyond the picture perfect landscape of the Bargi dam on the Narmada river lies Magardha, a tribal-dominated village in Madhya Pradesh, about 40 km from Jabalpur city.
“My two sons are working in Nagpur and I live on the money they put in my bank accounts. It would be good if our boys can get jobs nearby and stay with us,” says Komal Bhumiya, a member of the Bharia tribe, sharing his expectations from the Assembly election.
The village, with nearly 350 residents, has a primary school and electricity from the neighbouring hydel power plant and is connected by a new road. The biggest complaint here is a lack of jobs.
“Our only source of income is fishing and, in that too, the rates are very low. For small fish, we get Rs. 10 to Rs. 20 a kg, while larger fish fetch Rs. 25 a kg,” said Ballu Barman, a 28-year-old fisherman.
Magardha is part of the Bargi Assembly constituency, where Pratibha Singh of the BJP is the MLA. Though her main opponent is Sanjay Yadav of the Congress, her daughter-in-law Jyoti Singh is contesting against her on Samajwadi Party ticket.
The contest has become interesting as the SP has tied up with the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP), which has made inroads in the tribal areas of the Mahakoshal region. The alliance could eat into tribal votes for both the parties.
About 21% of the State’s population is tribal and 47 of the 230 seats are reserved for them. But though the Congress had appointed a tribal leader, Kanti Lal Bhuria, before the previous Assembly election, the strategy did not work and the BJP won 35 tribal seats.
In the upcoming election, the Congress is hoping to gain support by highlighting the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s flip-flop over the SC/ST Act.
Opinions at Bargi, as in other areas, are sharply divided. Families of workers who were employed during construction at the dam site in the early 1970s have now settled here.
The village has a functional dispensary and a community hall. Lack of jobs and corruption at the panchayat level in providing the benefits of welfare schemes are common complaints.
“The main problem here is employment. To find work, we have to to go to Nagpur, Hyderabad and even Tamil Nadu,” says Narendra Rajjak, one of the few graduates here, who earn a living by selling milk.
He does not indicate his voting preference but talks of “rampant corruption”.
“Look at this temple that has been constructed by the panchayat. Does it look like a temple costing Rs. 1.5 lakh,” asked Mr. Rajjak, pointing to a temple without walls, with a few idols placed under a concrete roof.
Hisabi Lal, a Gond Adivasi who rears goats for a living, is open about his political preference. “This time, I think will vote for the panja (hand),” he says, alluding to the Congress symbol.
Despite being a part of one of the poorest families here, Mr. Lal does not have a wishlist, other than that the “new government should make our lives comfortable”.
Govind Rajjak joins in on seeing a group of four or five villagers. “Development is a gradual process and people must compare [the present government] with what the Congress has given us in the past 50-60 years. The BJP has done a lot of development for the poor whereas the Congress is led by raja s and maharaja s,” he says.
In all its campaigns, the BJP has targeted the “royal lineage” of leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh with the slogan “ Maaf karo Maharaj, hamara neta Shivraj “ (Pardon us, king. Our leader is Shivraj [Chouhan]).
“The Congress only talks about the poor but the BJP actually works for them. The people of Madhya Pradesh know this and will give an answer on November 28,” Mr. Rajjak says.