Bhopal, Apr 18: Anti-incumbency might make this Lok Sabha poll battle from Mandla a bit tough for Union minister and six-term MP Faggan Singh Kulaste, who faced defeat in the 2023 Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, political analysts claim.

While the BJP and analysts feel the 'Modi factor' would work in favour of Kulaste, the Congress claimed he has not worked for the welfare of tribals.

Senior BJP leader Kulaste, the sitting MP from Mandla (ST-reserved) in the state's Mahakoshal region, is pitted against Congress' Dindori MLA Omkar Singh Markam. Lok Sabha Elections 2024 Phase 1: From Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur to Nakul Nath in Chhindwara, List of Key Candidates, Constituencies in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

The Mandla Lok Sabha seat, where polling will be held on Friday, includes eight assembly segments -- six reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and one for the Scheduled Caste candidates.

In the 2023 state polls, the Congress won five of these segments, though its collective victory margin was only 16,000 votes.

Kulaste won the 2019 Lok Sabha election by a margin of around 98,000 votes. He is facing Markam as his poll rival for the second time. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Kulaste defeated Markam by a margin of 1.10 lakh votes.

The BJP fielded Kulaste from Niwas seat in the 2023 assembly polls when Congress' Chainsingh Warkade defeated him by more than 9,700 votes.

The Union minister's brother, Rampyare Kulaste, was defeated in the Mandla assembly seat by Congress in 2018.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Congress' Basori Singh Masram defeated Faggan Singh Kulaste from Mandla by around 65,000 votes.

Talking to PTI, former editor of a Hindi daily in Jabalpur, Ravindra Dubey, claimed there is anti-incumbency against the Kulaste family.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, many BJP candidates won by 3 to 4 lakh vote margins as electors of different ideologies supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the name of nationalism, but Faggan Singh Kulaste won by less than 1 lakh votes, he noted.

"The defeats of the Kulaste family members also imply people are not happy with the Union minister. BJP workers are also not campaigning actively. So it can't be said he is safe," Dubey claimed.

He, however, maintained that "Modi Magic" -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi's connect with the electorate -- in the backdrop of the Ram temple inauguration and the abrogation of Article 370 (which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir) may work.

"This election is different from that of 2019. Whoever wins, Kulaste or Markam, the results could be shocking. If Kulaste wins, it could be because of PM Modi and if Markam wins, it could also be shocking," he said.

Dubey said the BJP and the Congress could also face a challenge from the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) candidate.

It is to be seen whose vote bank this tribal outfit will eat into, he said. The GGP has failed to win the Mandla seat so far. Its candidates Ramgulam Uikey (in 2019) and Anuj Ganga Singh (in 2014) had received about 49,000 votes and 56,000, respectively.

This time, the GGP has fielded Mahesh Kumar Batti, a lawyer from Lakhnadon town. BJP's Mandla district media in-charge Sudhir Kasar said they are hopeful of a win, but there might be anti-incumbency against the party candidate.

"Women in rural areas are happy with the BJP due to schemes launched by PM Modi. They got houses, water, free ration due to such schemes," he said. "People could be angry due to the condition of the Mandla-Jabalpur highway, but work on it is underway. Farmers affected by the Basania dam submergence area are also angry," he said.

Kasar, however, claimed there is no other tribal leader in the state like Kulaste, who won six-times from the Mandla seat, which shows he is popular among the electorate.

Kulaste won from Mandla by around one lakh votes in 2019 despite the Congress winning six of the eight assembly segments falling under it in 2018, he pointed out.

Kasar said that industries cannot be set up in most parts of the Lok Sabha seat due to forest norms and restrictions for tribal areas.

But, all the rural areas have road connectivity. The electrification of 95 per cent of the villages has already been done, while the remaining are connected with solar power due to the norms, he said.

The BJP leader also said that GGP's presence in the area has weakened.

Senior Congress leader from Mandla, Kaushalya Gotiya, claimed there is anger among the people against Kulaste.

"Kulaste didn't work for tribals as unemployment prevails in the area despite so many schemes. There is large-scale migration due to unemployment. Several innocent people were also arrested in the name of Naxalism," the former state minister claimed. Madhya Pradesh Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Campaign Ends for Six LS Seats Going to Polls in First Phase in MP; 88 Candidates in Fray.

Police do not even register complaints over human trafficking of girls under the pretext of employment, she further claimed.

"This could have been stopped if we had a strong tribal leader...tribal people don't see the party, they see who their leader is. The GGP vote bank will also shift to the Congress," she said.

There is a need to provide clean water to the people and a complete ban on tree cutting, which the Congress will ensure as the tribals are best in conserving nature, Gotiya said.

The Mandla Lok Sabha seat has 20,97,051 lakh voters, including 10,48,096 lakh men, 10,48,930 women and 25 third gender persons.

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