In Madhya Pradesh, it is advantage Congress

If the last few Assembly bypolls are any indicator, the grand old party is making a comeback in the state after a 15-year hiatus

Getty images
Getty images

LS Herdenia

Both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress treated the just-concluded by-elections in two Assembly constituencies of Madhya Pradesh as a dress rehearsal for the Assembly polls, scheduled for the year-end. If it was indeed so, one would not be wrong in presuming that the Congress is headed for a comeback in the state after a 15-year hiatus. The party has managed to win both the constituencies – Kolaras in Shivpuri district and Mungaoli in Ashoknagar district. This is the party’s fourth straight win in Assembly bypolls. In 2017, its candidates had emerged victorious in Ater and Chitrakoot.

Many factors were responsible for the Congress’ victory. To begin with, both the constituencies were Congress strongholds and the party had won them with handsome margins in the 2013 Assembly elections. One of the constituencies – Mungaoli – was won by Mahendra Singh Kalukheda, an able lawmaker and a Jyotiraditya Scindia-loyalist. The seat was rendered vacant due to the untimely demise of Kalukheda.

Both the constituencies were part of the area ruled by the Scindias till the dawn of Independence and hence many consider the twin successes as Scindia’s personal victories. During the run-up to the polls, Chief Minister announced schemes worth Rs 1,500 crore for the two constituencies. But the people of Madhya Pradesh have ceased to take Chouhan’s announcements seriously.

The Chief Minister has, so far, announced schemes which would require billions of rupees for their implementation. There is no way the state government can finance them, especially given the fact that the exchequer is on its way to bankruptcy. Even BJP leaders take Chou-han’s promises and assurances with a pinch of salt. A senior BJP leader and former Member of Parliament had described Chouhan as “Ghoshnaveer”. The Chief Minister told the electorate that in the five months to go for the elections, he would work wonders for the area. “What could not be done in the past five years would be done in the next five months,” he said, assuring people that he would be personally representing them in the Vidhan Sabha. But the voters did not believe him. Clearly, Chouhan’s credibility has touched the lowest ebb.

When Chouhan and his colleagues in the BJP realised that their announcements and assurances were not having the desired impact, they handed over the command of the party’s campaign to Yashodhara Raje Scindia - a minister in the state government and aunt of Jyotiraditya—in an attempt to convert the polls into a Scindia versus Scindia battle. But this decision boomeranged on the party, with Yashodhara making tactless statements. She told the people that if they voted for the Congress, the benefits of government schemes would be denied to them. The Congress moved the Election Commission, which formally censured Yashodhara. Another minister, Maya Singh – a close relative of the Scindia family – dangled a different carrot before the voters, promising them LPG connections, free houses and what not in return for voting for the BJP. She was asked by the EC to explain her conduct.

The BJP also invoked Narendra Modi’s name to cash in on the Prime Minister’s supposed charisma. In a desperate attempt, the Chief Minister even inducted three new ministers in his team. All the three belong to communities which form a substantial part of the electorate in the two constituencies. But even that did not help. Commenting on this, BJP veteran and former Chief Minister Babulal Gaur said that the bypolls have “changed the politics of development” to “battle of caste, money and muscle power”.

Gaur also said that “Scindia was dubbed as an Abhimanyu but he emerged as an Arjun, breaking the Chakravyuh laid down by his opponents.”

After the poll outcome, Chouhan’s rivals in the party have turned up the heat on him. Questions are being raised about Chouhan’s ca-pacity to lead the party to victory in the polls. In the corridors of the BJP and a section of the media, speculations have already begun on who would succeed Chouhan.

What can the Congress learn from the people’s mandate? It is apparent that if the party workers, forgetting their loyalty to their factional leaders, work unitedly, they can deliver. In both the constituencies, all the party leaders and workers accepted the leadership of Scindia and succeeded in defeating the BJP. AICC President Rahul Gandhi, in a tweet, described the Congress’ win as a “victory of hope and defeat of misgovernance and arrogance”.

An episode during the elections caused much embarrassment to the ruling party. The Congress complained to the EC that the voter’s list for Mungaoli constituency included many bogus names. At the directive of the EC, a probe was ordered and the complaint was found to be true. The state government subsequently removed three junior officials. However, the EC found the action insufficient and ordered the removal of the Collector. After a thorough probe, 14,000 names were deleted from the voters’ list, leaving the government red-faced.

During his visit to Bhopal a couple of months back, BJP chief Amit Shah had advised the state BJP leaders to win the elections using “Saam, daam, dand, bhed”. The BJP used all the four but failed.

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