Madhya Pradesh Bypolls: 4 Key Factors in This ‘Mini Assembly Poll’
BJP needs to win 9 seats to cross the halfway mark on its own, Congress needs to win all 28.
(This story was first published on 15 October 2020 and is being republished on the eve of polling day in Madhya Pradesh, for bypolls to 28 seats. At least 25 of these bypolls were necessitated after Jyotiraditya Scindia, along with his loyal MLAs, switched over to the BJP camp, bringing down the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in March this year.)
As many as 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh will vote in the upcoming by-elections, making this almost like a mini-Assembly election. Also at stake are the political fortunes of a number of key leaders in Madhya Pradesh politics: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, former CMs Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and of course the man at the centre of the entire battle – Congress-turned-BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia.
After all, these bypolls were necessitated after Scindia along with his loyal MLAs switched over to the BJP camp, bringing down the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in March this year.
So what's likely to happen in the bypolls? Can Kamal Nath win enough seats to stage a comeback or will the newly formed Shivraj-Scindia alliance hold ground?
Here are four factors that need to be kept in mind.
The Numbers: What’s the ‘Required Rate’ for BJP and Congress?
- Currently, the BJP has 107 seats in the 230-member Assembly. It also has the support of four Independents, two BSP MLAs and one suspended Samajwadi Party MLA.
- But obviously, Shivraj Singh Chouhan wouldn't want to remain dependent on others so the BJP needs to win at least nine out of 28 seats, to cross the half-way mark on its own.
- Of course, Chouhan would need to win at least half the seats to come out looking a winner and ward of any possible move against him within the party. But more on that later.
- The Congress on the other hand, has 88 MLAs in the Assembly presently and it would need to win all 28 seats to cross the halfway mark, a tall task indeed.
- However, those close to Kamal Nath say that even winning 20-21 seats would be fine. If that happens, Congress would overtake BJP's tally and put pressure on the BSP MLAs, the rebel SP MLA and Independents to switch sides.
- The BSP has already said that it will be "kingmaker", indicating that it is not averse to switching sides. The party has also put up candidates on almost all the seats where bypolls will be held.
- Naturally for BSP and the Independents, the most beneficial scenario would be if both the BJP and Congress remain below the majority mark by a few seats.
What the Elections Means for Key Players in MP
Shivraj Singh Chouhan
- For Shivraj Chouhan personally, the return to power hasn't been easy. He has had to concede a great deal to Jyotiraditya Scindia and the rebel Congress MLAs, both in terms of ministerial berths and tickets in the bypolls.
- He has also had to face flak over the handling of the COVID-19 crisis and contend with challenges from within the party.
Narendra Singh Tomar
- Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in particular is said to be nursing ambitions of replacing Chouhan as MP CM. Even though he has been deployed to ensure the victory of BJP candidates in the elections, it is in Tomar's interest that both Chouhan and Scindia are cut to size.
- While Chouhan is Tomar's rival at the state level, Scindia and Tomar are battling for dominance in the Gwalior-Chambal region.
- For Scindia the bypolls are a battle of prestige. With BJP giving tickets to the rebel MLAs loyal to him, his clout within his new party would be directly proportional to the number of candidates who end up winning.
- If more than half his candidates lose, Scindia may well find himself marginalised within BJP and at the receiving end of stronger attacks from the Congress.
- For Kamal Nath, this is probably the last chance to become the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh again. Nath turns 74 later this year and would be 77 by the time MP goes to polls again. It is quite likely that the Congress leadership, especially if Rahul Gandhi assumes control again, would choose a younger CM face in the state in 2023. Therefore this is a do or die battle for Kamal Nath.
- True to his style, Nath is said to be closely tracking the Congress party's preparations in each of the 28 seats that go to the polls. The former CM is also keeping an eye at the arithmetic and planning how to move fast in case the Congress manages to win over 20 seats.
- The other major player in this entire mix is former CM Digvijaya Singh. Like Tomar and Scindia, Digvijaya Singh also hails from the Gwalior-Chambal region and these elections are a prestige battle for him as well. Digvijaya Singh and Scindia had a strained equation even when the latter was in the Congress.
- In the upcoming by-elections, Digvijaya's son Jaivardhan Singh is playing a crucial role in the campaign. Curiously, Digvijaya has kept a low profile through this time and it is Jaivardhan Singh who is coordinating directly with Kamal Nath.
Battle for Gwalior-Chambal
- Out of the 28 seats that are going to the polls, 16 are in the Gwalior-Chambal region. Besides the tussle between Narendra Singh Tomar, Jyotiraditya Scindia and the father-son duo of Digvijaya Singh and Jaivardhan Singh, there is another crucial dimension here – caste.
- Gwalior Chambal region has one of the highest intensity of caste atrocities and violence. This was also the epicentre of the Bharat Bandh against the dilution of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 2018 and the attack on Dalit protesters by privileged castes.
- The violence had a direct bearing on the Assembly elections later that year, with Dalits voting decisively against the BJP and privileged castes expressing their dissatisfaction with what they called was BJP's attempt to appease Dalits. As a result many of them voted for the neophyte outfit SAPAKS or stayed away during the polls, causing the BJP's defeat in seats that were considered its strongholds.
- This region is also the BSP's main area of influence in MP and the party will be contesting all the seats in the upcoming bypolls. Many say, this may affect the Congress which was banking on a large chunk of Dalit votes.
Past Track Record of Bypolls
- Historically, the ruling party at the state level has an advantage when it comes to by-elections.
- There are state-wise variations to this of course. In Madhya Pradesh between 2009 and 2019, around two-thirds of the bypolls have been won by the party controlling the state government.
- This is towards the higher side among all the states. Some like Telangana, Punjab and Uttarakhand are higher at 90 percent and above, while Uttar Pradesh is less than 60 percent and Rajasthan is less than 40 percent.
- Given this track record, it would not be easy for the Congress to win 20 out of 28 seats it needs to even come close to bringing down the BJP government.
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