MP Civic Polls: BJP Loses Key Strongholds After Decades, Including Ministers' Home Turf

BJP lost the Gwalior municipal polls for the first time in 57 years. It lost Morena to Congress for the first time since the formation of the corporation.

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Bhopal: In 2020, 15 MLAs of the Gwalior-Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh rebelled against the Kamal Nath-led Congress government and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party along with Jyotiraditya Scindia. In 2022, BJP lost the Gwalior municipal polls by a margin of 28,000 votes to the Congress – for the first time in 57 years.

Just two days before this loss, BJP lost the Morena Municipal Corporation (MMC) to Congress – for the first time since the formation of the corporation. Congress’s Morena mayoral candidate, Sharda Solanki, defeated BJP’s Meena Jatav by 14,684 votes. Of the 47 wards of the MMC, Congress won 19, BJP got 15, Bahujan Samaj Party eight, with one seat each for Aam Aadmi Party and Samajwadi Party and three Independents.

On July 17, when the State Election Commission declared the results of first phase, Congress mayoral candidate from Gwalior, Shobha Sikharwar won against BJP’s Suman Sharma by 28,805 votes. Of 66 wards in Gwalior, BJP won on 34, Congress on 25 and seven others.

In Bhind district, which was dominated by the BJP in 2014 civic polls, Congress took a massive lead, winning Bhind, Lahar and Gohad municipalities. In Lahar, which is a constituency of leader of opposition Govind Singh, Congress swept all seats.

Apart from Gwalior and Morena, BJP lost its mayoral seat in Jabalpur, Chhindwara and Rewa after almost two decades. The saffron party struggled at Ujjain and Burhanpur too – retaining them with a narrow margin of 542 and 736 votes respectively. The vote margin of BJP’s candidate in Ujjain increased only after recounting. In Burhanpur, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen candidate securing over 10,000 votes is believed to have damaged the chances of the Congress’s Muslim candidate.

The Congress victory in Gwalior Chambal region just 15 months before the assembly polls came as a surprise to many as heavyweight leaders of BJP are from the region.

Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar who hails from Morena is also a member of parliament from here. Besides Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, state home minister Narottam Mishra, BJP state president V.D. Sharma, power minister Praduman Singh Tomar and former higher education Minister and Bajrang Dal’s former national president Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya are from the region.

When Scindia joined BJP in 2020, the party had claimed that Gwalior-Chambal would be “Congress-mukt” (‘Congress-free’) because the party had no other face to match Scindia’s popularity.

File image: BJP president J.P. Nadda welcomes Jyotiraditya Scindia into the party. Photo: PTI

This does not look as easy as the BJP could have hoped. In the October 2020 by-polls which took place after Scindia’s exit, BJP fared well in 19 of 28 seats but suffered losses in the Gwalior-Chambal region losing seven seats, including three ministers. The BJP had a narrow win in Bhander seat of Datia assembly, where its nominee Raksha Santram Saronia defeated popular Dalit leader Phool Singh Baraiya by a margin of 161 votes.

Speaking to The Wire over BJP’s defeat in the region, senior journalist from Gwalior, Dev Shirmali, pointed out, “Anti-incumbency against BJP has been prevalent in the region since the 2018 assembly elections. Even though BJP took Congress MLAs in its fold with Scindia, it lost seven seats in the by-polls.”

Listing out the reasons behind BJP’s defeat, he continued, “The factionalism which was prevalent in the Congress shifted to the BJP with Scindia after he joined the party. With Scindia’s exit, Congress leaders felt independent and started strengthening their roots.”

This is the worst performance of the BJP – considered to be a party with a strong urban base – in the past two decades, since the direct mayoral elections were introduced in Madhya Pradesh in 1999. But the saffron party retained its base in its stronghold Malwa-Nimar and central Madhya Pradesh (mainly Bhopal) regions winning Indore, Ratlam, Khandwa, Burhanpur, Sagar, Satna and Bhopal. In all these places, its victory margin shrank.

According to party sources, both Tomar and Scindia had played a prominent role in selection of candidates and canvassed for them. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also held road shows with both mayoral candidates and addressed public meetings to drum up support.

Sources further say that defeated mayoral candidates Suman Sharma and Meena Jatav were projected by Tomar. Scindia reportedly wanted the Gwalior mayoral ticket for his maternal aunt and former minister Maya Singh, but was turned down by the party. To compensate, the party accommodated many Scindia followers by giving corporators’ tickets.

“What turned fatal for the BJP in the region is the recently introduced Agnipath scheme for recruitment in armed forces,” said Mali.

“Youths of Gwalior-Chambal region apply for the armed forces in large numbers. Gwalior and its nearby districts had seen violent protests,” he added.

Overall results 

The BJP which held all 16 Moyrol seats in 2014, lost five to the Congress, one to AAP and in Katni, a rebel BJP candidate emerged victorious by defeating the BJP’s official party candidate by a margin of over 5,000 votes.

Meanwhile, the opposition Congress, flailing after losing its government to BJP in 2020 and through consequent losses in by-elections, has got a major boost with five mayoral posts – its best tally since 1999. While its Gwalior victory comes after 57 years, it won Jabalpur, Chhindwara, Rewa and Morena after almost two decades.

Also read: How Vikram Singh Ahke, a Gond Tribal and Labourer, Became MP’s Youngest Mayor

In 2014-15, Congress had emerged empty handed in the mayoral elections. In 1999 and 2004, it won two seats each while in the 2009 polls, it had managed to secure three mayoral seats.

AAP and AIMIM both made significant debuts in Madhya Pradesh politics with these civic polls. AAP snatched the Singrauli mayoral seat from the BJP and won 40 wards across the state while the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM won seven wards including three in Khargone city, which recently saw communal violence and administration-led demolitions.

In Khargone’s Ward 2, the ward worst hit by the violence, AIMIM’s Aruna Upadhyay won with a margin of 31 votes, defeating BJP’s Shilpa Soni.

AIMIM’s Aruna Upadhyay, who won from Khargone’s Ward 2. Photo: Video screengrab from Twitter/@KashifKakvi

Interestingly, in 56 wards, candidates lost by just one vote – 19 such candidates are from BJP, 21 from Congress and 15 independents.

Civic bodies Number of wards BJP Congress Other parties
16 corporations 884 491 274 109
76 municipalities 1,795 975 571 249
225 councils 3,828 2,002 1,087 739

The above figures put BJP in a comfortable position in electing chairperson and establishing its majority in close to 11 of the 16 corporations, 50 out of 76 municipalities and another 150 out of the 215 councils.

A shocking loss to the BJP came from Katni where its own rebel Preeti Suri contested the mayoral seat independently and defeated BJP’s Jyoti Dixit by 52,87 votes. After Suri announced that she would contest the mayoral seat, the disciplinary committee of the party suspended her for six years.

After the results, state Congress president, Kamal Nath held a press conference at the party office in Bhopal and said, “Since 1999 when the mayors have been directly elected in MP, this year the performance of Congress has been the best.”

Kamal Nath and other leaders at a Congress press conference after a part of the civic poll results were announced. Photo: By arrangement

“It has been this year that the Congress has won five seats. The BJP had won all seats in 2014 but has lost seven seats this year and yet they are celebrating. BJP appears to be celebrating a birth in a different family,” said Nath.

Hitting back at the Congress, the BJP state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma claimed the party won over 80% of the urban bodies. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the party will form councils even in the municipal corporations where the party’s mayoral candidates have lost.

Kashif Kakvi is a journalist with Newsclick.