Bhopal: While addressing a meeting of state Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and party workers held in Bhopal last month, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had remarked, “We have stature only as long as we are in power. If we lose power, we will lose stature too.”
In speaking of the perils of losing power, the chief minister was trying to motivate fellow party members to work towards winning the by-elections.
A similar statement was recently put forth by Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar while addressing a party meeting, where he reportedly said, “If we miss it this time, we will have to suffer the consequences.”
A more or less clear allusion to the drubbing faced by the BJP in the state assembly elections in 2018, Tomar’s remark came as a warning to party workers that a defeat in the by-polls would mean losing power, which in turn would have serious repercussions for each of them.
With the Madhya Pradesh by-polls in the offing, BJP leaders are constantly exhorting their subordinates and party functionaries to unite in support of candidates by listing the disadvantages of losing power.
They are being cautioned about the risks involved in sitting in the opposition and lured by the perks of being in power. The reason behind this entire exercise is to keep the chasm in the party from undercutting the BJP’s chances of winning the by-polls.
In March this year, 22 MLAs had resigned en masse from the Congress, rallying behind Jyotiraditya Scindia, and defected to the BJP. In July, three more Congress MLAs deserted the party to join the BJP.
In Madhya Pradesh, the by-polls are going to be held on 28 seats, out of which 25 fell vacant after the Scindia fiasco. On all these seats, the BJP’s decision to field former Congress leaders as candidates has miffed local BJP leaders who formerly contested on those seats.
With the BJP handing tickets to turncoat Congress MLAs, party leaders are disconcerted over not only working alongside their former rivals but moreover being pushed down the rung in the party by them.
The political careers of several senior BJP MLAs in each of these constituencies is at stake because of this. This includes party bigwigs like former minister Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, the son of former chief minister Kailash Joshi and cabinet minister Deepak Joshi, former minister Lal Singh Arya, Rustam Singh and Gauri Shankar Shejwar.
The composition of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s cabinet was another reason behind the internal feud that emerged within the BJP, as it included 14 ex-Congress MLAs. Adding fuel to fire, nearly 40% of the cabinet posts in the Shivraj government have been handed to former Congress leaders who had joined the BJP only recently.
While the induction of ex-Congress MLAs into the party with such fanfare had miffed BJP leaders whose assembly seats were usurped, those who had hoped for a place in the cabinet were also left fuming.
Nearly a dozen state BJP leaders who have served as ministers earlier like Rajendra Shukla, Ajay Bishnoi, Rampal Singh, Gauri Shankar Bisen, Sanjay Pathak, Ashok Rohani, Paras Jain, Mahendra Hardia, Surendra Patwa, Jalam Singh Patel as well as newcomers Gopilal Jatav, Girish Gautam, Ramesh Mendola and Kedar Shukla were awaiting their turn to get a ministerial berth.
Owing to the disappointment caused by the BJP’s decision to give preference to ex-Congress MLAs, the party is faced with an angry lot of ministers, watering down the enthusiasm of workers and local leaders at the grassroots level.
The party workers are also disgruntled as ex-Congress members newly anointed by the BJP, instead of coordinating with the existing party workers, are preferring their own team of former Congress workers they brought along.
Recently, the wrath spilled out in a programme attended by state women and child development minister Imarti Devi.
During an election rally, ex-Congress MLAs and supporters of Imarti Devi were seated on the stage while BJP leaders were made to sit along with the general public. As a result, the BJP veterans protested fiercely in front of the media.
As cracks appear within the BJP on these three fronts, the party fears that the rift may bring about a defeat similar to the 2018 assembly elections, when it lost 50 seats to infighting.
In the upcoming by-polls, the BJP is facing opposition from its own members on 19 out of 28 seats. The government as well as the organisation are leaving no stone unturned to curb them, yet the ground reality does not seem very promising for the party.
As a result, several veteran state BJP leaders have revolted on six seats and are contesting against the BJP on tickets of the Congress or other parties.
Satish Sikarwar was a BJP candidate from Gwalior East in 2018, while Munnalal Goyal contested on a Congress ticket. Having joined the BJP, Goyal has now been given the ticket to contest on the seat. In protest, Sikarwar left the party and joined the Congress. He will now be contesting against the BJP.
Similarly, Parul Sahu was the candidate fielded by the BJP in Surkhi in the previous elections, while minister Govind Singh contested on a Congress ticket. Singh is now the BJP’s choice of candidate for the seat after defecting to the party. Sahu, on the other hand, has switched to Congress and been handed the ticket.
A similar episode happened at Sumawali where Ajab Singh Kushwaha was the BJP candidate during the 2018 assembly elections, while Aidal Singh Kansana was the Congress candidate. When Kansana joined the BJP, the party handed him the ticket to the constituency. In protest, Kushwaha resigned and joined the Congress where he was fielded against Kansana.
In the three constituencies, the same candidates are pitted against each other – only the parties have been reversed. It has led many BJP supporters to extend support to the Congress instead.
Kanhaiya Lal Agarwal, a former cabinet minister under Shivraj Chouhan, is now contesting on a Congress ticket against the BJP from Bamori.
At Amba, former MLA Bandhilal Jatav also revolted against the BJP and has now entered the fray on a Samajwadi ticket.
At Sanwer, the political equations have changed as well. A close ally of Scindia’s, Tulsi Silawat has been challenged by Congress leader Prem Chand Guddu.
During the previous elections, Guddu was a BJP member while his son contested the 2018 polls on a BJP ticket. But Guddu joined the Congress in protest against the induction of Scindia into the party, and now he has been pitted against Silawat.
Though such brazen protests have not been registered by other MLAs, the heat of simmering inner tensions and non-cooperation from workers can be felt.
Former MLAs Mukesh Chaudhary and Rakesh Shukla in Mehgaon are not campaigning for the BJP in the by-elections. Former minister Rustam Singh is also rumoured to be in touch with the Congress in Morena.
They vented their anger through statements made on several occasions. Though they have not joined the Congress as yet, they have also not been actively involved in the BJP’s poll preparations.
Former MLA from Pohari, Prahlad Bharti, was quite active till before the announcement of the assembly polls, but has since been missing from BJP rallies. Dimani’s former MLA Balvir Singh Dandotia and Shivmangal Singh Tomar have a similar tale.
In Sanchi, Prabhuram Chaudhary faces a tough contest against Gauri Shankar Shejwar’s son Mudit Shejwar. Mudit, who contested as a BJP candidate from the same constituency in the 2018 assembly elections and lost to Prabhuram (then in Congress), openly made scathing remarks against the latter in a rally recently.
Similarly, a disgruntled Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat, former MLA from Badnawar, levelled allegations against Kailash Vijayvargiya at a public rally claiming that he lost the previous elections to Rajyavardhan Singh Dattigaon (now in the BJP) because of Vijayvargiya’s betrayal.
BJP candidate in Nepanagar, Sumitra Kasdekar, also had to face opposition from the BJP party workers. On one occasion, while she was visiting the constituency for a public meeting, former BJP MLA Manju Dadu’s supporters began sloganeering against her.
Meanwhile, the BJP is busy doing damage control. For instance, when miffed BJP leaders were holding regular meetings led by former Rajya Sabha MP Raghunandan Sharma in July and August, the government and the organisation both proactively worked towards winning back their support.
Similarly, Hatpipliya’s Deepak Joshi was also in touch with the Congress but when the chief minister and the BJP top brass contacted him, he dropped the idea of joining the Congress. Earlier, he had held meetings with Congress leaders and even participated in a show of strength against the BJP.
In Gohad, former minister Lal Singh Arya was also upset with the BJP when the party granted the ticket from the constituency to former Congress leader Ranveer Jatav. Lal Singh was prosecuted for the murder of Jatav’s father. Lal Singh was the SC face of the party in Chambal. In order to pacify him, the top leadership made him the BJP’s national president for the Scheduled Caste Front.
At Suwasra, the BJP appointed Radheshyam Patidar as the poll campaign in-charge for Hardeep Singh Dang. Contesting the previous assembly elections on a BJP ticket, Patidar had lost to Dang (then in Congress). Handing him the charge of the campaign communicated to Patidar that he is crucial for the party.
Similarly, leaders like Ajay Bishnoi who were disappointed at not being granted ministerial berths were entrusted with the responsibility of the assembly by-polls in a bid to mollify them.
In Sanchi, former MLA Rajesh Sonkar withdrew his election petition against Tulsi Silawat, signalling a patch up.
The anger of former minister from Gwalior, Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya is public knowledge. Pawaiya used to be a staunch Scindia rival as well as the permanent face of the BJP in Gwalior.
When Pradyuman Singh Tomar, the chief rival of Pawaiya from the Congress, defected to the BJP and was picked by the party to represent the constituency, Pawaiya naturally felt scathed. His subsequent statements several times showcased his anger.
However, the party leadership intervened and mollified Pawaiya, following which he was seen asking for votes for Tomar on various occasions.
It is true, however, that whether it is Raghunandan Sharma, Deepak Joshi, Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, or former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee’s nephew Anup Mishra, eyeing Jaora and Gwalior seats, or other disgruntled leaders, none of them are actively campaigning for the party.
Neither the leaders nor their supporters are seen asking for public support for the candidates fielded by the BJP.
Apart from the seats where former Congress leaders who defected to the BJP have practically usurped the political career of senior BJP leaders, there are three other seats which fell vacant in the event of the death of sitting MLAs.
On two of these seats, Jaora and Biaora, candidates fielded by the BJP are faced with strong opposition from within the party ranks.
At Jaora, party workers stopped the convoy of MP and Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar and raised slogans against him. Local party functionaries also protested against the BJP candidate in the presence of state general secretary Suhas Bhagat.
In view of an undercurrent of opposition, the top BJP leadership is visiting each constituency, trying to boost the spirits of the party workers and functionaries.
The induction of the Scindia camp into the BJP has triggered an insider versus outsider debate within the party. To allay any fears, the national general secretary of the BJP, B.L. Santosh, recently remarked while addressing a meeting of leaders, workers and functionaries of the party, “No one is an outsider. We are all part of the BJP organisation. Therefore, no one should be viewed as an outsider.”
Similarly, a minister under Shivraj Chouhan, Brijendra Pratap Singh recently told party workers in a meeting, “Tell me the names of those who are raising the issue of insider and outsider in the party. I will hear them out and explain it to them.”
Meanwhile, the BJP is also resorting to emotional manipulation to control internal discontent and reduce chances of betrayal.
Following this line, Narendra Singh Tomar told party workers, “The upcoming polls will not only cement the position of Shivraj Chouhan as chief minister, but also strengthen Prime Minister Modi’s hold at the Centre. It is our responsibility to support the MLAs who helped the BJP to form the government (in the state).”
Shivraj Chouhan, on the other hand, has been seen telling his subordinate leaders and party workers in assembly constituencies falling under Tomar’s parliamentary seat, “If he does not win here, how will Tomar face the PM when he sits beside him in the parliament?”
With such statements and by invoking Tomar’s honour, Shivraj means to unify party workers in favour of Scindia supporters.
Bitten by factionalism and betrayal which hurt the party’s chances of forming the government in 2018, the BJP is certainly twice shy this time.
To ensure that a repeat does not happen, the top leadership is making all out efforts to appease the disgruntled leaders, either by threatening them with the consequences of losing power, or invoking emotional sentiments in them. Resorting to such means is quite unlike the BJP, if viewed from the perspective of previous elections in the state.
How far the BJP succeeds in its efforts and how much is lost, remains to be seen after the voting begins on November 3 and the outcome is announced on November 10.
Deepak Goswami is an independent journalist.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.