Byelections on November 3: BJP vs BJP in Madhya Pradesh as oldtimers resent ticket to defectors

BJP has to win 9 of the 28 bypolls on Nov 3 to retain majority support. But with the party fielding 25 defectors from the Congress, party old-timers are out to ensure the defeat of defectors

Byelections on November 3: BJP vs BJP in Madhya Pradesh as oldtimers resent ticket to defectors

Chandrakant Naidu

Barring three seats that fell vacant due to the death of incumbent MLAs, the electoral exercise on November 3 will be due defections engineered by BJP in March to topple the Kamal Nath Government. But BJP which was gloating over the “big catch” Jyotiraditya Scindia and his 22-member flock, is now worried about the lasting damage it may have caused itself in the Gwalior-Chambal region, where byelections are being held for 16 seats.

The party would never admit it but its leaders privately concede they feel like spiders caught in their own web.

BJP is also finding it difficult to explain its conduct in March. The then health minister Tulsiram Silawat in the Congress Government disappeared in the middle of March and surfaced in a Bengaluru hotel huddled with other defectors. Deserting the ship when he should have been at the forefront of the war against the pandemic is being held against both Silawat and the BJP. Sanwer in Indore, the area Silawat represented in the assembly, is among the worst affected in the state.

Silawat who has been winning the seat for the Congress for many terms is now struggling to save Sanwer and his own political future. Jyotiraditya Scindia was insisting on making Silawat the deputy chief minister in Kamal Nath ministry and subsequently in the Chouhan Ministry too. State BJP leaders are now keen to ensure his defeat. The seizure of Rs 51 lakh near Sanwer from a man claiming to be a BJP worker has added to the stink around BJP as the man failed to satisfactorily account for the cash.

BJP has been downplaying the intra-party differences since the arrival of Scindia and his band of defectors. The resentment has been so widespread that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had to make three trips to Bhopal to placate the Sangh cadre.

After wresting power in the state BJP has tried to use its unending battle against the coronavirus to hide administrative failures. Shivraj Chouhan, the first chief minister to test positive, was treated in a private hospital. He was criticized for patronizing a private facility when the government was pumping massive money to treat patients in government hospitals.

“Even headless chicken would have handled the pandemic better,”says Bhaiyalal of Sehore district. His remark reflects the collective frustration of people at large. Bhaiyalal’s cynicism is not entirely misplaced. He was dropped on the way at his district headquarter and was finally able to reach the hospital on the directive of the district collector. He was eventually treated at a privately-owned Covid care centre following the intervention of the district administration.

The government has worked more on optics. Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made impassioned appeals on television to observe “Kill Corona week“, twice in quick succession. A stiff ten-day lockdown from July 25 to August 3 was of little help. The health authorities kept juggling statistical mirages while the death toll has been rising steadily.

Chouhan is also aware of the growing resentment within the party. Former leader of the opposition Gopal Bhargava, senior minister Narottam Mishra and the union Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar have been sulking. Scindia’s arrival has affected Tomar in Chambal region and another former state minister, Jaibhan Singh Pawaiyya in Gwalior.

Now that 25 of the defectors have been offered ticket to contest the byelection, the battle within the BJP has overshadowed the electoral battle against the Congress.

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