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Hot Seats, Head Start on MP Polls: Takeaways From BJP's 1st List of Candidates

Why has the BJP departed from its usual approach of revealing candidates after the announcement of poll dates?

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With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announcing its first list of candidates for the upcoming Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections 2023, political analysts suggest that the party is strategically positioning itself to gain an upper hand over the Congress.

The BJP has announced a total of 39 candidates for as many seats which it lost in 2018 as well as in 2013 Assembly polls.

In an intriguing move, the party has nominated around 50 percent of candidates who faced defeat in previous elections, while also introducing 12 new candidates to the list of 39.

In this article, we answer three questions pertinent to understanding the BJP's decision.

  1. Why has the BJP broken away from its customary approach of revealing candidates after the announcement of election dates?

  2. Which constituencies are anticipated to be highly contested, who are the designated candidates, and what is the rationale behind their selection?

  3. What is the current standing of those loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who switched allegiance from the Congress to the BJP?

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BJP's First List Before the Election Dates

In a surprising twist, the BJP has departed from its conventional practice by releasing its initial candidate list before the formal declaration of election dates.

Sources within the party told The Quint that this move will convey to the candidates that the central leadership is steering the selection process. The choices, they say, are based on the perceived likelihood of a candidate's victory.

"It's a clear signal to all candidates that only those with strong winning prospects will secure tickets. Moreover, this strategy aims to position the party advantageously against the Congress ahead of the elections. While we have announced 39 candidates, the Congress is still in the planning phase. This head start will give our candidates more time to prepare."
BJP sources

Sudheer Dandotiya, a senior journalist of the state, also concurred with the BJP sources, adding that the party is looking to give its candidates ample time for campaigning.

"In Karnataka, the BJP lost several seats due to candidates being short on campaign time. This time around, they are taking precautions. For constituencies the party narrowly lost in 2018, the candidates will now have a better opportunity to establish their presence," Dandotiya explained.
Sudheer Dandotiya
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Hot Seats, Candidate Roster, and Selection Logic

As far as the MP Assembly elections 2023 are concerned, it wouldn't be an overstatement if we say that all seats are hot seats, making it a tough fight, say experts.

Although the initial momentum seemed to favor the Congress, the scales have tilted toward a 50-50 battle in MP since the BJP's central leadership took the reins a few months ago.

In the initial announcement of candidates, the following five constituencies are expected to host highly contested battles:

1. Shahpura: Om Prakash Dhurwey's Shahpura constituency in Dindori district has become a hot seat as Dhurwey, after the announcement of the list, said he wants to contest from the Dindori Assembly constituency.

Dhurwey was fielded from the Shahpura seat in 2018, where he lost it to the Congress' Bhoopendea Maravi by over 33,000 votes. 

Sources say that Dhurwey has expressed his grievance to the BJP high command, urging the party to allow him to contest the election from the Dindori seat instead of the Shahpura constituency.

2. Chachoda: Next is the Chachoda Assembly constituency in Guna, which would be contested between former chief minister Digvijaya Singh's brother Lakshman Singh and a former Congress leader, Priyanka Meena, who joined the BJP in February this year.

Around three years ago, Priyanka Meena, who is married to an IRS officer, relocated to Chachoda. During the Zila Panchayat elections, she engaged in a formidable battle against the BJP's Mamta Saini, eventually coming close to victory with a margin of merely 235 votes.

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Local sources told The Quint that Priyanka's political journey was backed by former CM Digvijaya Singh, owing to her strong competition against the BJP's Mamta Saini.

However, in February 2023, she joined the BJP – and has now been fielded from the Chachoda constituency against Digvijaya's brother Lakshman Singh.

3. Bhopal Madhya: The BJP has announced the candidature of Dhruv Narayan Singh from this seat. This constituency was carved out in 2008 and was won by Dhruv Narayan at the time. Now, a decade later, the BJP has shown confidence in him again. 

Dhruv Narayan, son of former MP chief minister Govind Narayan Singh, is a BJP leader, shot to the limelight after the murder of RTI activist Shehla Masood in 2011 in Bhopal's Kosh-e-fiza area and the arrest of one of the prime accused Zahida Parvez. 

Parvez had claimed that she was jealous of Masood's close ties with the then MLA Dhruv Narayan. Parvez was allegedly in a relationship with Dhruv Narayan.

Senior journalists say Dhruv Narayan enjoys good ties within both the Hindu and the Muslim communities – and the BJP is banking on his old ties.

A senior journalist covering politics in Bhopal, who did not wish to be named, said:

"Dhruv Narayan Singh enjoys good relations with both the communities. It would be worthwhile to see if old relations help him carry over the line. However, the current Congress MLA Arif Masood has also done some good work, and Dhruv Narayan has been out of the game for over a decade. That's what makes the fight more interesting".
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4. Bhopal North: Bhopal comprises a total of seven Assembly seats, out of which in 2018 elections, the BJP secured four and the Congress secured three.

The next seat in Bhopal, where the BJP has declared its candidate, is the Bhopal North constituency.

Congress MLA Arif Aqueel has maintained his hold on this seat since 1998. However, the upcoming 2023 elections will see a change, as Arif Aqueel has declared that his son, Atiq Aqueel, will be contesting instead of him owing to his illness.

This transfer of baton adds an interesting dynamic to the list of competitive seats.

Although local residents have demonstrated loyalty to Arif Aqueel in the past, there is uncertainty among them about whether this allegiance will extend to his son.

On the opposing side, the BJP has nominated former mayor Alok Sharma for the seat. Notably in 2008, Alok Sharma had faced defeat by a narrow margin of fewer than 5,000 votes.

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5. Gohad: Out of the 39 seats, Gohad Assembly constituency in Bhind is also being considered as one of the hot seats in the elections. Why? Because, the BJP has grounded Scindia loyalist Ranveer Jatav and fielded Lal Singh Arya, who lost to Jatav in the 2018 elections by nearly 20,000 votes. 

Jatav defected to the BJP, along with Scindia, over throwing the Congress government within 15 months of being elected to power in 2020. 

Journalists from Bhind opined that the BJP has sent a subtle message to Scindia loyalists that their future isn't secured just because they helped overthrow the Congress government.

It's a clear-cut message to those leaders who jumped ship with Scindia that you have to prove your worth, and even if you prove it, the party might still go with their old friends instead of trusting the turncoat leaders.
a senior journalaist from Bhind.

Another hot seat is the Jhabua constituency – reserved for ST – which is a stronghold of the Congress' tribal leader Kantilal Bhuriya. 

However, when Bhuriya's son contested in 2018, he lost to the BJP's Guman Singh Damor.  

Although Bhuriya family regained the seat after Kantilal defeated the BJP's Bhanu Bhuriya in the by elections, as Damor vacated his seat after winning the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha elections in 2019, experts say it would be a tough battle for Bhuriya family if Vikrant contests for the seat.

The list of 39 candidates has sent another message in the state, a rather strong one to the Scindia loyalists.

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Uncertain Path for Scindia Loyalists in the BJP's Election Campaign

Ranveer Jatav, a Scindia loyalist who defeated BJP leader Lal Singh Arya in the 2018 Assembly elections, was not nominated to contest in the upcoming election. Instead, Arya, who was defeated by Jatav, was preferred by the BJP.

Congress spokesperson Anand Jat said:

"Those who betrayed the Congress have found no place in the BJP either. The BJP operates on a use-and-discard principle, which is why Ranveer Jatav, who defeated the BJP's Lal Singh Arya, did not receive a ticket.

However, Adal Singh Kansana, another Scindia supporter who lost in the bypoll, managed to secure a ticket. A BJP party source refuted claims of neglecting Scindia loyalists, affirming that tickets are allocated based on merit, without room for factionalism.

"We don't use words like loyalists to anyone. Every party worker is a loyalist of BJP party – and the tickets are being given solely on the basis of merit and winning ability of the candidate," the party source said.

Scindia loyalists like Munnalal Goyal from Gwalior East, former minister Imarti Devi from Dabra, Raghuraj Kansana from Morena, Giriraj Dandotia from Dimni, and Jaswant Jatav from Karera, among others, are also looking at an uncertain future. 

Whether there will be any rebellion within the BJP in the case of more Scindia loyalists getting dropped or will the BJP consolidate its strength with these early ticket announcements is yet to be seen.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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