Madhya Pradesh: Another BJP sweep unlikely

While the saffron party will likely win at the state level, as the assembly results presaged, it may get fewer seats than in 2019—to the Congress’ advantage

The BJP in Madhya Pradesh might have misstepped in its ageist attack on Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh (photo courtesy @harisht2024/X)
The BJP in Madhya Pradesh might have misstepped in its ageist attack on Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh (photo courtesy @harisht2024/X)

Kashif Kakvi

In Guna, union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia is said to be sweating it out and campaigning hard for the first time in the last 20 years. Accompanied by his wife and son, the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior is meeting ordinary voters, listening to their grievances and promising to address them, which is a novelty, say old-timers.

Visiting hamlets of backward Sahariya tribals, declaring them as their old friend. On one hand, his wife is making rotis, and on the other hand, his son is having food with them.

Scindia-ji jab Congress mein thhein, kabhi car se nahi utre. Bas car se haath hilate huey dikhte thhein. Aaj wey logo se haath mila rahein hain, sabse mil rahein hain. Beta adivasiyo ke ghar khana kha raha hai, biwi rotiya bana rahi hai (When Scindia-ji was in the Congress, he never got out of his car. He would just be seen waving from inside the car. Today he shakes hands with common people, meets everyone. His son sits down to a meal with the Adivasi folks in their homes, while his wife is making the rotis,” says 27-year-old BJP worker, Veerpal Yadav, who hails from Biloni village, 3 km from Guna city, near the bypass.

Veerpal said that he campaigned for the BJP in 2019, but this time, he is supporting the Congress.

A 60-year-old man standing next to Veerpal, Kailash Narayan Yadav, claims that the 2.5 lakh Yadav voters who supported the BJP in 2019 are unhappy after the saffron party dropped K.P. Yadav, who last defeated Scindia with close to 1 lakh votes. “Jo jeeta uska ticket kaat diya. Jo hara usko ticket de diya. Yeh toh aisa hai ki India–Pakistan mein match ho, India jeet jaye, phir bhi world cup Pakistan ko de dein (They took away the ticket from the victor and gave it to the loser. It’s like an India–Pakistan match where India wins but you give Pakistan the World Cup),” he quips.

There are other signs that the BJP is not taking things easy. Last month, it engineered the withdrawal of the Congress candidate from Indore, businessman Akshay Bam, on the last day of nomination (30 April), ensuring a walkover for sitting BJP MP Shankar Lalwani. Indore has been deemed a strong BJP bastion since 1989, and most people would have placed their bet on the party retaining the seat. Why, then, did it have to engineer a dramatic withdrawal by the Congress candidate?

Several explanations have been offered, among them the obvious one of showing up the ‘weakness’ of the Congress and its state president, Jitu Patwari—who also hails from Indore and was the prior choice as Congress candidate.

Another explanation is that the BJP leaders had heard the rumblings on the ground and did not want to take chances. A local court was therefore ‘persuaded’ to add a non-bailable charge of ‘attempt to murder’ in a 17-year-old land dispute case and a summons was issued to the Congress candidate.

Indore BJP strongman Kailash Vijayvargiya and MLA Ramesh Mandole accompanied the Congress candidate when he withdrew his nomination and quickly announced that the businessman had joined the BJP. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 28 out of 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh in 2019, should have been cruising along to repeat this feat in the 2024 general elections, especially after its impressive but unexpected victory in the assembly  election late last year. But the BJP leaders are sweating it out on the ground and leaving nothing to chance. They know how crucial each seat will be this time.

The BJP had claimed that 2 lakh Congress workers had joined the saffron party after the assembly elections. The ‘inside joke’ amongst the BJP cadre was apparently whether these workers had cast their votes in the first two phases of polling on 19 and 26 April, when 12 Lok Sabha constituencies recorded low polling. Eight more constituencies are scheduled for polling on 7 May now.

The polling percentage in the state has certainly dropped—by 7–14 per cent across the constituencies that have voted so far. Sidhi, which went to the polls in the first phase, saw a drop of 14 per cent. The overall plunge by 8 per cent is also steeper than the national average.

In prior parliamentary elections in the state, the BJP has enjoyed a stable 55 per cent vote share the last four times, while the Congress has had a steady vote share of only 35 per cent. Both the parties are, however, worried about the low turnouts, with the BJP more fearful it will impact its share.

On the one hand, the BJP’s media in-charge, Ashish Aggarwal, attributed this drop to the ‘Congress voters’’ newfound mistrust of the grand old party; on the other hand, the Congress is attributing it to the BJP’s loss of face, as their formerly committed voters are now unhappy with the saffron party.

The CEO of the state Election Commission, Anupam Rajan, attributed the drop to warm weather. 

Of the 12 seats at which polling has been completed, several are in the tribal belt. The Congress is believed to have put up a stiff fight in at least six of them. Jitu Patwari has, of course, publicly claimed that the Congress could win from Chhindwara, Rewa, Satna, Sidhi, Mandla, Dindori and Damoh.


In the third phase of polling on 7 May, bipolar contests are expected in Bhind, Bhopal, Guna, Gwalior, Morena, Rajgarh, Sagar and Vidisha. Two former chief ministers—Shivraj Singh Chouhan from Vidisha and Digvijaya Singh from Rajgarh—are in the fray, besides union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia from Guna.

This is the region where the Congress fared relatively better in the last assembly election. For a change, the BJP leaders also concede in private that the Congress’ candidate selection has been smart. BJP leaders also privately admit that strategic selection of candidates by the Congress has made the going tough for the ruling party in Bhind, Morena, Gwalior and Rajgarh.

This is the region where issues like the Agnipath scheme, the Old Pension Scheme, unemployment and inflation resonated strongly even during the assembly elections. By fielding Praveen Pathak from Gwalior, Satyapal Singh Sikarwar aka ‘Neetu’ from Morena and Dalit leader Phul Singh Baraiya from Bhind, the Congress has accounted for representation from all three dominant communities in the Gwalior–Chambal region.

Satyapal Singh Sikarwar is a former BJP MLA, hailing from one of the oldest and most powerful political families in the region. His elder brother Satish Sikarwar is a Congress MLA and Satish’s wife is mayor of Gwalior. The Morena seat was last won by the Congress in 1991, but Sikarwar is a formidable candidate and could well pull off a surprise. The Congress won five of the eight assembly segments in Morena in the last assembly polls, which lends Sikarwar momentum.

The BJP candidate, Shiv Mangal Singh Tomar, won from the Dimani assembly seat by 250-odd votes in 2008, but lost the same seat in 2013 and 2018 by higher margins. Narendra Singh Tomar, former union minister and the Vidhan Sabha speaker now, won the assembly seat in 2023. 

In Gwalior, the BJP has fielded another Tomar loyalist and ex-minister, Bharat Singh Kushwah, who lost the 2023 assembly polls from Gwalior Rural by over 3,000 votes. The BJP and the Congress each won four assembly segments this time in what now makes up the Gwalior Lok Sabha constituency.

The Congress candidate from Bhind, Phool Singh Baraiya, a sitting MLA from the Bhander assembly seat, is the tallest Dalit leader in the region and is again a formidable candidate. The BJP has fielded sitting MP Sandhya Rai again. The BJP has held this seat (reserved for the Scheduled Castes since the 2008 delimitation) since 1989; but this time, Baraiya, who was earlier with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), will be no pushover.

In Guna, the citadel of the Scindias, there is a possibility of sabotage by unhappy BJP cadres themselves, in addition to the angst of the Yadav community, a large and dominant OBC community in the region, over the denial of a ticket to first-time MP Dr K.P. Yadav. These could create a shocker for union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Rao Yadvendra Singh Yadav has been fielded by the Congress here, and is considered a relatively weaker candidate than K.P. Yadav. However, given the circumstances against Scindia, him pulling off an upset can’t be ruled out. The union minister is campaigning hard with his wife Priyadarshini Raje Scindia and their son Mahanaryaman Scindia.

Veerpal Yadav isn’t alone in this claim that rarely had the people seen the ‘royal’ family campaigning on the streets and villages in the past, so confident were they of the ‘loyalty’ of the people.

In Rajgarh, former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, though pushing 77, is still believed to have an edge over sitting BJP MP Rodmal Nagar, a two-term MP. Besides the anti-incumbency factor working against Nagar, Digvijaya Singh’s emotional appeal for a last chance to serve his people is seeing traction.

On the other hand, union home minister Amit Shah and other BJP leaders’ calls for giving Digvijaya Singh a “permanent farewell” and allusions to his advanced age have not gone down well with the people. The ‘Diggi Raja’ himself is defying his age to actively campaign in the constituency. 

An Adivasi supporter with Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh, seen here campaigning on a bicycle, carrying the placard 'the hand will bring change', in the evening (photo courtesy @AdvSuneelkumar/X)
An Adivasi supporter with Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh, seen here campaigning on a bicycle, carrying the placard 'the hand will bring change', in the evening (photo courtesy @AdvSuneelkumar/X)

The Congress veteran became MP from Rajgarh for the first time in 1984. However, he lost to the BJP’s Pyarelal Khandelwal in 1989, before wresting the seat back from him in 1991 and vacating the seat in 1994, after he was chosen by the Congress as the state’s chief minister. A Rajya Sabha member, he lost the Lok Sabha election from Bhopal in 2019.

Overall, there is little doubt that the BJP is set to win big in Madhya Pradesh. It is also equally certain, though, that it appears unlikely to repeat its feat of sweeping most of the seats. A loss of 6–8 seats looks like a distinct possibility at this stage of the election, and is reflected in the palpable uneasiness within the BJP ranks.

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