In the tranquil township of Sanchi, where Lord Buddha's relics rest along with a rich history, there are now frequent animated debates on elections at roadside tea shops as Madhya Pradesh witnesses one of its most keenly contested elections in last one decade.
Quiet flows river Betwa rising from the Vindya range and a tributary of Yamuna that irrigates the crop-rich agriculture land of the region. There are concerns that the river winding through Bhojpur, Sanchi and Vidisha assembly segments is getting polluted by the industries.
Ironically, the place worst-hit by the pollution is Sehatganj. 'Sehat' is the Hindi word for Health. In the past elections, the pollution of Betwa had become an issue but this time political parties seem to have forgotten it.
In Sanchi, the contest is between BJP strongman Gaurishankar Shejwar, 63, who was close to Uma Bharti and a health minister in the government led by her, and sitting Congress MLA Prabhuram Chowdhary.
A six-time MLA Shejwar, a medical doctor by profession was Cabinet Minister in three different BJP governments holding important portfolios such as Home Affairs, Power and Energy, Health, and Education. Shejwar is currently Vice President of BJP.
In the near-by Govindpura constituency that borders Sanchi, 83-year-old former Chief Minister Babulal Gaur of the ruling BJP is locked in a tussle with industrialist Govind Goyal.
Gaur a nine-time MLA is currently Urban Development Minister in Chouhan government and is still very agile.
His tenth consecutive win this time could be a record of sorts, if the BJP veteran manages to defeat Goyal.
Gaur, born in Uttar Pradesh and an LLB degree holder, contested his first election in 1973 on Janasangha ticket from Govindpura and never looked back, creating an envious history of electoral victories spanning 40 years during which he served as as Chief Minister, Minister and Leader of Opposition.
Both Shejwar and Gaur are very senior to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and have strong links in the RSS, a fact which is not confined to the two.
Political analysts say that one of the problems of Chouhan is that a number of ministers and MLAs in the party are much more senior to him in the saffron politics and function virtually as independent entity.
Congress, which is out of power for ten years, is in a do-or-die battle while Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP tries hard to make a hat-trick surmounting strong anti-incumbency against MLAs.
In the 2003 elections, the BJP led by Uma Bharti had trounced Congress winning 168 seats with 43.7 per cent votes. However, in 2008, though the party led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan staged a comeback, the number of its seats dropped to 143 and voter percentage to 37.6.
Congress, which had won only 38 seats with 32.5 percent votes increased its tally to 71 seats in 2008, though its vote share went up marginally to 33 per cent.
This time Congress is somewhat united and projected a charishmatic Jyotiraditya Scindia, hoping to cash in on the Scindia scion's clean image and youth appeal but the popularity of Chouhan does not seem to have waned drastically despite the strong anti-incumbency against BJP MLAs.
Hence, a minor change in the vote margin coupled with the unpredictable voting pattern of youths can spring suprises in many constituencies.
The Chief Minister is considered "humble and persuasive" and "not strict", something which can work as his strength as well as weakness in the state BJP unit having factions led by leaders far senior to him.
But the problem is perhaps more serious in the Congress, which under the strict order of party Vice President Rahul Gandhi, tried to put up a united face, which many believe is a "cosmetic unity" that cracks up at crucial times like ticket distribution.
In both Sanchi and Govindpura, agriculture remains the sole sustenance for the township and industrialisation is yet to knock the doors. Unemployment among the educated remains a worry.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had last year laid the foundation stone of a Buddhist university in Sanchi and locals are hopeful that this will create some employment in the region, where agriculture is perhaps the sole permanent occupation.
At Sukhisewania village of Govindpura, farmers complain that the state government has set a deadline of March 15 to avail the benefit of interest-free farmer loan but the crop is encashed only by April end or May leaving the scheme redundant for them.
A number of farmers have been slapped with cases of power theft. "There is no check. After the privatisation of power supply, inflated bills are coming to us," says a villager at Palampur village in the same constituency.
Congress has made it a big issue in the polls reminding farmers that how farmers using up five horse power of motor for irrigation were given free electricity. Palampur village was adopted by Gaur for all-round development but the signs are progress are not quite visible.
A drive of few kilometers takes you to Deewanganj village falling in Saanchi assembly segment and some factories billowing smoke are lined up on the left side of the road. Congress flags greet visitors at Salamatpur village, the next stop after a rough patch of road on Raisen Morh-Sanchi road.
However, as one enters the Sanchi bazaar, it's all about Shejwar. It is one of the few constituencies where the local candidate is projected as prominently on the posters or perhaps more than the Chief Minister himself.
Shivbhanu and Amit Upadhyaye, two engieering graduates, are more than keen to talk about the issue of employment.
"Either you go out of the region to eke out a living or set up some small shop in village. There are no jobs here. Industries opened in Gwalior and Bhopal but not here. But electricity has come during the Shivraj Singh government even in villages."
Both, however, replied in the negative when asked whether the youths could exercise their option of pressing the "None Of The Above" button to express their disapproval of all candidates in the fray that has been introdcued by the Election Commission this year.
"What is the use of it. Somebody has to win," says Upadhyaye.
The three-day Sanchi Mahotsava, which begins on November 25 has been rescheduled from December 15 due to voting on Monday.
Besides agriculture, tourism could have been another avenue of employment and revenue generation but locals complain that the gain of Sanchi tourism has largely shifted to the state capital Bhopal as tourists stay there.
However, over 200 residents of Sanchi village are employed in Stupa premises and the adjacent ASI colony.
"Villagers are mostly engaged in gardening and guarding," says 16-year old Kapil from the near-by Agrawal Academy school.
"Tourists come mostly from Sri Lanka and Japan during the Mahotsava. Earlier it used to be a three-day affair but this time it has postponed till December and it will be for two days. On November 25 is the voting here. This is a reserved seat," says Junaid Khan.
There are 12 wards in the Govindpura constituency. The civic bodies election after the 2008 assembly poll saw a neck to neck fight between the Congress and the BJP here. Around one lakh voters among the total around 2.93 lakh are aged between 18 and 30.
In his campaign, Gaur talks about the beautification work done in the area and promises a 100-bed hospital, college building and some big industry if he won. He also talks about road construction done during the BJP government in the area.
Gaur, predecessor to Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had become Chief Minister of the state after Uma Bharati, who had brought BJP to power in the state ending the 10-year rule of Congress in 2003, quit.
However, Gaur's rule was shortlived and he had resign under unsavoury circumstances. This constituency with maximum number of candidates--15 -- is among the seven seats in Raiganj district.
BSP has fielded Rampal Ghonsle. SP and NCP are also contesting but the fight, the locals say, is between Cong and the BJP.