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In 2018, A Village Stunned BJP. 2019 May Be A Different Story

Anhori falls in the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat, a BJP bastion, unwavering for the past three decades. The outgoing MP is Sushma Swaraj, India's Foreign Minister.

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In the assembly elections in December 2018, Anhori voted out the BJP


New Delhi: 

At the entrance of Anhori village in Madhya Pradesh's Vidisha district, a small crowd gathers.

Bhagwan Singh Pal, an agricultural labourer, tells us that the village has not voted for the Congress 'since Independence'. Or at least as far back as he can recall.

In the assembly elections in December 2018 though, the village voted out the BJP, a trend replicated across the state. In those elections, India's ruling party lost not just Madhya Pradesh, but two other crucial Hindi heartland states, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

If mapped onto the Lok Sabha, poll analysts would see a loss to the BJP of 31 parliamentary seats across the three states.

But the view from Anhori - a village of Brahmins and Other Backward Class (OBC) - tells a more complex story.

Anhori falls in the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat, a BJP bastion, unwavering for the past three decades. The outgoing MP is Sushma Swaraj, India's Foreign Minister.

In 2018, the Congress managed to win two of the eight assembly seats in Vidisha, including Sanchi that includes Anhori. It is a small wedge the Congress looks to widen.

Like Mr Pal, several other BJP voters we met said they turned away from the saffron party in 2018 and intend to remain Congress voters in the national polls.

"No work was done by the BJP in the past 15 years (the duration of the BJP rule in Madhya Pradesh)", he said.

Seema Pal, 19, a student said she was a first time voter. Though her family were traditional BJP supporters, they voted Congress in the assembly elections, as they will in the Lok Sabha polls.

As will she. Why? "I want change", she said. "The Congress will give employment. If not, we will vote them out."

Some BJP supporters cited local reasons for crossing sides. Banwari Sharma, a labourer (but would like to be described as unemployed) said he was unhappy with Gauri Shankar Shejwar, the former BJP legislator from Sanchi and a minister in the previous BJP government.

Mr Sharma instead voted for the Congress's Prabhu Ram Choudhury, the eventual winner from Sanchi, a popular politician.

But some voters who crossed over say they may return to the BJP, drawn back in, it would appear, by a mix of the BJP's hardline nationalism, the Balakot air strikes, and resurgent Hindutva sentiment.

Neeraj Yadav, 19, said he voted Congress in the assembly polls because he too preferred Prabhu Ram Choudhury.

But in the Lok Sabha polls, he will vote for Prime Minister Modi.

"Rahul Gandhi is Pappu" he said, referring to the derogatory nickname BJP supporters often use for the Congress President. Mr Modi, he said "has a 56-inch chest."

Neeraj says he wants to join the Indian Army.

Ask him about unemployment, and he says jobs are not a problem. "Those who sit at home the whole day claim they have no jobs", he said, disparagingly.

Today, even the traditional BJP voter in the village seemed more assertive, questioning those who crossed sides.

Ratan Lal Sharma, a farmer, said the BJP has ensured a strong India. "India has now done what the Congress could not do in 60 years", he said, referring to the surgical strikes.

"Those who voted for Congress have let down India", he said.

The sarpanch (headman) of the village, Prakash Sharma, a self-described diehard BJP supporter, said his loyalty is linked to the BJP's image as a party for Hindus.

When asked what the BJP has done for Hindus, he was somewhat vague, saying they have been tough on Pakistan, as well as (Indian) Muslims who further Pakistan's agenda.

When asked for examples, he named the Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, whom he said has let down India by making "the nation's internal differences public."

The sarpanch also cited other reasons to back the BJP, including a generous hike in support prices for rice and wheat, as well as homes and toilets built under government schemes.

A dispute broke out between Mr Pal and the sarpanch over whether disgruntled BJP voters in the village will return to the fold, with the latter insisting they will, while Mr Pal asserted otherwise.

Neeraj, the young Modi fan, told us 2018 was different, an election about local issues. "Neeche Congress ke liye, lekin oopar to Modi-ji". (A vote for the Congress for the assembly elections, but for the national polls, it will be for Modi).

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