Madhya Pradesh byelections: 25 defectors, 12 ministers and Scindia on test

While BJP needs to win just eight of the 27 seats to retain the majority, the results will determine the political future of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Kamal Nath

Madhya Pradesh byelections: 25 defectors, 12 ministers and Scindia on test

Chandrakant Naidu

Madhya Pradesh ended its 65th foundation day on a “quiet” note as the noise for one of the crassest election campaigns died down by Sunday evening. Voters in 28 constituencies across the state have a day to reflect over their choice. Tuesday’s polling will decide whether BJP that regained power through large scale defections, stays in power or hands it back to Congress.

The ruling BJP and opposition Congress and the BSP (which faces allegations of striking a secret deal with BJP) tried to make the most of the slog overs ahead of Tuesday’s polling. In an unprecedented scenario 12 Ministers are among 355 candidates in the fray to re-enter the House they left seven months ago.

Just over 12 per cent seats of the state assembly going for by-elections could redefine the future of former chief minister Kamal Nath, former union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and incumbent chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Scindia, who is unable to let go of his royal title of Maharaj has been conspicuous with a tone that would embarrass the worst critics of Congress and the most loyal supporters of BJP.

He claimed that Kamal Nath had called him a dog. “Yes, I am a dog. I will bite anyone trying to harm my master, the people of this state,” Scindia said. A shocked Kamal Nath said he never used the word and would never use it for any political rival. The campaign would be remembered for indecent words like “item’ for a woman minister and epithets Gaddar (betrayer), Bikau (saleable) and Tikau (loyal and durable).

SC relief to Kamal Nath

The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the Election commission’s order delisting Kamal Nath as the star campaigner. Congress had moved the court against the decision. The election commission controversially delisted Kamal Nath as star campaigner Kamal Nath just a day before the campaign ended. The result was that his campaign expenses would be the liability of the candidate and not the party.

Kamal Nath's petition said the Election Commission violated his statutory rights. It was the party's right to nominate someone as a star campaigner and Commission cannot interfere in the party's decision. The Commission can take a decision after due notice which was not served on Kamal Nath. The bench of Justice V Ramasubramaniam held the hearing and stayed the Commission's decision.

The Congress claims the Election Commission booked Kamal Nath because he has rattled the BJP with his intensive campaigning. Kamal Nath had toured each constituency twice through the past couple of months.

A direct fight between the BJP and Congress is expected on the majority of seats. In two or three seats of Gwalior – Chambal region, a triangular fight is on the cards due to BSP’s influence. Since the seats in contention in Gwalior-Chambal region were mostly held by the Congress, then led by the Scindias, the general view is that BSP could upset that party’s calculations. But there is another dominant section of political observers which suggests it could affect the BJP too.

The Congress now has 87 MLAs in the House, while the ruling BJP has 107. The total strength of the House was 230 but a Congress MLA Rahul Lodhi has resigned and joined the BJP during the last week of campaign. Till two days before he joined the BJP Lodhi was all fire and brimstone against that party. In a video that went viral he said he would not like to go down in history as a betrayer and would continue to be loyal to Kamal Nath and the Congress.

Lodhi’s resignation pegs the magic figure for power at 115. BJP needs to win only eight seats to get the majority. With 87 MLAs the Congress will have to win all 28 seats to regain power on its own. The four Independents, two BSP and one SP legislator had propped up the Congress till March. If the balance tilts in Congress’ favour they might return. The Congress can wrest power even with 22 out of 28 seats

There are half a dozen seats among the 28 where the margin of victory and defeat in the 2018 elections was very low. They will be watched keenly.

State chief electoral officer Arun Tomar says polling will be held between 7 am and 6 pm on Tuesday to adhere to the COVID -19 restrictions. The last hour of voting will be for coronavirus patients and people suffering from respiratory disease. The by-elections will involve 63.67 voters.

There will be 250 flying squads, 173 static surveillance team and 293 police check-posts in place and 33,000 security personnel have been deployed in 19 districts. He said 9361 booths have been set up of which 3038 were placed under critical category.

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