Assembly bypolls in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh will be held on October 21, the Election Commission announced on Saturday, sparking the start of a race between the Congress and the BJP in these two states. Three seats are up for grabs, including Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. Counting of votes and declaration of results are scheduled for October 24.
The contest for Jhabua is likely to be intense given the Congress, with 114 MLAs, is just two short of majority in the house. However, to do so they will need to flip a seat that has voted for the BJP in the past two elections. The seat fell vacant after MLA GS Damor was voted to the Lok Sabha in May.
With an eye on the Jhabua bypoll, Congress leader and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has announced several schemes targeting the tribal-dominated region that lies in the western part of the state. These include waiving of loans taken from local money-lenders.
The identity of the Congress candidate for the seat remains unknown for now, with two leaders - former MLA Xavier Medha and party veteran Kantilal Bhuria vying for the ticket. In full-fledged Assembly elections held last year, GS Damor beat Congress's Vikrant Bhuriya by around 10,000 votes. Xavier Medha, denied a ticket by the party, contested as a rebel and won nearly 36,000.
GS Damor then went on to beat Kantilal Bhuria in parliamentary elections.
Jhabua has also been visited by senior BJP leaders like former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Madhya Pradesh BJP President Rakesh Singh. Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Faggan Singh Kulaste have addressed election rallies.
Meanwhile, in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, a total of nine candidates are contesting. The ruling Congress has fielded Devti Karma, the wife of Mahendra Karma, a party leader who was killed in a Naxal attack in 2013. The BJP has fielded Ojaswi Mandavi, wife of Bhima Mandavi, who was killed in a Naxal attack near Shyamgiri village in the district in April.
In last year's polls Bhima Mandavi narrowly beat Devti Karma - by fewer than 2,200 votes.
The Congress has a significant majority in the 90-member assembly in Chhattisgarh; the BJP is well behind with only 15.
Chitrakoot in the Bastar region will also vote on October 21 after MLA Deepak Baij of the Congress was elected MP from Kanker.