“In Panna, there are two patients assigned to a single bed; one tells the other that he is next in line to be treated. This constituency couldn’t be in a worse shape. It was the knowledge of these situations that made me decide to contest,” says Dashrath Yadav, an ex-wrestler who has thrown his hat in the ring for the upcoming Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections. He is running for Panna constituency number 60, one of three in Panna district, as a member of the Samajwadi Party.
The Samajwadi Party is a regional democratic socialist party, largely confined to Uttar Pradesh. In 2012, it came to power for the first time for a full term in UP with the then-president Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav as the chief minister. In 2017, Akhilesh Yadav was made the party president.
“Our party’s national president has ensured that women in Uttar Pradesh, who didn’t even get ghee when they gave birth to children, now get ghee, rice, daal, flour, salt, sugar and tea leaves every month. In my eyes, there isn’t a better chief minister in the country,” says Yadav, “It is with his earnestness that he distributed 18 lakh laptops in the state, he distributed cattle to 55 lakh women. What could be better than this? There is a principle in the Samajwadi Party that every poor household should have the ability to celebrate festivals. It is based on their good principles that I have happily become a part of this party.”
Like any good debutant politician, Dashrath Yadav put his finger on a major concern for the majority of voters in MP. 48.9% of the state’s population lives below the poverty line, according to NFHS 2017 data. The India State Hunger Index of 2008 assigned MP the score of 30.9 which corresponds to “Extremely Alarming” on their scale. And, perhaps, the most affected at the adivasis, who make up 21.5% of the state population.
He says, “If the people are choosing politicians to enter the temple of democracy, we should do our best to help them. I know that the adivasis have been dealt the worst hand — they have to work very hard every day, come hail or high water. You’ll see even now, wherever possible, I help our mothers and sisters in need. I am always ready to support them”
“The rumours that ‘Dashrath pehelwan will sell out’ are a big mistake. I am a soldier; I am made of that mettle that I’d rather die before I cave,” he adds. Dressed simply in a plain kurta, he speaks with a sense of conviction, with belief in his own party’s work and principles. “To sell your daughter or your vote is the biggest sin, and those who are buying will be finished,” — the threat is charmingly masked with a smile.
For a party that had no successful candidate in Madhya Pradesh in the last state assembly, Samajwadi Party’s approach to this election is ambitious. It is now contesting for 24 seats. But Madhya Pradesh is one of the many states being targeted as a part of Samajwadi Party’s expansion plan; others include Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Madhya Pradesh has been a BJP stronghold for well over a decade now. Their current chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, is a three-time incumbent and the state’s longest-serving chief minister.
Panna’s voters have oscillated between Congress and BJP in previous elections. The last elected representative was Kusum Singh from BJP, who won with a sweeping majority. BJP, interestingly, has not given him the Panna ticket in this year’s election, as they have dropped many other incumbent candidates, making way for newcomers like Yadav to have a fighting chance.
Yadav combines brute strength and emotion in his campaign call, “I once took a vow to serve the country as a soldier, and now I swear that I will serve the people wholeheartedly.”
This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost.