Budhni Congress candidate Arun Yadav said he is confident on winning in the BJP stronghold
There are no swanky buildings here. The roads are mostly of average quality, with potholes here and there. But this town in Madhya Pradesh is still a focal point of the assembly elections in the large, heartland state. Budhni, represented by BJP's Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, 60, faces a young opponent sent by the Congress to breach his fortress from where he has been elected four times.
The Congress, however, needs to do a lot more if its 44-year-old candidate Arun Yadav has to score even a slight dent in the chief minister's armour, people familiar with the matter say.
Mr Yadav waves away such concerns, saying he has done the math and is confident of winning in the state that will vote on Wednesday. The former state Congress chief belongs to the Yadav community, which he says outnumbers the Kirars, an Other Backward Classes community to which the chief minister — 16 years older to him — belongs. Mr Yadav says the high-octane campaign by party president Rahul Gandhi has also boosted his chances.
"Some days back Arun came to see me in Delhi, where I told him you've to fight against the CM in Budhni. He quickly accepted the offer, after which I tested him by asking will you lose or win," Mr Gandhi had said during a rally last week in Budhni, 70 km from state capital Bhopal. "Within seconds came Arun's reply, 'I will return victorious in the contest between experience and youth'."
Mr Gandhi said Arun Yadav is the future of the party, a comment that was seen as an indication that if the party came to power it may look beyond Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath.
Mr Yadav's campaign is getting help from former parliamentarian Raj Kumar Patel, who won the Budhni seat in 1993.
Arun Yadav's campaign is getting help from former parliamentarian Raj Kumar Patel, who won the Budhni seat in 1993
A thorn on the Congress candidate's side, however, is the perception among some locals that he is a "parachute candidate", someone who has come from the Malwa-Nimar region in southwestern Madhya Pradesh, far from the BJP chief minister's stronghold.
Mr Yadav says it is not true. "I am fighting elections on the issue of corruption, law and order, sand mafia, and the thekedaari of BJP leaders. Caste is not the decider and there is nothing like a parachute candidate," he says.
In the last 15 elections and by-polls since 1957, the Budhni seat has been won by BJP seven times, Congress five times, independents twice and Janata Party once.
This time Mr Chouhan has left the charge of campaigning in Budhni to his wife, Sadhna Singh, and elder son Kartikey Singh Chouhan. "We will win by one lakh votes this time," Ms Singh said. The chief minister visited Budhni only once to file his papers. Sources say he is hoping on holding on to his citadel based on his past performance.
BJP sources say that since 2006 when Mr Chouhan, after becoming the chief minister, won from Budhni by 35,000-plus votes, the battle for his hometown has become an increasingly one-sided contest as his winning margin grew to 41,500-plus votes in 2008 and a huge 84,805 votes in 2013.
The only place in Budhni where the BJP is worried is Narullaganj. Videos on social media have emerged showing Mr Chouhan's wife and son finding it difficult to answer to people complaining about inadequate development in the area. "If in a family a brother gets angry with his sister, she will somehow find a way to pacify him," Sadhna Singh told the voters at the rally.
The chief minister is likely to stay in Budhni on Tuesday and Wednesday.